Standing as a beacon of freedom and resilience, the Key West Lighthouse is an American treasure. Climbing its 88 steps rewards visitors with a breathtaking view of the island, painted with a palette of turquoise waters, lush palms, and vibrant sunsets. Since 1848, it has not only guided vessels but also encapsulated the spirit of Key West. The keeper’s quarters, now a museum, whisper tales of bravery and dedication. A visit here is not just sightseeing — it’s stepping into a slice of patriotic history, an entertaining voyage that respects the past while celebrating the spirit of the Key West community.
History of the Key West Lighthouse
Surviving hurricanes and the test of time since 1825, it originally used whale oil lamps to guide ships to the harbor, with the Mabrity couple serving as its first keepers. Post-destruction of the 1846 Great Havana Hurricane, the tower was rebuilt taller and sturdier in 1848, and later modernized with electric lighting. Today, after extensive restorations in the 1980s, the lighthouse serves as a museum, preserving the rich maritime past of Key West. This historic site, favorably situated, should be on the itinerary of every Key West visitor, with easy access provided by the Old Town Trolley.
The Haunted Experience of the Lighthouse
Unfolding a spectral narrative, the Key West Lighthouse offers a haunted experience steeped in history. Visitors have reported feeling unseen hands on the steep climb or a playful tussle of their hair, often followed by the sound of a chuckle. Some have encountered apparitions of the lighthouse’s former keepers – Mabrity, Mary, her husband, and even Mabrity’s young daughters who tragically perished during a hurricane. The grounds also host a soldier’s ghost, standing guard at the entrance with a stern expression. These ethereal encounters, nestled within the iconic lighthouse, add an intriguing layer to its rich tapestry of history.
Attractions Near the Key West Lighthouse
Mallory Square, Key West
Mallory Square, nestled in the heart of Key West, Florida, is a vibrant mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. Overlooking the awe-inspiring Gulf of Mexico, this plaza is a cherished waterfront haven. With the historic Old Post Office and Customs House on one side and the fascinating Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum on the other, it’s more than just a scenic spot — it’s a journey into America’s rich maritime past. But as the day’s end approaches, the square transforms. The famed “Sunset Celebration” begins, an enchanting daily festival that dances in the glow of the setting sun. Artisans, performers, and food carts come alive, creating an atmosphere that’s as colorful and lively as Key West itself. A visit to Mallory Square is not just a tourist stop but a patriotic homage to our history and an unforgettable memory in the making.
Harry S. Truman Little White House
The Harry S. Truman Little White House stands as a glorious chapter in America’s presidential history. Established in Key West, Florida, this quaint yet significant edifice served as President Harry S. Truman’s winter retreat over 11 visits, hosting him for a total of 175 days. Nestled in the charming Truman Annex neighborhood of Old Town, the house offers an intimate glimpse into the president’s life. Since its transformation into a state historic site and museum in 1991, visitors have been ushered through guided tours, exploring the very rooms where Truman lived, worked, and relaxed. The president’s desk, adorned with his briefcase, books, telephone, and the celebrated “The Buck Stops Here” sign, are preserved, offering a tangible connection to history. This patriotic monument is not only a celebration of Truman’s legacy but also a commemoration of American history.
Key West Aquarium
Boasting a rich history dating back to the early 1930s, the Key West Aquarium, located at 1 Whitehead Street, is a testament to Florida’s commitment to marine conservation. Conceived by Dr. Robert Van Deusen, it stands as one of Florida’s oldest aquariums and the only public one in Key West. Initially an open-air establishment, it was a pioneering venture of its time. Today, the aquarium captivates visitors with its diverse exhibits, ranging from Atlantic shore fish, alligators, and jellyfish to interactive touch tanks and imposing sea turtles. Its 15-cent admission fee for adults and 5 cents for children in its early years echoes its long-standing commitment to education and accessibility. The aquarium’s unique allure even caught the attention of James Merrill, who immortalized it in his poem “Key West Aquarium: The Sawfish.” This historic establishment not only offers a deep dive into the marine world but also serves as a vibrant page in our American story.
