Front Cover

Group Title: Key West historic tracts ; no. 1
Title: Key West, Fla.
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00026121/00001
 Material Information
Title: Key West, Fla. before the fire of March 30th, 1886
Physical Description: 7 p. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Publisher: s.n.)
Place of Publication: (S.l
Publication Date: 1899
Subject: Key West (Fla.)   ( lcsh )
General Note: Cover title.
General Note: By the New York Sun Man. A sketch, a criticism, a burlesque.
Funding: (Florida heritage collection); (Ephemeral cities)
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00026121
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 001883067
notis - AJV8182
 Related Items
Other version: Alternate version (PALMM)
PALMM Version

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
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        Page 2
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Full Text

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In many respects this is the most remarkable spot in Uncle Sam's
domain. There must be a brilliant future in store for Key West, as it
has no past and very little present. While the rest of the Union has
been up and doing, this coral key has slumbered in the Gulf almost
unknown to the world, and caring nothing about the world's manners or
customs. It ts alike peculiar in climate, situation, structure and popula-
tion. It is the furthest south of the most southerly State, and is indeed
the very end of the United States. When the sun has traced the high-
est point of his spiral course on the twenty-first of June, he is almost
directly over Key West, as it lies in latitude 240 32", and the border of
the tropics is only sixty miles south. On' the map you will notice a chain
of little dots trailing south-southwest from the Florida peninsula. They
are keys, and at the end is Key West. Speaking strictly, there are sev-
eral keys still farther west and south, but they are merely a speck in the
water sufficient to hold a lighthouse, with the exception of the Tortugas,
on which Mr. Jefferson Davis, when Secretary of War, built a fourteen-
million dollar fort, now in charge of a garrison of one ordnance sergeant,
and somewhat in need of repair.
The climate is essentially tropical. This is the only city in the
United States where neither snow nor frost has ever been seen. The
lowest temperature ever recorded was 41 about thirty years ago, and
again in winter of 1885-6; the lowest in 1884 was 510. Th- average
temperature for January, 1885, was 720; for the months of July and
August it is about 840. The daily range of temperature is very small,
rarely more than 100, and sometimes as low as 2; and the highest tem-
perature in summer seldom exceeds 940. During the northers of the
winter months, a temperature of 600 is low enough to shiver the entire
community, and overcoats with fur collars are in great demand. During
a cold snap, when the Mt. Washington signal station reported 500 below
zero, the Key West station was 720 above-a small matter of 122 dif-

ference. Lying in the track of the northeast trades, with the Gulf Stream
a dozen miles to the south, Key West has, without exception, the finest
climate in the United States. There is always a breeze and rarely
a gale, and you may wear a straw hat with propriety nearly every day
in the year. It is solely due to the monumental sluggishness of the popu-
lation that Key West is almost unknown to the tourist and health-seeker.
Key West is reached by steamers from New York, from New
Orleans, and by a mail steamer from Tampa Bay. The key has as much
shape as a camel, but in a general way lies east and west, and contains
about six square miles. It is as flat as a pancake, the highest point being
sixteen feet above mean sea level. To the casual visitor it looks as
though the sea, particularly in a storm, would submerge this insignificant
rise; but it is a matter of record that it never has. The city proper
covers the western end of the key. It is densely settled, and about as
un-American as possible, bearing a strong resemblance to a West Indian
town. The houses are of wood, plainly built, and, with a few' exceptions,
painted white. There are, I think, only three brick buildings, certainly
not more than six. Piazzas abound, and occasionally some lattice work
is seen, but there is no attempt at decoration or display. Many of the
business houses have no signs, and there is a general air of don't-care-
whether-I-sell-or-not about the shops. The houses are of all sizes, jum-
bled up in the oddest way, and anywhere but on the line of the street.
The interior of each block is filled up with one-story shanties, access to
which is had by going up alleys, and through fences, or going through
somebody else's yard. The population being 15,000, land is precious.
Lots are divided and subdivided, and houses built in yards and gardens
are wedged in here, there and everywhere, facing sixteen ways for
Sunday. Where there is no room for a house they build a stable or a
pig pen, and sprinkle chickens around in the corners. The richest
people do not disdain to thus add from three to six dollars a month to
their income, although it destroys their privacy and disfigures their
The streets are of good width, tolerably straight and passably clean.
The roadway is coral rock. There is no soil. What passes for soil is
merely triturated coral, wonderfully rich in phosphates, and making an
excellent fertilizer, but, by itself, deficient in fat. To garden, you must
use a pick instead of a hoe. No vegetables are raised on the key, and
the vegetation is confined mainly to the cocoanut trees. Here and there
you will find a pine or an oleander, a star of India or a royal poinciana,

