Title Page
 A paradise for lazy men

Title: Key West, Fla., before the fire of March 30th, 1886
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027725/00001
 Material Information
Title: Key West, Fla., before the fire of March 30th, 1886
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: Key West News Company
Publication Date: 1899
Subject: Key West, Fla.   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States -- Florida -- Key West
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00027725
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: Department of Special Collections and Area Studies, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page 1
    A paradise for lazy men
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
Full Text

(Title Copyrighted ..

Key West, Fa.
S'Before the fire of Wmarch 30t, 1886.

S The New York Sun Man.


~ 1899.



In many respects this is the most remarkable spot in Uncle Sam'-'
domain. There must be a brilliant future in store for Key West, as i
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 is 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 hi. i
est point of his spiral course on the twenty-first of June, he is alhn ,-
directly over Key West, as it lies in latitude 240 32', and the border
the tropics is only sixty miles south. On the map you will notice a chl
of little dots trailing south-southwest from the Florida peninsula. Th
are keys, and at the end is Key West. Speaking strictly, there are s(
eori1 k]vs Qtill farther west and south, but tli. are merely a speck in t.i.
water -11r to holt ; 1 6hb'hl w\it 'h ec.'eptii'o oft the: Io Ing
.- : ,.tl h N[* i_]r. J. -.n l. ),vi-., ', ; S,(-i!,i~irv "of \V'ir, mjiit ;a io'urt.eCQ'i.
1ililiun dollar f11t;i, now ii, )'i oj ; i ';') of on' onhixie st in eaxi
and somewhat in need of repair.
The climate is essentially tropical. This is the only city in tlr
United States where neither snow nor frost has ever been seen. Ti
lowest temperature ever recorded was 41 about thirty years ago, and
;again in winter of 1885-6; the lowest in 1884 was 51'. The average
/ temperature for January, 1885, was '72; 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 ten-
perature in summner seldom exceeds 94'. During the northern of th? '
wvinteTrn'ionths, a temperature of 60 is low enough to shiver the entire' "
co.nmuiti'ty, 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 72 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 their sea, particularly in a storm, would submerge, this insignificant
rise; but it is- a matter of record that it never has. Their city proper
covers the western end of the key. It is densely settled, and about na
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-
whetheTr-I-sell-or-not about the shops. The houses are of all sizes, jurm-
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, preciaoin.
Lots are divided and. subdivided, and houses built in yards and gardens
are wedged in here, there and i .. 1 r..-, 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
Tho 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 ponciana;

hut 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 seani-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 I.e.,'""', the proportions are about five, four,
five and one. :I'. proportions live in an agreeable state' of contempt
and discord. The Cubans hate the Conchs (natives of the, Bahamas are
_.o called by everybody except themselvess, the Conchs cordially detest
rli,.! Cubans," and both unite in despising I.i- ." The little band
of Americans and English are generally ,!.1 .... I in scheming to get
away from the island. There is Conch Town, Nigger Town and Cuban
Village, with very ill-defined limits, however. Each has its own occupa-
tions, amusements and turmoil.
The. Cubans are usually Ei ,l.. .1 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, .l, 1.1;i_,. cock-fighting
and filibustering. The women are passably .....1-1...M1-.. 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," -" ,iii., ii," "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 and steve-
dores, and do, the bulk of the heavy sitting around. F-. r 1....1 takes a
turn at the latter work, however, and the whole ,h..,innl I .n. -. tol the
historian the most striking example of people born tired. It is an edify-
ing spectacle to. Northern eye's 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 toi 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 t.m,,1.1;nL. however. !..'- 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 .1 ;1- 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
tiues-oranges fifty cents a hundred, pineapples a cent apiece, bananas
ten cents a bunch, and 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, toi be built this spmn-
nier, and of increased mail facilities. At present there is a selmi-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 frequently ten hours, and sometimes an entire day behind. Even then
the bag .of. newspapers or the registered pouch may have been forgotten.
Such a state of i,.; -- 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 of
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.

