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Key West History, Florida

The history of Key West city in the US is basically the history of the island. The island is believed to have been the homeland of the Calusa people. Like Florida Keys, Key West was non-existent for the outsiders till the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León undertook his second expedition to Florida region in 1521. Although Juan Ponce de León was killed during this colonizing expedition, he was able to take control of the land for Spain before he died.

It was the Spanish colonizers of the island who gave it the name of Cayo Hueso (from which the present English name Key West is believed to have been derived). Cayo Hueso is Spanish for ‘Bone Key’ and legend has it that early explorers had found bones scattered all over the island on their arrival and named it Cayo Hueso.

England took control of Florida Keys including Key West in 1763 only to return it to the Spanish 20 years later. Nevertheless, in the following years Key West and its surrounding region was not really subjected to de facto rule. There were prohibitions/embargos neither on the islanders nor on the neighboring islanders.

History of Key West – The Phases Of Initial Development

Things started changing in Key West when in 1815 Spain chartered the island to Juan Pablo Salas, who was a Spanish Navy Artillery man posted in Saint Augustine. Although Salas did not do much for the betterment of the island, the one good thing that he did was to sell it to the U.S. businessman John W. Simonton.

Simonton was smart enough to comprehend the importance of the island’s strategic setting and the advantages it entailed. Without further delay, he divided Key West into 4 equal plots, selling 3 plots to his friends and fellow businessmen P.C. Greene, John Fleeming and John Whitehead, retaining ownership of a quarter of the island.

Simonton did not stop at that; he thereafter applied to the United States Navy to set up a base of operation in Key West. Deeming it advantageous, the Secretary of the Navy ordered Lt. Matthew C. Perry to explore the island and assess its value as a commercial port and naval base. This was in 1822 and soon the island was designated as a U.S. port of entry with its own customs house.

Key West was progressing thus; however, 1823 proved a little disheartening as Commodore David Porter of the West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron arrived there for he assumed the role of a military dictator. However, the history of Key West tells us that these dark days did not last long and the island once again continued in the path of progress.

History of Key West – Civil War and the Latter Period

Being a naval base, Key West remained under U.S. Union control during the American Civil War. Of course, sections of the local community sympathized with the Confederate forces and even hoisted Confederate flags over their residences.

Despite the Civil War, Key West had a stable economy. Salvaging (which involved recovering items/valuables from the wrecks in the surrounding reefs) and salting had been the mainstay of Key West’s economy in the pre-Civil War days and after the war, the cigar-making industry became the chief contributor. The result of this uninterrupted progress was that by 1889, Key West became the wealthiest city in Florida.

Side by side making economic progress, Key West also witnessed infrastructural development and development in the field of defense. By 1938, Key West was well-connected by both road and railways (no wonder that several US presidents have toured Key West). Around the 1930s, World War II became almost imminent and a submarine base was constructed in Key West with a view to strengthening the naval base.

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  • windykatyAudubon House and Tropical Garden
    travel tip by windykaty posted more then 30 days ago
    This a beautiful house with turn-of-the-century architecture built for the naturalist John Audubon in the 1840s when he visited then settled down in Key West. There are drawings of birds, drawn originally by Audubon and also several...
  • marius_fThe Old Town of Key West by Trolley
    travel tip by marius_f posted more then 30 days ago
    Roaming the Old Town of Key West is like roaming the streets of a Victorian-era city set in a tropical surrounding. The building are so beautifully preserved, renovated and repainted, they look brand new, only in style do they show their...
  • szbogiThe Curry Mansion in Key West
    travel tip by szbogi posted more then 30 days ago
    You don't always have the opportunity to stay at an Inn that has been the dwelling place of millionaires during the winter months. So when we heard that the Curry Mansion is an Inn we hurriedly booked a room for two, before visiting Key...
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