Key West International Airport


When you arrive at Key West International Airport, you deplane onto the tarmac and walk a bit to get to the terminal. Over the top of the terminal is a sign that says, “Welcome to the Conch Republic”. Conch was the name given to the original residents of Key West who largely came from Green Turtle Key in the Bahamas in the 1830’s. They were Tories who had no truck with those Revolutionaries and moved lock, stock and barrel to the Bahamas in the late 1700’s and to Key West in the early 1800”s. In later years the name was applied to anyone descended from them and eventually to anyone born and raised in Key West.

In 1982, the US Border patrol set up a blockade on US 1, just south of Florida City. This act isolated Key West citizens from the US mainland since US 1 is our only road in and out. This was done to check for illegals, drug smugglers, and other miscreants, but actually just made it a real pain to get to Key West. Because of the impact to the economy of Key West, the city protested. A delegation led by Mayor Wardlow went to the federal courthouse in Miami to get an injunction to stop the blockade. By some, it was reported that after careful consideration of all the legal issues, the court told them to “buzz off.”

After no redress from the court, the city under Mayor Wardlow presented the Conch Republic Proclamation of Secession. This was done with humor and anger. Mayor Wardlow, now the new nation’s Prime Minister declared war on the United States, which entailed entirely of beating some federal agents with stale Cuban Bread. The Conch Republic immediately surrendered to the United States and requested post-war foreign aid. All done “tongue in cheek,” but the point was made. It is said that, “To this day, Conchs maintain a deep and abiding hope that someday, somehow, the U.S. federal government will actually do something helpful.”

In May 1913, Augustin Paria flew a bi-wing seaplane from Key West to Cuba without a compass to guide him. He landed at sea near Mariel, Cuba where sailors rescued him. In 1918, a two-motored Navy Seaplane flew to Cuba. Aeromarine was the first commercial airline to use Key West, followed by mail delivery by Pan American in 1927. In 1953, the city gave Monroe County clear title to Meacham Field and the name changed to Key West International Airport. To my knowledge, the only international destinations have been Cuba and The Bahamas.

Key West International Airport has only one runway and a short one at that. When large planes, like 737’s land, they have to really slam on the brakes. And I’m always a little nervous when taking off that we don’t run out of runway and land in the salt marsh. The airport underwent a much-needed renovation in 2006, which more than doubled its size. It now has three departure gates.

The last time I was there, the gate attendant for one of the smaller airlines announced that there were 24 people on his flight, but only 3 had checked in. He then said, “ The rest of you are in the bar and you need to pay up and get out here. I think he was kidding, but I’m not sure. There really is a bar next to the gates. In the old days, it was the only 24-hour bar in Key West

Years ago, when I used to fly home to see my folks, my father would always wait for me on a bench just outside the front of the airport. One day a man walked out and said “Ah, paradise. “ My father said, in a low voice. “Yeah, well it used to be.” He had seen so many changes that he didn’t much like to his island, all in the name of progress.

6 thoughts on “Key West International Airport”

  1. What wonderful reading about Key West, its history and your family! Keep on a-keepin’, Joanne! Every time I see your blog pop up in my email, I escape to another time and place! It is pure delight! — Love, Mary

  2. Love your posts! You are actually writing a wonderful memoir of Key West history and your childhood there. I’m so glad you are enjoying it.

  3. Joanne,

    Ahhh, I remember flying into Santa Barbara (which is where our daughter, Kerry, went to college) and it was just this amazing little place. Also, one gate, beautiful “birds of paradise” flowers all over, no doors or windows and just the cutest tiny air port I had ever been to. I am sure it is not that way any longer but your blog brought back that wonderful memory and made me smile, again. Funny how those sweet memories are tucked into our little brains. Keep up the good work on making my days start out with a happy smiles.

  4. I’m sorry that I missed this one and will probably not get to the next one. We were out of town last week ending in Reno for the weekend. I belong to two “Harmony Brigades.” The brigade movement is loosely associated with the Barbershop Harmony Society (used to be called the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America or SPEBSQSA). Membership is by invitation and each one meets once a year. Those that are attending are sent about 10 to12 songs about 4 months before the meeting. We are admonished to come prepared – meaning all songs completely memorized, words, music, and places to breath. Quartets are formed, randomly, until dinner the first night. At dinner, each person is assigned to a quartet drawn from the other participants and parts and each quartet is assigned one of the songs to compete. We are given about 45 minutes to practice with the others in the quartet after which there is a contest. The top ten quartets then compete the next night being given a different song to compete as the quartet comes onto the stage to sing the song. Of course it’s all done in fun but it means making sure that the songs are well planted in one’s head. We also put on a typical barbershop show for the public when all the songs are performed. This year there were 96 men on stage in Reno to perform. It’s quite a thrill to be part of that large chorus of men so well prepared. That was a long way of saying that I had my mind somewhere other than where I maybe should have, including your blogs which I always like to read and want to fulfill my pledge to you to always reply. By the way, I wonder a bit why Pete hasn’t gotten involved in singing with one of your local choruses. There are some really good ones in your area. I think he would really enjoy it.

    Your description of government “help” got me to thinking about the Cerro Grande fire that burned about 200 homes and was started by Bandelier folks as well as the gold mine tailing spill that just recently happened, turning the Animas River a bright yellow and accomplished by the EPA folks. In both cases, a rather placid apology was provided. There’ll be some funds provided to help mitigate the problems with the water but I’m sure it won’t cover all the damage done. And, of course, now the same EPA is determining when people can start using the water again. It’s so great to be looked after that way.

    Another by the way: Pete will be interested to note that the county council has voted to provide some money for some research for a project being done in Utah to look at the replacement of carbon based utility power with modular nuclear reactor power. The project being studied is a 600 megawatt system based on a group of these small sealed reactors, don’t know how many. Anyway, I personally think it’s about time that a place like Los Alamos County should get involved in this kind of project.

    Enough for now. Thanks again for keeping your writing coming. As Joan has said, you write well and are so interesting. I just hope my attempts don’t miss your mark too far.

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