SI have already spoken of the fishing. It cannot be surpassed. The
' waters swarm with grunts, snappers, pompano, kingfish, sturgeon and
sharks. The boating is superb, but there are no boats. Bathing can. be
indulged in every month of the year, although there is no, surf.
Despite the i.-_I-;- manner of living and thel entire! absence of any
system of sewerage, the general health is excellent. 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
S accumulate in the vicinity. The restaurant proper must have a low ceil-
S ing, with greasy, smoky walls, and be lighted by two, or at the most three,
S malodorous kerosene lamps, backed by :. l..r,.. that don't reflect.
Si,' i ii.:l' around the floor any number of small tables, no. two of the same
size, covered with oil-cloth. Place at each table four or five pine chairs,
and garnish the oil-cloth with a can of condensed milk and a bowl cointain-
ing 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 her 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 swear 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 (Cl..i,-. 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 citizens. Their 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. U p.thli;.. Upon one occasion they illustrated this by elect-
in_' 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, ha
could not speak more than six words of English.
The daily reports of the :0.r;, out of filibustering expeditions from
this port are fictitious. There is neither money nor nerve on the island,
and the"reportts 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
been permitted to gaze, on their charms, and the longer you live here
the more you don't see them.
In the way of amusements tlh city is probably the dullest on the
continent. An average of two theatrical troops per year, one Masonic
hop, one Odd Fellows' 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 -1...i;!. 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 whikh-
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
-.|;.. t~ 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 ii-.';,, from $40 to $60
a month and house rent. '
Wrecks and weather are the remaining ..... -. No nevwpapers or
books are read. Nothing is known of what iVs going on u. le outer world,
and nobody cares. Except 1..III11in.lI. crime is almost unknown. The
people are quiet, peaceful, lazy, religious, ignorant and blissfully content.

*i., of Key West, population 20,000,
a port at sea, southernmost and only
no frost city in U. S.. situated on Isl-
and of Key West, county seat of Mon-
roe County, Florida; latitude 21' 34'
north; longitude 81 49' west. Mean
temperature 1871 to 1895, 770. For past
20 years lowest monthly mean 770 in
January, highest 84 in August. Since
1886 highest record 920, lowest 440.
Average annual rainfall 1871 to 189o, :;
inches. Average annual number oh
cloudy days 64; minimum 1883 and 1885,
32 days; maximum in 1890, 91 days.
Owing to coral bottom and bright at-
mosphere the sea is wonderfully clera'
to the eye, and owing to wealth of
salts remarkably buoyant, 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 constant breeze that tempers
the hottest of summer days. Key West
possesses the most equable climate in
the United States, lowest record being
400 8', highest 95.
Lying in the straits midway between
Florida and Cuba, Key West at the
west end of a continuous line of keys,
is the natural terminus of tie Florida
East Coast System, and is distant but
90 miles from Havana, with which mail
connection is had by the Plant Steam-
ship Line. Here is a U. S. Coaling and
Naval Station, U. S. Garrison, 3d Arty,
Fort Taylor and Batteries, U. S. M.
Hospital, Officers' Quarters, U. S.
Weather Station, handsome U. S. Pub-
lic Building, Public Library, Masonie
Sand Odd Fellows Halls, line Concet
Park and School, St. Paul's P. E.
Church with the finest chimes in state,
and Protestant, Episcopal, Methodisi,
Baptist and Congregational churches.
Key West Park of 24 acres is being
-aid out. lndnlltr'io are cigar making,
sponging, *- !!. supplies and fru.t
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 I7'O
varieties, all of the West India fauna,
40 of which are unknown in other U.
S. waters. One 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 ". ,.- '1 ain
shrub, including '- ,i **! .. ,., Jas-
mine, Poinsetta, Bergamot, etc. Hard
coral streets, breezes for0 ;oli, ocean,
sail crafltissig'hted from' evoqr point oi
view, brilliant sun, cldar' sky,, qvvyS
moonlights, speri did sufsets,' grand
cloud forms, superb stretches of water
scenes, transparent sea, all unite to
make the island life as beautiful as it
is unique.


Kep West

lews Co.





Orders Promptly and Carefully

Attended to.

Cor. Whitehead and Caroline Sts.



John F. Eby & Matthews, Printers, Detroit, Mich.

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