but in the main there is a lack of foliage. The nature of the population
is thus shown. The key has been settled for sixty years; every tropi-
cal and semi-tropical tree, shrub or flower known to man has but to be
planted to grow, and the city is bare, hot and verdureless.
The white houses, without a vine or climbing flower, the dazzling
streets, without a tree and with few sidewalks-dusty and glaring where-
ever you look-it is enough to make you wish for a hurricane to stir the
city's blood. Yet, to the student of sociology, the explanation is plain.
The population is to blame, and the climate makes the'population.
This key is settled by Cubans, negroes, Conchs and Americans.
Placing the population at 15,000, the proportions are about five, four
five and one. These proportions live in an agreeable state of contempt
and discord. The Cubans hate the Conchs (natives of the Bahamas are
so called by everybody except themselves the Conchs cordially detest
"them Cubans," and both unite in despising "niggers." The little band
of Americans and English are generally employed in scheming to get
away from the island. There is Conch Town, Nigger Town and Cuban
Village, with very ill-defind limits, however. Each has its own occupa-
'tions, amusements and turmoil.
The Cubans are usually employed in the cigar factories, which num-
'ber over 100, and which turn out over a million cigars a week. The men
are undersized, weak and effeminate,, and given to gambling, cock-fighting
and filibustering. The women are passably good-looking, given to obesity,
high heels, lace shawls and face powder. Men and women smoke inces-
santly and chatter continuously. They crowd together, and subsist on
oil, coffee, pork and bananas.
The Conchs are big, hardy, and phenomenally ignorant. They have
the cockney sticking out all over them, and drop the "h" where needed,
and clap it on where it is not needed, talk of "veeds," "vimmen," win-
egar," and live on fish and hominy. The Conchs are spongers, fishers
and wreckers.
The colored folks drive the drays and hacks, act as porters a-d steve-
dores, and do the bulk of the heavy sitting around. Everybody takes a
turn at the latter work, however, and the whole community offers to the
historian the most striking example of people born tired. It is an edify-
ing spectacle to Northern eyes to see a native of Key West going on an
errand or doing a piece of work. Usually he moves like a snail. If you
are not particular, you can live for seventy-five cents a week. A stick of
sugar cane costs only three cents. Bananas and oranges can be hooked

from the auctioneers, hominy is cheap, and a string of fish can be caught
from any wharf. For a shelter there is little need, save to keep off the
rain, and it needs not a house to do that. What a country for a tramp!
What a climate for the poor!
The town is amply supplied with saloons, notwithstanding a monthly
license of $50, which leaves the taxes on real estate about one mill on the
dollar, and on a one-third valuation at that. It does not prevent the tax-
payers from gambling, however. Shops of every description abound,
mostly small, with $7 to $10 stocks, and which draw their supplies chiefly
from the auctions-a great feature of Key West.
The auctions are held daily at 10 a. m. on the open street. Every-
thing is sold-horses, mules, wagons, meats and vegetables, fruits and
furniture, dry goods and real estate. Wonderful bargains can be had at
times-oranges 50 cents a hundred, pineapples a cent apiece, bananas
ten cents a bunch, alid so on. The merchants of New York, in the fall
and winter, unload their summer stock of dry goods and clothing upon
this market, and prices are very reasonable.
In keeping with the prevailing lack of enterprise, the accommoda-
tions for visitors are meager. Two private boarding-houses and one hotel
is the sum total. Pick up any travelers' guide, tourists' handbook, or
railroad advertisement, and search for Key West, and you will search in
vain. With a larger population than any other city in Florida, and greater
capabilities for being made a pleasure resort and sanitarium than any city
in the Union, it remains an unknown land. There are signs, however, of
an awakening. The city was lately lighted with gas and a street railroad
laid. There is even talk of a new and large hotel, to be built this sum-
mer, and of increased mail facilities. At present there is a semi-weekly
mail service by steamer, connecting at Tampa with the Florida Southern
Railway. The service is of the most exasperating description. Supposed
to arrive on Wednesday and Saturday of each week at 5 p. m., the mails
are frequent ten hours, and sometimes an entire day behind. Even then
the bag oA newspapers or the registered pouch may have been forgotten.
Such a state of affairs in any other city of 15,000 inhabitants-even in a
Dakota village of 1,500-would result in a mutiny or a petition to Con-
gress, but here it is taken with lazy indifference. With the advent oi
Northern capital and enterprise, this key might be converted into a famous
resort. The people here will never bestir themselves. They must be
boosted into fame. The place needs several first-class hotels, a road
around the island, sidewalks and plenty of trees.

