Friday, August 1, 2014

Key West history

For a tiny place Key West has a big history. 494 years since discovery and 194 since it fell into American hands, here's a short history of Key West in 400 words. 

Ponce de Leon - the Spanish conquistador who named Florida - was the first European, setting foot on Key West's mosquito ridden swamps in 1521. 

Then not much happened for 300 years until businessman John Simonton purchased Key West in a Havana bar in 1822 for $2000 (a good deal, right?). 

Greene, Whitehead and Fleeming laid out the island plan in 1829 (and named the best streets after themselves).  More...

Here's a picture from 1856 (below, thanks Wikipedia).  It's only 30 years after the creation of modern day Key West. You can see the energy and scale of the young city. Of course to come for Key West was dramatic swings of fortune, poverty, crises, storms, fires, and mosquito problems.

Key West history, from 1865

Life in Key West was then dominated by - in turn - shipwrecking, sponging, turtle industry and cigar making - all of which left their particular marks and scars on the island.

Key West was in glorious isolation until 1912 when the rail road arrived thanks to 42 bridges and the determined and expensive efforts of oil billionaire Henry Flagler, then it was blown away in 1935 by the most intense hurricane ever to hit the USA, which killed the railroad link and 408 people. 

Then came an arty phase with Hemingway and Williams and others. Once America's richest city per head, it was for 30 years a poor and run down backwater until someone came up with a bright idea of tourism. 

A restoration movement started in 1960 thanks to tight knit community spirit. The first cruise ship arrived in 1969 and started an unstoppable trend that now results in over 1 million tourists every year and all the stresses that produces on this tiny tropical place.

Today Key West is in the hearts, and cameras, of over a million folks who every year spend a fleeting time in Key West. It's where vacationers get off their cruise ship and start drinking rum at 10am (just like the pirates used to).

So there you have it: Key West, place where spongers, wreckers, crooners, writers, sailors, captains and drag queens have left their mark. 

So what?
This distinguished history remains visible today.  Click here: history to see and visit and lots of things to do.

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