Sails to Rails Museum
The Sails to Rails Museum at Flagler Station, located in the historic Key West Bight, is a monumental tribute to Key West’s illustrious maritime history. The museum transports guests back to the Age of Sail, from the 1500s to the early 1900s, when tall ships navigated the treacherous waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Florida Keys. Exhibits, raw footage, unique artifacts, and the only scale model of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, all tell an intricate tale of sponging, turtling, fishing, wrecking, and cigar making. This heritage-filled adventure offers one of the most comprehensive overviews of the Florida Keys and Key West’s history available, welcoming all ages to delve into a pivotal chapter of America’s past.
Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, a tribute to a bygone era, is a captivating blend of history, theater, and adventure. Housed within a 19th-century warehouse, built by salvaging magnate Asa Tift, the museum offers a unique glimpse into the lucrative world of shipwreck salvage. Through performances by actors portraying Tift, compelling films, and an array of authentic artifacts, visitors are immersed in a tale spanning four centuries. This engaging depiction of a time when wrecking sustained an entire island’s livelihood paints a vivid picture of Key West’s history when it boasted Florida’s largest population. This museum is more than a history lesson — it’s a step back in time and a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the human spirit.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Stepping into the world of literary legend Ernest Hemingway, the Hemingway Home, nestled within Key West, Florida, is a treasured historic site. At 907 Whitehead Street, it stands proudly across from the Key West Lighthouse, bearing tales of its famous resident from the 1930s. The house, adorned with a diverse collection of Hemingway cats, many boasting extra digits, fuels the imagination and provides a glimpse into the writer’s world. Since its transformation into a private museum in 1964, the Hemingway Home has invited guests on a rich historical journey. In 1968, it was honored as a National Historic Landmark, cementing its status as a true American treasure.
Venture south on Whitehead Street and you’ll encounter an iconic monument, the Southernmost Point Buoy, standing proud at 18 feet above sea level. Established by the city in 1983, this vibrant concrete buoy marks the southernmost point in the continental United States, a mere 90 miles from Cuba. Originally marked by a modest sign, the buoy has since become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors eager to capture a memento of their journey to the edge of America. Its bold colors and captivating location offer a visual feast, turning a simple geographical marker into an essential part of the Key West adventure.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Nestled at 1316 Duval Street, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a vibrant haven, inviting guests into a world teeming with life. Within its climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat, 50 to 60 different butterfly species from across the globe find their home amid flowering plants and cascading waterfalls. The conservatory is also a sanctuary for “butterfly-friendly” birds, including American flamingos, red-factor canaries, zebra finches, cordon-bleu finches, and Chinese-painted quail. The center provides an immersive educational experience, allowing guests to observe the fascinating cycle of life as caterpillars transform amid their host plants. A visit here is an enchanting journey, offering an intimate encounter with nature’s kaleidoscopic wonders.
Why is the Key West Lighthouse famous?
The Key West Lighthouse is renowned for its historical significance and spectacular views. Commissioned in 1847, the lighthouse played a crucial role in guiding mariners through treacherous waters and ensuring safe passage to Key West. It stands as a remarkable tribute to the island’s maritime history. Moreover, it’s famous for being one of the few lighthouses in the United States that had a woman, Barbara Mabrity, as its keeper for a substantial period of time. After climbing the 88 steps to the top, visitors are rewarded with an unparalleled panorama of the island, making it a must-visit destination for tourists.
How many steps are in the Key West Lighthouse?
The Key West Lighthouse boasts a total of 88 steps that visitors can climb to reach the observation platform. While the stairs are primarily used for emergencies and maintenance, most visitors prefer the speedy elevators that provide a quick ascent to the top in just 43 seconds.
What is an important fact about the Key West Lighthouse?
One interesting fact about the Key West Lighthouse is its elevation. Situated at an elevation of 16 feet (4.9 meters) above sea level, it holds the distinction of being the second-highest site on the island. This unique vantage point provides breathtaking views of Key West and the surrounding areas.
How long does it take to tour the Key West Lighthouse?
The duration of a tour at the Key West Lighthouse can vary based on individual preferences. On average, visitors can explore the lighthouse and its museum exhibits in approximately 30 to 45 minutes. However, those who choose to climb the stairs to the observation deck may spend additional time enjoying the scenic views.
How much does it cost to go to the Key West Lighthouse?
The Key West Lighthouse is open to the public for a small fee. For the latest information on admission prices, it’s recommended to check the official website or contact the Key West Lighthouse. These fees contribute to the ongoing maintenance and preservation efforts of this historic site.