I have already spoken of the fishing. It cannot be surpassed. The
waters swarm with grunts, snappers, po1flpan.:."kingfish, sturgeon and
sharks. The boating is superb, but there ate no boats. Bathing can be
indulged in every month of the year, although there is no surf.
Despite the piggish manner of living and the entire absence of any
system of sewerage, the general health is excellefit. There is consider-
able talk of yellow fever every summer, but as a matter of fact there has
not been a death from that disease since 1882. The restaurants are worth
a description. The first essential is a site in a by street, if possible. If
that is unobtainable, locate on the corner of an alley. Let the alley and
street be full of ruts and hollows, so that garbage and filth may
accumulate in the vicinity. The restaurant proper must have a low cil-
ing, with greasy, smoky walls, and be lighted by two, or at the most three,
malodorous kerosene lamps, backed by reflectors that don't reflect
Sprinkle around the floor any number of small tables, no twc 6f the same
size, covered with oilcloth. Place at each table four or five pine chairs,
and garnish the oil-cloth-with a can of condensed milk and a bowl con-
taining sugar and flies, having-a box of limes, a basket of oranges, and a
bunch of bananas and some bad cigars handy. Now introduce three
dozen Cubans in wrinkled linen trousers' greasy undershirts and straw
hats. Have at least a dozen wear slippers without stockings. The pro-
prietor may be of any age or build so that he wears .no coat or stockings ,
and be greasier than his customers. Spread over all a thick layer of flies
and mosquitoes and a heterogeneous odor of decaying fruit, olive oil, coal
oil, tobacco, garlic and coffee. Then let everybody talk at once, and wave
their hands in the air and in each other's faces, and let the proprietor
have a personal altercation with everybody every five minutes, while an
outside mob of boys chew .sugar. cane and wear in Spanish, and a cloud-
of tobacco smoke overspreads all like a dirty aureole.
While there was a possibility of the adoption of the Spanish treaty,
quite a panic prevailed here among the cigarmakers and their employers.
? It was understood that the cigar industry would be destroyed,,and a gen-
eral exodus of the Cuban population was in prospect. The prosperity such
as it is, of the city hinges largely upon the Cubans. They are not eligible
tenants. They leave houses in poor repair when they move out, and are
somewhat addicted to the pastime known as "jumping the rent," but they
are several hundred per cent. better than no tenants at all. Their diet
is limited, but they do buy something; and, in short, it was and is
believed that when the Cubans go Key West will be ruined. The

