Landmarks

Must-Visit Historic Sites in Key West

Steeped in history and brimming with tales of yesteryear, Key West, Florida, holds a treasure trove of historic landmarks waiting to be discovered. These sites serve as silent witnesses to the ebb and flow of time, each holding a unique story that contours the rich tapestry of Key West’s past. From the stately Truman Little White House, the former winter residence of President Harry S. Truman, to the historic Fort Zachary Taylor, a monument to the island’s strategic military significance, there is much to uncover. A vacation to Key West is incomplete without immersing in these timeless gems, as they offer a window into the soul of the island, transforming your getaway into an enriching journey through time.

Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

Audubon House & Tropical Gardens History

Situated at 205 Whitehead Street, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is a captivating testament to Key West’s past. Originally crafted in the 1840s as a residence for Captain John Huling Geiger’s family, this architectural jewel bore witness to 10 generations of Geigers before succumbing to neglect. In a transformative move in 1960, Key West natives Colonel Mitchell Wolfson and Frances restored the deteriorating structure, birthing the Audubon House Museum & Tropical Gardens and igniting the city’s restoration movement. Today, this museum beckons history and antique enthusiasts alike, offering a glimpse into the prosperity of 1800s Key West through its exquisite antiques.

Things To Do in the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

Within the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens lies a treasure trove of historic art and architecture. Immerse yourself in the 19th century masterpieces of John James Audubon, showcasing his artistic brilliance. The meticulously tended gardens host a myriad of tropical wonders, including orchids and bromeliads, surrounding a serene koi pond adorned with sculptures of wading birds. The house’s interior is a captivating reflection of the era’s opulence, providing a distinctive backdrop for weddings and special events. Don’t miss the Audubon House Gallery, an adjacent haven for antique Audubon prints, modern artworks, nautical maps, and unique gift items, enhancing the overall unforgettable experience.

key-west-truman-little-white-house

Harry Truman Little White House 

The Harry S. Truman Little White House, Florida’s sole presidential site, is deeply woven into the fabric of American history. Erected in 1890 as the premier officer’s quarters on the U.S. naval station, this architectural marvel, designed by the local firm Scott, McDermott & Higgs, originally sat on the waterfront. The Little White House notably served as the command headquarters during the Spanish-American War and welcomed President Taft in 1912 as he journeyed to inspect the progress of the Panama Canal. The house truly gained its presidential status in 1946, when President Truman first set foot in the residence. Today, it stands as the only presidential museum in Florida and is currently undergoing a full restoration to reinstate its original 1949 furnishings. Visitors from around the globe flock to this landmark, eager to immerse themselves in its powerful legacy and to step back into a pivotal time in our nation’s history. This historic site is a testament to the past, showcasing the interplay of architecture, history and presidential affairs. For individuals eager to delve deep into the intricate tapestry of American history, this destination holds an essential place in their journey of understanding.

Things To Do at the Harry Truman Little White House

The Harry S. Truman Little White House, a pivotal historical landmark, offers an intimate glimpse into the life of the 33rd U.S. president. The VIP White Glove Tour escorts visitors through the Truman residence, unveiling original furniture and personal effects, and illuminating the spaces where monumental decisions were made. Highlights include the dining area where Truman and his wife Bess shared their meals, the meeting room where vital legislations like the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine were crafted, and the presentation of Truman’s preserved personal belongings. Immerse yourself in a significant era of American history on this enriching, educational tour.

Oldest House Museum & Gardens Key West

Oldest House Museum & Gardens’ Key West History

Constructed in 1829 by Captain Francis Watlington, the Oldest House Museum & Gardens, built by Richard Cussans, stands as the oldest house in South Florida. It has withstood turbulent fires, severe hurricanes, economic downturns and the occupation of Union troops, testifying to its robust architecture and Key West’s resilient spirit. Today, this enduring conch cottage serves as a monumental landmark, captivating vacationers with its pivotal role in Key West’s history and its tranquil, meticulously preserved gardens.

What To See at the Oldest House Museum

The Oldest House Museum exudes a timeless charm, bolstered by its collection of family portraits, original furnishings and period carpets that echo the bygone eras. The house is a repository of maritime history, showcased through detailed ship models and old documents that unravel the tale of old Key West. Beyond the house, a serene garden graced with benches offers a tranquil oasis for rest and contemplation. The museum houses vintage cooking utensils and an antique beehive oven, adding another layer to its historic appeal. Visitors can partake in a variety of festivals and activities, ensuring a unique experience with every visit. The captivating allure of this historic site as a wedding venue is undeniable. The dedicated team extends a warm welcome to couples seeking to commemorate their special events, from engagement celebrations to receptions, in an atmosphere steeped in rich history. This window into Key West’s resilient past serves as a compelling destination for history enthusiasts and newlyweds alike.

