Key West, Florida

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Key West buoy at the Southernmost point in the continental United States is located in Key West, Florida, at the end of U.S. Highway 1.
Key West buoy at the Southernmost point in the continental United States is located in Key West, Florida, at the end of U.S. Highway 1.

Key West is a city and an island of the same name at the southernmost and westernmost tip of the Florida Keys in Monroe County, Florida, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 25,478. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 24,768 [1]. This is an interesting comparison to the 1920 census that put the population at approximately 20,000. It is the county seat of Monroe County.6 Key West is known as the Southernmost City and also as the Conch Republic. It is also the southern terminus of U.S. 1. Key West is about 150 miles (240 km) southwest of Miami, Florida, and 90 miles (145 km) north of Havana, Cuba.

Key West is a seaport destination for many passenger cruise ships. The Key West International Airport provides airline service. Hotels and guesthouses are available for lodging. Many restaurants offer a choice of indoor or outdoor dining.

Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) was founded in the city in 1926. The central business district is comprised primarily of Duval, Whitehead, and Simonton Streets.

Key West has a large gay and lesbian population and is a popular international gay tourist destination. The Key West Business Guild is the nation's first and oldest continuous gay and lesbian chamber of commerce. Key West is known for its tolerance and acceptance and has adopted the diversity motto "One Human Family" to reflect a desire to treat all people with respect and dignity. Key West is home to many eccentric residents and visitors who have traveled to the end of the road (U.S. Highway 1) to find individual freedom.

The U.S. Navy has a large presence and occupies significant property in Key West. The Naval Air Station (NAS Key West) located on Boca Chica Key is an air combat training facility. President Harry S. Truman often stayed in Key West for rest and relaxation at the Truman Little White House during his presidency.

There was formerly a railway, but in 1935 its operation was discontinued. See also the history section.

Map of Key West
Map of Key West



In Pre-Columbian times Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. The first European to visit was Juan Ponce de León in 1521. As Florida became a Spanish colony, a fishing and salvage village with a small garrison was established here.

The name "Key West" is derived from a "false friend" anglicization of the Spanish language name of the island, Cayo Hueso, meaning "Bone Island".

In 1763 when Great Britain took control of Florida, the community of Spaniards and Native Americans were moved to Havana.

Florida returned to Spanish control 20 years later, but there was no official resettlement of the island. Informally the island was used by fishermen from Cuba and from the British Bahamas, who were later joined by others from the United States after the latter nation's independence. While claimed by Spain, no nation exercised de facto control over the community there for some time.

Key West, ca. 1856
Key West, ca. 1856

In 1815 the Spanish governor in Havana deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas of Saint Augustine, Florida. After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas sold the island to U.S. businessman John Simonton for $2,000 in 1821. Simonton divided the island into plots and sold some of them. There was already a town on a part of the island, with the inhabitants recognizing the authority of no nation. Simonton lobbied the U.S. Government to establish a naval base on the island, both to take advantage of the island's strategic location and to bring law and order to the town. In 1823 Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron took charge of Key West, which he ruled (but, according to some, exceeding his authority) as military dictator under martial law.

Many of the residents of Key West were immigrants from the Bahamas, known as Conchs. In the 20th Century many residents of Key West starting referring to themselves as "Conchs", and the term is now generally applied to all residents of Key West. Some residents use the term "Salt Water Conch" to refer to a person born in Key West, while the term "Fresh Water Conch" refers to a resident not born in Key West but who has lived in Key West for a significant time.

Major industries in Key West in the early 19th century included fishing, salt production, and most famously salvage. In 1860 wrecking made Key West the largest and richest city in Florida and the wealthiest town per capita in the U.S. A number of the inhabitants worked salvaging shipwrecks from nearby Florida reefs, and the town was noted for the unusually high concentration of fine furniture and chandeliers which the locals used in their own homes after salvaging them from wrecks.

During the American Civil War, while Florida seceded and joined the Confederate States of America, Key West remained in U.S. Union hands because of the Naval base. Fort Zachary Taylor, constructed from 1845 to 1866, was an important Key West outpost during the Civil War. Fort Jefferson, located about 68 miles (109 km) from Key West on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, served after the Civil War as the prison for Dr. Samuel A. Mudd convicted of conspiracy for setting the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.

In the late 19th century salt and salvage declined as industries, but Key West gained a thriving cigar making industry.

Many Cubans moved to Key West during Cuba's unsuccessful war for independence in the 1860s and 1870s.

Key West was the last of the series of Keys connected to the Florida mainland by a series of railroad bridges completed in 1912, as the Overseas Railway extension of Henry M. Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed many of the railroad bridges, and killed hundreds of residents, including around 400 World War I veterans who were living in camps and working on federal road and mosquito-control projects. The United States Federal Government then rebuilt the rail lines as an automobile highway, completed in 1938, which became an extension of United States Highway 1. The portion of US 1 through the Keys is called the Overseas Highway. Because Key West can be accessed by land, the southern point of the island is marked as the southernmost point of land on the United States mainland.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for many years, and graces the front of Sloppy Joe's bar t-shirts.

In 1982 Key West, and the rest of the Florida Keys, briefly declared its "independence" as the Conch Republic in a protest over a United States Border Patrol blockade. This blockade was setup on U.S.1 where the Northern end of the Overseas Highway meets the mainland at Florida City. This blockade was in response to the Mariel Boatlift. Flags, T-shirts and other merchandise representing the Conch Republic are still popular souvenirs for visitors to Key West.

