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About Key West Florida

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A History of Key West

As the New World, and Florida in particular, began to be settled Native American Indian tribes were forced to the south. Florida's Calusa tribe eventually migrated to the Florida Keys and Key West where they fought to keep the southernmost lands. In the process many Indians were killed and the Key West beaches were used as burial grounds. According to Key West lore Spanish settlers, upon finding the bones of the dead Indians strewn on the beach, named the island Cayo Hueso, which means Island of Bones. Later English settlers, hearing this, Americanized the Spanish name to Key West, which is actually fitting as the island (key) is the most westerly of the Florida Keys island chain.

Over the years, ownership of the island switched several times between the Spanish and the English, providing no real control over the island. In 1815 the island was given by Spain to Juan Pablo Salas. A few years later Florida was relinquished to America. American businessman, John Simonton, purchased the island from Salas in the early 1820’s, later selling portions of Key West to fellow businessmen Greene, Whitehead, and Fleming (all of whom have Key West streets named after them today, so be on the lookout!). The triumvirate began to develop Key West, and are even responsible for bringing the United Stated Navy down to build a base, which slowed the pirating in the area. However, settlers still had to combat illness, mosquitoes, and treacherous seas.

As Key West grew, so did local business. The island became a major shipping area, but the coral reefs caused many shipwrecks in heavy weather. Thus, salvaging became a major industry for Key West, making the island and its people the richest per capita in the United States. Besides salvaging, turtling, fishing, sponging, cigar making, and salt manufacturing were all big business, although not without their own problems.

Henry Flagler provided Key West with access from the mainland when he built the Overseas Railroad from Homestead to Key West, which was finished in 1912. Thanks to Flagler and the Prohibition, Key West grew wealthier yet, as the island was a prime location for smuggling liquor from Cuba and the Bahamas back to the mainland. (Years later, many residents again made tidy profits by smuggling marijuana through Key West.)

Unfortunately, Key West went bankrupt due to the Great Depression and the hurricane of 1935, which wrought much damage in the islands, including destroying the railway Flagler worked so gruelingly to erect.

But even bankruptcy could not take away the lure of Key West, and people such as Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams came to visit or reside here, attracting others to the island. In 1938, the Overseas Highway, replaced the Railway utilizing the bridges Flagler had built for the former. Furthermore, the Navy base built years earlier became paramount during WWII, which also brought new life to the island.

In 1982, a group of Key Westers seceded from the Union of the United States of America to form the Conch Republic. The mainland’s response to this “crisis” was to barricade the entrance to the Keys at Key Largo so that the tourists and supplies could not get through. Unable to replenish supplies (most importantly beer and rum) with the roadblock in place, the seceders surrendered. Visitors may still see the flag of the Conch Republic hanging up around our island at places such as the Conch Republic Seafood Company bar and restaurant.


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Key West is a hotspot for tourism; it is Florida’s tropical Caribbean island destination that you can fly to, sail to, or drive to! Thousands of visitors come to Key West each year to enjoy the many diverse activities and attractions the island has to offer. There are so many things to do and see here Key West.

Being an island you can guess that many of these activities are water related.  Key West is home to America’s only living coral reef which draws scores of people annually for diving and snorkeling our pristine waters. Sport fishing anglers from all over the world enjoy world class fishing in Key West both inshore and offshore.  Nearby we have the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson which are not only rich fishing grounds but also a historical gem.  We’ve got water sports activities galore such as wave runner tours, parasailing, kayaking, and more! And our sunsets are magical, especially from one of our champagne sunset sails or dinner cruises.

Besides the many water based activities that the island is known for, you can’t discount the numerous land based attractions Key West has to offer. The Key West Golf Club offers an exciting  golfing experience on its newly renovated Rees Jones designed course.  Guided Pub Crawls take you to visit some of the best bars on the island. Tours aboard the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley are not only fun but also very informative. Art galleries, museums, and shops populate the downtown area making a seemingly endless line of things to see. Attractions such as Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s old hang out, and events such as Fantasy Fest are a huge draw to those of us who want to recapture a bit of the Old Key West or party, party, party and experience some of the new.

Coming to key West?

Be sure to give us a call. We are here to help you with fast friendly service. Our staff is local long time Key West residents with a passion to help visitors get the most out of our paradise island destination. We are the American Caribbean.

Bringing a Group To Key West

We specialize in helping you put your group trip together. From hotel rooms and resorts to banquet facilities and group activities. We have helped groups of all levels from wedding parties of 15 to corporate events up to 200 persons. Just call our office and let us help you look like a hero. Our service is free..

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The Keys To Key West is a Locally Owned and Operated Company, Members of The Key West Chamber of Commerce.