Custom House Key West

Custom House, Key West History

Engulfed in rich history, the Custom House museum serves as an artistic jewel in Key West. Its grounds boast awe-inspiring rotating sculptures by Seward Johnson, inspired by renowned artworks and photographs, making it a visually stunning landmark. The museum also houses a unique collection from artist Guy Harvey, capturing the essence of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” through 59 graphic sketches and artifacts. Additionally, visitors can admire 15 seldom-seen Impressionistic paintings by Williams, creating a dreamy atmosphere. A visit to this historic icon offers an enriching exploration for tourists, immersing them in a vibrant blend of art, history, and culture.

Things To Do at the Custom House Key West

A visit to Key West is incomplete without exploring the Custom House museum, a historic landmark teeming with art and history. On the grounds, visitors are greeted with rotating monumental sculptures by Seward Johnson, inspired by renowned classics such as Renoir’s “The Dance at Bougival,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and the iconic V-J Day kiss photograph. Inside, the permanent collection features 59 sketches by artist Guy Harvey, vividly illustrating Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and rare Impressionist paintings by Williams. This rich amalgamation of art, history, and culture offers an unforgettable, immersive experience for every visitor.

West Martello Fort

West Martello Fort History

The West Martello Fort, also known as the Key West Garden Club, is a historic marvel located at 1100 Atlantic Boulevard in Key West, Florida. Added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976, it bears testament to an era of fortification that began in 1863 but was never fully realized. Despite this, it served a crucial role during the Spanish-American War, housing troops, facilitating signaling and providing storage. Once a quarry for residents, it now stands as a significant landmark, inviting visitors to traverse its history and admire its vibrant gardens, epitomizing Key West’s resilient past.

Things To Do at the West Martello Fort

The West Martello Fort, an emblem of historic grandeur, invites visitors to explore its storied past and botanical beauty. The heart of your journey begins at the Joe Allen Garden Center, an educational hub offering insights into the fort’s history. As you venture into the fort, marvel at its architectural prowess — the vaulted ceilings, gun mounts, and a conservatory teeming with a rare collection of native and exotic flora, including blooming orchids and bromeliads. The main courtyard, with its brick path, leads you past tropical plants and sculpture installations framed by the fort’s ancient arches. Multiple gazebos offer shade and relaxation, with one promising panoramic ocean views from atop a hill. Another gazebo, nestled by the serene waterlily pond and waterfall, offers a tranquil spot for solitude and wildlife observation. This historic icon promises an enriching blend of history and horticulture for all visitors.

Key West Shipwreck Museum

Key West Shipwreck Museum History

The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, settled in sunny Florida, is a remarkable blend of history and entertainment, retelling 400 years of shipwreck salvage stories through captivating actor performances, enlightening films and authentic artifacts. The museum is a meticulous 19th century warehouse replica, originally constructed by wrecker tycoon Asa Tift. Visitors are intrigued by artifacts from the shipwreck of the Isaac Allerton, which sank in 1856 and was rediscovered in 1985. This shipwreck stands as one of Key West’s richest. Alongside these artifacts, the museum offers breathtaking views from the lookout tower, making it a must-visit for those interested in maritime history.

Things To Do at the Key West Shipwreck Museum

The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum masterfully embodies the perilous adventures and extraordinary recoveries of 19th century wrecking crews. Engrossing tales of treacherous wrecks and heroic rescues echo through its corridors while genuine artifacts from the ocean’s depths stand as tangible proof of these daring exploits. Visitors can touch a 64-pound silver bar salvaged from the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, creating a thrilling connection to the past. The story of the Isaac Allerton, a ship that met its tragic end off Key West, mesmerizes as it unfolds. The museum’s below sea level theater offers lively interviews, film clips, and real undersea footage that transport you into the life of a wrecker. The panoramic view from the 65-foot observation tower presents a bird’s-eye perspective of the island, where one can envisage spotting distant shipwrecks just like the captains of yore. Further exploration awaits on a Ghosts & Gravestones tour, revealing more of Key West’s fascinating history.

Key West Shipwreck Museum

Hemingway Home & Museum History

The Hemingway Home & Museum, a revered landmark in Key West, was the sanctuary of the celebrated American author, Ernest Hemingway, during the 1930s. As a National Historic Landmark, this French Colonial estate, crafted by Asa Tift in 1851, not only witnessed Hemingway’s prolific years but also played muse to some of his most enduring literary works. Positioned at an elevation of 16 feet, it holds the distinction of being the island’s second-highest site, offering a panoramic view opposite the Key West Lighthouse. The architectural marvel, completed in 1851, reflects both Key West’s history and the creative spirit of its famed occupant. Today, visitors can step into the storied halls and gain a rare insight into Hemingway’s life, adding a touch of literary history to the enchantment of a Key West vacation.

Special Events and Tours in the Hemingway Home & Museum

Marvel in the timeless elegance of the Hemingway Home, a venue for special events and a testament to Key West’s rich past. Its grandeur stems from its fascinating history, embodied in the luxurious Parisian furnishings, the antique Spanish

chest cum workspace, and the tranquil writing studio where Hemingway penned his renowned novels. The property’s six-toed feline occupants, descendants of Hemingway’s Snowball, add charm to this historic landmark. A tour paints a vivid portrait of Hemingway’s life, providing guests with an unforgettable glimpse into the past. More than a must-see site, it is a portal into Key West’s storied heritage. The Hemingway Home is more than simply a landmark to check off your sightseeing list; it serves as a gateway into the illustrious narrative of Key West’s rich cultural heritage. 

