Key West is the southernmost island in the chain known as The Florida Keys. Not only is Key West the southernmost key but also it is the southernmost point in the continental United States. Key West is located 90 miles north of Cuba. There is only one way in and out of Key West: US 1 (as far as automobiles are concerned thanks cbustapeck). US highway 1 is the only route into Key West going over the infamous 7 mile bridge. (Of course this is a bit of a problem during hurricane season.)
The main street that runs through Key West is Duval Street. Along this road you can find everything from quirky art galleries to t-shirt shops to key lime pie on a stick dipped in chocolate.
Walking around the island you are also bound to come upon a sign or two located outside resorts and such that say “clothing optional.” This exemplifies the general open-mindedness of the residents. On the island you can see couple of all types enjoying drag shows or one of the many other theatre productions. Key West prides itself on being accepting of all people.
Key West is considered a tropical climate. The highest temperature recorded in Key West was back in 1880, and it was 97 degrees F. The average high temperature in the summer is a mere 89 degrees F (32 deg. C), which compared to many Floridian cities is quite comfortable. The reason for the not-too-hot temp is the surrounding cool waters. As far as low temperatures are concerned during the summer months the average low is 80 deg. F. The lowest temperature ever recorded was 41 deg F in 1981.
The average summer water temperature is in the mid-80’s F. Speaking of water, hurricane season is fairly quiet in Key West. The last major hurricane to hit the islands was Georges in 1998. After October rain in seldom seen but thunderstorms begin again in May.
Legend has it that Key West was originally the location of a Caloosa Indian tribe burial ground. This legend is derived from the original name of the island, "Cayo Hueso", or island of bones. No bones have been found to date that support this legend.
In 1512 Ponce de Leon claimed the island in the name of Spain. However in 1763 the island changed hands and became part of the British colonies. It wasn’t until 1826 that the island was named a Floridian city.
In 1822 a small naval depot was built in Key West with a goal to rid the island of pirates. The US Navy left Key West in the 1830’s
Key West was once the richest per capita city in the United States. Until the first lighthouses were built in the 1840’s “wrecking” was actually a lucrative and regulated industry. Opportunities were plentiful in this city rich with industries such as ship building, fishing, and salvaging. The popularity of Key West grew even more when the overseas railroad built by Henry Flagler finally reached the island in 1912. The railroad was in operation until 1935.
It was about this same point in the 1930’s when the wealth of Key West began to diminish. Industries moved elsewhere and the city was all but vacated. It wasn’t long until people began to realize the potential of a Key West revitalization. No longer is the city considered one of industry but it is now a haven for artists, writers, and of course tourists.
Restoration of the old wooden peg and gingerbread style houses is ever continuing; many of the old homes have been transformed into museums or places for visitors to stay. Only 17 percent of the houses in Key West were built after 1970. The restored homes of novelist Ernest Hemmingway and environmentalist John James Audubon have become popular stops for tourists.
The main economic driving force is tourism. Over 66 percent of employment is linked to the tourism industry.
The average household annual income is 28 000 USD which is just slightly higher than Florida’s mainland. About ten percent of residents fall on the poverty line.
Housing in Key West costs almost twice as much as living on the mainland. The island is said to be the forth most costly place to reside in the United States.
In 1999 the estimated permanent population was 27 698. Additionally there were 18 630 tourists. This brings the average daily population to be just over 46 000. The average age of a Key West resident was 33.7 compared to 36.5 for mainlanders. Residents are also known for relocating frequently in 1990 almost two-thirds of the population hadn’t lived in their current place of residence five years earlier. Only an estimated twenty percent have lived in their current homes for more than 15 years.
Sights to See:
Hemingway Home and Museum
Audubon House and Tropical Gardens
Truman Little White House
Curry Mansion Museum
Dry Tortugas National Park
Heritage House Museum
Robert Frost Cottage
Key West Aquarium
Key West Cemetery
Key West Museum of Art and History
St. Paul’s Church