Cubans, are poor citiiz 'Ti hopes and aspirations are in the ever
faithful isle, and they care very little for the land of their adoption.
They are a political power here, however, and are allowed to have their
own way in everything. Upon one occasion they illustrated this by elect-
ing as Mayor of Key West a compatriot who had fled from Cuba with a
price on his head, and who. had been only three months on American soil.
In addition to his other claims upon the suffrages of his countrymen, he
could not speak more than six words of English.
The daily reports of the fitting out of filibustering expeditions from
this port are fictitious. There is neither money nor nerve on the island,
and the reports excite only derision here. Every once in so often a tour-
ist writes from here a dozen glowing lines descriptive of the sloe-eyed
senoritas with rosy checks and willowy forms, but it is understood here
that these angels are only exhibited to strangers. No resident has ever
,een permitted to gaze on their charms, and the longer you live here the
'more you don't see them.
In the way of amusements the city is probably the dullest on the
continent. An average of two theatrical troops per year, one Masonic
hop, one Oddfellows' ditto, and a Cuban dance every month, all slimly
patronized, are the attractions. In religion and all things religious a most
absorbing interest is taken by high and low, and for the majority it is at
once occupation and recreation. The colored folks have their revivals,
and they are most astonishing exhibitions. The shouting, singing, tear-
ing of hair and rolling on the floor is a spectacle for Northern eyes. The
process of getting religion sometimes consumes three days, during which
the would-be convert literally sprawls on the floor, fasting and praying.
When the religion comes, it is proclaimed by shouts of "Glory! glory!"
and by phenomenal leaps in the air, while the congregation sing and shout
hymns. Each hymn has from fifty to one hundred verses. The usual
society topics relate to who was converted, who left the Baptist to join
the Methodist, or vice versa. There is great shuffling round among the .
churches, and much discord and gossip. The ministers preach to enor-
mous and enthusiastic congregations at stipends varying from $40 to
$60 a month and house rent.
Wrecks and weather are the remaining topics. No newspapers or
books are ead. Nothing is known of what is going on in the outer world,
and nobody cares. Except gambling, crime is almost unknown. The
people are quiet, peaceful, lazy, religious, ignorant and blissfully content.

City of Key West, populationO 20,000, a
port at sea, southermost and only no frost
city in U. S., situated, on Island of Key
West, county seat of Monroe County, Flo-
rida; latitude 24 34' north; longitude (1p
49' west. Mean' temperature 1871 to 1895,
77. For past twenty years lowest.monthly
mean 770 in January, highest 840 in August.
Since 1886 highest record 92%, lowest 44.
Average annual rainfall 1871 to 1895, 39
inches. Average annual number of cloudy
days 64; minimum 1883 and 1885, 32 days;
maximum in 1890, 91 days. Owing to coral
bottom and bright atmosphere the sea is
wonderfully clear to the eye, and owing to
wealth of salts remarkably bouyant, thus
for boating, swimming, fishing excellent.
Yearly average number of calm days past
five- years only 10. In 1894 only 27 hours
and in 1895 but 54 hours of calm recorded.
The trade winds furnish an almost con-
stant breeze that tempers the hottest of
summer days. Key West possesses the
most equable climate in the United States,
'lowest record being 40 8', highest 95*.
Lying in tLh straits midway between Flo-
rida and Cuba, Key West at the west end
of a continuous line of keys is the nat-
ural terminus of the Florida East Coast
System, and is distant but 90 miles from
Havana, with which mail connection is had
by the Plant Steamship Line. Here is a
U. S. Coaling and Naval Station, U. S.
Garrison, 3d Art'y, Fort Taylor and Bat-
teries, U. S. M. Hospital, Officers' Quar-
ters, U. S. Weather Station, handsome U.
S. Public Building, Public Library, Mas-
onic and Odd Fellows Halls, fine Concert
Park and School, St. Paul's P. E. Church
with the finest chimes in state, and Protest-
ant Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist and Con-
gregational churches. Key West Park of
24 acres is being laid out. Industries are
cigar making, sponging, wrecking, supplies
and fruit raising on Keys. There is the
greatest variety of fishes in U. S. waters,
from tarpon and jew fish to sardine, about
Key West, where may be found .170
varieties, all of the West India fauna, 40 of
which are unknown in other U. S. waters.
Ong fifth less of varieties are found at
Cedar Keys, where is the Carolina fauna.
The flora embraces among fruit the cocoa
and date palm, almond, sapodilla, mango,
sugar apple, lime, lemon, orange, Spanish
lime, sour sop, alligator pear, pineapple,
etc., and every variety of flowering tree
and shrub, including Royal Poinciana, Ja,.
mine, Poinsetta, Bergamot, etc. Hard
coral streets, breezes from old ocean, sail
crafts sighted from every point of view,
brilliant sun, clear sky, lovely moonlights,
splendid sunsets, grand cloud forms, superb
stretches of water scenes, transparent sea,
all unite to make the island life as beauti-
ful as it is unique.

SEs TBSHED 1884.
.41#4&%^|f w *kwA.

Kep West

Petws Co.





Orders Promptly and Carefully

Attended to.'

Cor. Whitehead a Caroline Sts.





rt i

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