Key West Lighthouse

Key West Lighthouse History 

Erected in 1825, the Key West Lighthouse has been a crucial guide for countless ships navigating treacherous reefs surrounding the port. After its decommissioning in 1969, the Key West Art & Historical Society assumed management, reshaping it into the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. Today, it stands as a maritime history beacon, featuring the original Fresnel lens from the Sombrero Key Lighthouse and paying homage to the bravery of its keepers. With an observation deck offering a sweeping view of the sea, it remains an iconic landmark inviting vacationers to immerse themselves in Key West’s vibrant seafaring heritage.

Things To Do at the Key West Lighthouse

The Key West Lighthouse, an emblem of maritime legacy, unveils a panoramic Key West vista from its observation platform. Ascending the 88 steps, visitors can bask in breathtaking sunsets while exploring the original Fresnel lens from the Sombrero Key Lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters, now a captivating museum with a visual narrative of Keys lighthouse history through photographs and artifacts. Concluding this enlightening journey, the gift shop becomes a haven for regional art and guides to local sites, promising a trove of intriguing discoveries.

Key West Cemetery

Key West History

The Key West Cemetery, with its estimated 100,000 interred inhabitants, stands as a profound testament to the island city’s enduring spirit and resilience. The cemetery’s establishment in 1847, necessitated by a hurricane that had swept through the resting place of the dearly departed, marked a turning point in Key West’s history. Its distinct aboveground graves, a design choice driven by the high water table, draw parallels with the famed cemeteries of New Orleans. Today, the cemetery stands as a unique historical landmark, renowned for its unconventional gravestones, each narrating a tale of the city’s storied past. The remarkable number of graves, outpacing the living residents by threefold, offers a tangible connection to the island city’s ancestors, making it an intriguing stop for visitors immersing themselves in Key West’s rich cultural heritage. The silent pathways of the cemetery echo narratives of resilience, tenacity, and change, asserting its appeal as a destination rich in historical intrigue for both scholars and adventurers.

Things To Do in Key West Cemetery

Key West Cemetery, rich with historic monuments and memorials, offers enlightening walking tours that traverse Jewish, Catholic, and Cuban sections, epitomizing the city’s cultural diversity. A distinct section pays homage to the Battleship Maine victims. Notably, due to space constraints, newer graves are aboveground, adding a unique architectural layer. This historic space whispers tales of the past, making it an essential destination in Key West.

Key West Souternmost Point

Southernmost Point History

The Southernmost Point Buoy, an iconic anchored concrete buoy in Key West, Florida, marks the southernmost point in the continental USA. Erected in 1983 by the city, it stands as a testament to America’s geographical proximity to Cuba and has withstood several hurricanes, underscoring Key West’s resilience. Serving as a vibrant symbol of the enduring spirit of Key West and an intriguing photo spot, it offers visitors a tangible connection to the historical, political, and social fabric of the region. This revered landmark, quietly testifying to numerous decades of transformation, warrants a visit on any Key West journey.

Things To Do at the Southernmost Point

The Southernmost Point, a renowned landmark in Key West, is a buoy-shaped concrete monument painted in vibrant hues of yellow and black, proudly declaring the geographical distinction of being the closest point in the continental USA to Cuba — merely 90 miles away. A slice of history, it serves as a silent sentinel to the shifting sands of time and political transformation. Notably, the monument was once a crucial location for many Cubans seeking refuge in the United States. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a memorable photograph against its colorful backdrop. Adjacent to the buoy, you’ll find the historical Key West home of Tennessee Williams, the Southernmost Mansion, and the city’s AIDS Memorial — a testament to resilience and remembrance. The area surrounding the Southernmost Point is a bustling neighborhood dotted with charming pastel-hued conch houses, making for a picturesque exploration.

 

FAQs

  • What are the best ways to explore the historic sites in Key West?

The most effective ways to explore Key West’s historical sites include guided walking tours, which offer in-depth knowledge and insight. Sites like the Key West Cemetery and Southernmost Point have enlightening tours. For a comprehensive overview of the city’s history, consider the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley Tours. If you prefer to set your own pace, self-guided tours with a map and guidebook are an excellent option. Finally, renting a bike or scooter allows you to navigate the charming neighborhoods at your leisure, stopping at landmarks like the Tennessee Williams Home and Southernmost Mansion.

 

  • What are the most famous historic landmarks in Key West?

The most renowned historic landmarks in Key West include the Key West Cemetery, a symbol of the city’s resilience and cultural diversity. Another significant landmark is the Southernmost Point, a vibrant concrete buoy marking the southernmost point in the continental USA, known for its rich history and geographical uniqueness. Other must-see landmarks are the Tennessee Williams Home, the Southernmost Mansion, and the city’s AIDS Memorial, each telling their own tale of the city’s storied past.