Key West from space, October 2002
Key West from space, October 2002

Notable Key West natives

  • David Robinson – born in Key West while his father was stationed there with the Navy.
  • George Mira – Native of Key West went on to star as a two-time All-American at the University of Miami in the early 1960s. He played Pro Football for San Francisco and the Miami Dolphins. His nickname was "The Matador".
  • Boog Powell – Played for Key West High in the 1950s, went on to star for the Baltimore Orioles from 1961 to 1974 (his final three years were with the Indians and Dodgers). He had 339 career home runs.

Notable Key West non-natives

Geography and climate


Location of Key West, Florida

Key West is located at 24° 33′ 33″ N, 81° 47′ 03″ W (24.559166, -81.784031)1. The maximum elevation above sea level is about 16 feet (5 m), known as Solares Hill. Key West Island is about 4 miles (6 km) long and 2 miles (3 km) wide; since the late 20th century it has been artificially expanded to the north.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.2 km² (7.4 mi²). 15.4 km² (5.9 mi²) of it is land and 3.8 km² (1.5 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 19.73% water.

Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous 48 states, as seen in picture (see Extreme Points for more information.)


Because of the nearness of the gulf stream in the Straits of Florida, about 12 miles south and southeast, and the tempering effects of the Gulf of Mexico to the west and north, Key West has a notably mild, tropical-maritime climate (similar to the Caribbean islands) in which the average temperatures during the winter are about 14 degrees lower than in summer. Cold fronts are strongly modified by the warm water as they move in from northerly quadrants in winter. The average low and high temperatures in January is 65 °F/ 75 °F. There is no known record of frost, ice, sleet, or snow in Key West. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Key West was 41 °F (5 °C) on January 12, 1886, and on January 13, 1981. Prevailing easterly tradewinds and sea breezes suppress the usual summertime heating. The average low and high temperatures in July is 80 °F/ 90 °F. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Key West was 97 °F (36.1 °C) on July 19, 1880, and on August 26, 1956. Precipitation is characterized by dry and wet seasons. The period of December through April receives abundant sunshine and slightly less than 25 percent of the annual rainfall. This rainfall usually occurs in advance of cold fronts in a few heavy or light showers. June through October is normally the wet season, receiving approximately 53 percent of the yearly total in numerous showers and thunderstorms. Early morning is the favored time for diurnal showers. Easterly waves during this season occasionally bring excessive rainfall, while infrequent hurricanes may be accompanied by unusually heavy amounts. Humidity remains high during the entire year.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 25,478 people, 11,016 households, and 5,463 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,653.3/km² (4,285.0/mi²). There are 13,306 housing units at an average density of 863.4/km² (2,237.9/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 84.94% White, 9.28% African American, 0.39% Native American, 1.29% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.86% from other races, and 2.18% from two or more races. 16.54% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 11,016 households out of which 19.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.7% are married couples living together, 8.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 50.4% are non-families. 31.4% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.23 and the average family size is 2.84.

In the city the population is spread out with 16.0% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 37.1% from 25 to 44, 26.7% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 39 years. For every 100 females there are 122.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 126.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $43,021, and the median income for a family is $50,895. Males have a median income of $30,967 versus $25,407 for females. The per capita income for the city is $26,316. 10.2% of the population and 5.8% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 11.5% of those under the age of 18 and 11.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Panorama of a Key West beach
Panorama of a Key West beach

Attractions, events, recreation, and culture

Rent a bicycle and explore the history and architecture of Old Town Key West. Walking tours including a tour of the unusual Key West Cemetery are available. The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is a daily spectacle for visitors and residents. Boat excursions and tours provide a great way to view Key West from the water. The Duval Street bar and restaurant district include many different entertainment options all within walking distance of each other. The Tennessee Williams Theatre is a performing arts center, a civic center, and a community center.

The Key West Botanical Forest and Garden is an excellent, frost-free arboretum and botanical garden containing a number of "champion tree" specimens.

Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden is a one acre (4,000 m²) garden resembling a lush, predominantly green, rainforest. It is an exhibit of wild nature’s artistry in a woodland garden.

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory features a 5,000 square foot (460 m²) glass-domed tropical butterfly habitat.

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum showcases gold, silver, and treasure recovered from shipwrecks around the world.

Mingle with the locals, shop, and dine at the Key West Historic Seaport at the Key West Bight.

The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum preserves the history of the Key West Lighthouse built in 1847.

Popular annual events include:

External links

Edit Florida Keys
Upper keys Key Largo, Islamorada, Tavernier, Plantation Key, Matecumbe Key
Middle keys Craig Key, Fiesta Key, Long Key, Conch Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, Deer Key, Key Vaca, Boot Key
Lower keys Bahia Honda, West Summerland Key, No Name Key, Big Pine Key, Torch Key, Little Torch Key, Ramrod Key, Summerland Key, Cudjoe Key, Sugarloaf Key, Saddlebunch Keys, Big Coppitt Key, Boca Chica Key, Key Haven, Key West
Outlying islands Dry Tortugas, Marquesas Keys
Areas Florida Bay, Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, National Key Deer Sanctuary, Biscayne Bay, Biscayne National Park
Other topics Overseas Highway, Overseas Railway, Seven Mile Bridge, Key Deer, Conch Republic, Monroe County, Hurricane Georges, 1935 Hurricane, Theater of the Sea
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