Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Key to Paradise

Howdy key lovers!

        In celebration of our first day of "Summer in the Keys," today's key comes from an island just off the coast of Florida.  In fact, it is the key to the city of Key West.  You might say it's a key to a Key!

Front of the key to Key West, donated by Stuart Miller.

Back of the key to Key West, which includes a thermometer.

        The island of Key West is only about 4.2 square miles in size, but this small island holds many great treasures!  Some may not know, but Key West has a rich history beginning in precolonial times.  The earliest records of the island indicate that it was occupied by the Calusa people before conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon claimed the territory in the name of Spain in 1521.  The first name given to the island by the Spanish was Cayo Hueso, which literally means "Bone Island".  The Spanish chose this name because they discovered that the Calusa people had been using the island as a communal graveyard and they found the remains of thousands of the island's deceased natives upon their arrival.

        Although Great Britain held a short claim to the island of Key West, it was primarily under the ownership of Spain.  In 1815, the island was given to Spanish navy officer Juan Pablo Salas by the governor of Cuba.  After Florida became part of the United States in 1821, the island passed into the hands of  John Simonton, an American private businessman.  The island was desired by many because of its strategic location for shipping between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  In fact, the island became known as the Gibraltar of the West because of its access to such large amounts of commerce.

Sign in Key West depicting its strategic location for commerce.

        A few years later, Fort Zachary Taylor, an American naval base, was built on Key West.  Because of the presence of the naval base on the island prior to 1861, Key West remained part of the Union during the American Civil War despite Florida's decision to secede and join the Confederacy.  Key West was in some ways "key" to the success of the Union army.  The Union's control over much of the South's salt production and its strategic location in the center of Southern commerce gave it the upper hand in the islands and the southern regions of Florida.

Fort Zachary Taylor, Union outpost during the Civil War.

Key West, the island paradise.

        By 1889, Key West was Florida's largest and most affluent city.  Today, Key West serves as a popular vacation destination for thousands of tourists each year.  Its gorgeous landscape and tropical climate make it a perfect getaway for individuals and families all over the United States, so it's not surprising that tourism remains the main driver of the city's economy.  Key West also has a historic district where guests can enjoy the history of some of the island's first structures.  Here at the Baldpate Inn, we are delighted to own the key to this little slice of paradise.  Come visit us in our mountain paradise to see this key to a Key, and make sure you stop in to check out our "Summer in the Keys" event going on until Tuesday, July 18th!

Blog written by:
Alicia Byers
Museum Curator, The Baldpate Inn

Key West History

Key West
Key West Attractions
Fort Zachary Taylor