Key West Late Nineteenth Century Houses

At last I had talked Peter into taking some cell phone photos of the Key West style Victorian houses on Eaton Street. They were built in the latter part of the nineteenth century when Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States. This was due to a large Cuban cigar making industry, when cigars were part of a gentleman’s persona and Cuban cigars were considered the best. There was also a very lucrative ship salvaging business.IMG_0742 The Federal Wrecking Act of March 3, 1825 mandated that all property shipwrecked in these seas had to be brought to a US port of entry. In 1828, the U.S. established a Superior Court in Key West with maritime and admiralty jurisdiction. “…from December, 1824 to December, 1825 $293,353.00 of wrecked property…” was sold in Key West (History of Wrecking by Jerry Wilkinson)

As we headed down South to Whitehead we had to pass the huge ugly buoy at the Southernmost Point. I was amazed. There was a line of many dozens of people waiting in the hot noonday sun to have their photos taken with the thing. I wonder how many actually caught the expanse of ocean behind it. OK I’m ranting about the buoy again. Peter jumped out and took a photo of the queue.

IMG_0744As we go down Whitehead, we’ll stop at 509. This is the house we lived in when I was born. The main house under the pitch is a typical vernacular house, which is a two-story with a front porch on each level. There are many of these type houses in Key West. This one has a two-story addition probably added when it was renovated.

Further down Whitehead we turn onto Eaton Street where we will see some fine examples of typical conch architecture of the late nineteenth century. IMG_0745On the corner of Whitehead and Eaton is the front office for the Banyan Resort. The tree in front is a Royal Poinciana. They are all over Key West and are particularly beautiful this year, but we don’t miss the one that had the bees in it. Hurricane Wilma took its toll and it has taken a few years for the Poincianas to get going again.

IMG_0755Here is a house with a Widow’s Walk, where sea captains of salvaging boats could watch for foundering ships or wives wait for their husbands to return.


On the other side of the street a block down is the Artist House. It is thought to be a fine example of authentic Colonial Queen Anne Architecture.IMG_0756

The Donkey Milk House is at 613 Eaton. IMG_0764It is so named because the donkey’s that pulled the milk wagons around Key West were housed in the alley behind it.. Notice the gingerbread railings, which are seen in a lot of Key West houses of the era.

On the corner of Eaton and William is the Bahama House. John Bartlum, a prominent sea captain at the age of eighteen dismantled his 3000 square foot home on Green Turtle Key and sent all the parts to Key West. dm3960Why? Because a recent storm had caused a lot of damage to houses in Key West and there was a shortage of building lumber. The house is on the same site on which it was reconstructed.  Picture: (State Archives of Florida/McDonald)

At 712 Eaton is a beautiful and unusual house. It has an octagonal veranda.IMG_0767

Here is a typical Eyebrow House. IMG_0772You can see the windows barely peeking out from under the overhang. The next photo taken at an angle shows the windows.  These houses were designed this way to keep the sun away from the windows in order to keep the inside cooler.IMG_0775

The cigar factory workers lived in small houses called shotgun cottages. This was because the front door was to one side and led to a hall that went all the way to the back; so a shotgun blast would go right through. IMG_0782I could not find any of these houses on Eaton, but when we turned right onto White, there was a row of four on the right near Truman Avenue.

In the past few decades, many have lovingly restored these unique homes and live in them or have turned them into Bed and Breakfasts or restaurants.

There are many other homes like these in Key West. It gives an old world look to this lovely small city.

3 thoughts on “Key West Late Nineteenth Century Houses”

  1. I love your blogs!

    We live in a Queen Anne, so of course I gobbled up the pictures. I’ve never been there, but wish I could. I had no idea the city was so glorious. Thanks so much for sharing! barb

  2. What a nice time I’ve just had reading your last few blogs. We’ve been away on several trips, so our email efforts have been spotty at best.
    Thanks for being such a faithful writer. Each blog is well written and enjoyable–truly interesting and informative! And please thank Pete for the photographic work. He has a new career in the works!
    Will send you an email soon about our travels. TMI to post here.

  3. Key West Late Nineteenth Century Houses is such interesting reading, and tell Peter that I loved his pictures almost as much as his coffee! High praise, indeed! While driving around the streets of Key West, Lonnie and I have had a few fleeting glimpses of some beautiful and unique Key West homes and wondered about their history. Sadly, our visits never seem long enough for more than breakfast at Camille’s, a few Cuban sandwiches, coffee at sunrise and, the best part, a little time with friends. But, we are still hopeful that there will be a next time in our future…this time, with The Nanos Key West Guidebook in hand!! I so look forward to your next chapters, so…Keep Writing!! — Mary

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