Key West is many people's paradise. It has dazzling waters, beautiful beaches, and
a wonderful climate. This tiny island is located off the southernmost part of Florida is the
only true tropical island in the United States. Thousands of people from all over the world
come to Key West every year for the rela lifestyle and rich culture. As well as being
rich in culture it is rich in history too. Key West has also been the home to many great
authors and artists and is known for having a very diverse population.
Initially, Key West was a home for Spanish explorers and pirates until the first
settlement was established in 1822. In 1822 the U.S. Navy sent Commodore David Porter
to the island. He was sent to take over the island and to eventually stop piracy. He did
succeed and in 1825, Congress put forth a law that required that all ship wrecks where
salvaged goods were taken must be brought to a U.S. port for arbitration. That U.S. port
turned out to be Key West. It then became the wealthiest city in the U.S. (Murphy 3).
Industry arrived in Key West by 1831. Industries such as, cigar-making,
ship-fitting, salt manufacturing, and turtling employed many people. Soon after that the
local residents discovered that their sea sponges were highly valued in the North and that
spun another booming industry for the people of Key West (3). By 1850, this tiny island
was populated and had schools, hospitals, and churches and was thriving on its success
Key West soon played a part in the Civil War and became known as the cigar
capitol of the world. During the Civil War the Confederacy set up two forts that would
serve as headquarters for naval blockade, Jefferson and Taylor. Key West was the only
Union-held city south of the Masion-Dixon Line and as many as 299 ships would be
anchored at Key West at one time. Then after the war, the industries success decreased,
but the immigration of Cubans to Key West increased. The cigar industry soon grew to
phenomenal heights and the island became a refuge for Cuban revolutionaries (Gifford 9).
The more successful Key West was the more populated it became and soon the
city we now know as Miami spun off of Key West. In 1871, the arrival of the Cuban San
Carlos Institute and Opera House made Key West a rich and diverse city. The island did
suffer from a fire that destroyed fifty acres of downtown property in 1886, but by then
there was a steamship service and that made reconstruction of the city quick and easy (4).
Soon the good luck of Key West was about to run out. A hurricane arrived
and was so destructive that it forced the cigar industry to the Tampa area. Then, their
second main industry, that was the sponge beds, was destroyed by a blight. The only (5)
thing they had left was the tourist industry and the Florida land boom collapsed in the
1920's, so the only tourists they had were people passing through to Cuba. During The
Great Depression the island's problems escalated. In 1934, the people were considering
abandoning the island because up to 80% of the population was on relief. Then a major
setback occurred. The biggest hurricane to hit Key West happened on Labor Day 1935.
The hurricane packed winds up to 200 miles an hour and killed hundreds of people. Key
West had suddenly become the poorest city in the U.S.(Murphy 5).
The only recourse Key West had left was tourism and at that time the public didn't
seem interested in Key West. Since that was the only industry that could be successful
something had to be done. Julius Stone, director of the Florida FERA, led a nation wide
campaign proclaiming that Key West was Americas new tropical paradise and it
The tourism industry built up soon after that and Key West was successful again.
Still today, tourism remains Key West's largest industry. It is home to the only living coral
reef in North America and it takes pride in managing and protecting that vital resources
(Murphy 6). Key West gets an average of about 1.5 million visitors every year. These
visitors flock to Key West for the delicious restaurants, local festivals, and friendly
Key West is known for its diverse culture and eclectic people. The local
population is a medley of different people such as, Bahamian, Cuban, and New England
(2). The local population that is native to Key West are called "Conchs" and many of
them confess to never leaving the island their whole life (Gifford 6).
Key West has also attracted many authors and artists to the area. It has been the
home to such people as John Hershey, Tennessee Williams, Alison Lurie, and John James
Audubon, but one of the most important people to be from Key West has to be Ernest
Hemingway (Wilson 1). Hemingway first heard of the island from a friend and on his way
back from Paris he and his family stopped on the island and fell in love with it. Soon after
that Hemingway bought land and built a house there (5).
Key West is a beautiful and diverse city unlike any other city in the world and even
though it has had its good times and bad times it has managed to become successful. It
thrives on its main industry witch is tourism, but that is what the city specializes in. Many
wonderful attractions are in this city, such as rich culture and beautiful coral reefs, but this
is why Key West will always be in America's hearts.
Gifford, John. "The Florida Keys". National Geographic Society, 1997.
Murphy, George. "The History of Key West". www.Key West Florida. com.
Wilson, M. " The Hemingway Recource Center". www.lostgeneration.com. The
Hemingway Resource Center, 1999.
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