Armchair photo tours: Strolls in Key West, Florida

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Photos by Cheryl Landes

Key West is a pleasant place for a walk in the morning and evening. Today’s armchair photo tour is from my walks during an overnight trip in May 2018.

South Beach

South Beach is the southernmost beach in the Continental United States.

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Welcome to South Beach in Key West, Florida!

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A view of South Beach from the Emma Carrero Cates Pier

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Beach chairs for rent at South Beach

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The Southernmost House (Casa Cayo Hueso) in Key West, Florida

The Southernmost House, 1400 Duval Street, was built in 1896. The Harris family owned the home from 1900 until 1939. Judge Jeptha Vining Harris, who lived here, was a “beloved and respected jurist,” according to a sign outside the house. “Definitely not a party animal. A circuit judge, not a savage judge!”

The Ramos-Lopez family bought the house from the Harrises in 1939. The Ramos-Lopez family is among the state’s oldest merchant families, who were established in Spanish Colonial Florida at St. Augustine. The family moved to Key West in 1819. Today, the Southernmost House is a hotel and museum, and it’s still owned by the Ramos-Lopez family.

I stayed at the Best Western Hibiscus, 1313 Simonton Street, three blocks north of South Beach.

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The Best Western Hibiscus in Key West, Florida

Southernmost Point

Southernmost Point is the as far south as you can go in the Continental United States. From this location, it’s 90 miles to Cuba.

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A buoy marking the southernmost point in the Continental United States

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Bronze sculpture of Bishop Albert Kee at Southernmost Point in Key West, Florida. Local sculptor Tom Joris created this piece in 2014.

Bishop Albert Kee stood at the corner in the picture above selling fresh conch, fish, and conch shells for more than 50 years. He was among three generations of his family who sold seafood and other goods here, along with others from the Bahama Village community where he lived.

When tourism increased in Key West in the 1950s, Bishop Kee became well known for blowing his conch shell and waving a hearty welcome to visitors. He was named a Key West Ambassador and greeted an estimated 11 million visitors during his lifetime.

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One Human Family tile art by Chöd Stine at the Southernmost Point in Key West, Florida

Eduardo H. Gato Historic Sites

Eduardo Hidalgo Gato, Sr. built the Queen Anne style home pictured below, and three generations of his family lived here until 1951. The family was among Key West’s most prominent.

Gato was a Cuban patriot who helped finance the island’s revolutionary leaders to gain freedom from Spain. He came to Key West in 1874 and helped the town evolve from a fishing village to one of the state’s wealthiest cities through the tobacco industry. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, Key West averaged $2,300,000 a year in cigar exports. The tobacco industry began declining in Key West in the early 1990s as more cigar factories moved to Tampa, but Gato’s factory continued operating there.

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The historic Eduardo H. Gato house at 1209 Virginia Street in Key West, Florida

In 1871, he built the Gato Cigar Factory, a three-story wooden structure at 1100 Simonton Street. The tobacco was sorted and stored on the top floor. The sorters separated the leaves in 20 shades of brown, and only the most expensive leaves were used for the cigar wrappers. On the second floor, workers sat on benches in rows of long tables and rolled the cigars. The bottom floor was used for receiving tobacco and distributing the cigars. The cigars were boxed and shipped worldwide.

The factory was illuminated by natural sunlight. It was built on a north-south axis with windows facing east to west so that workers could take advantage of as many hours of daylight as possible.

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A sign at the old Gato Cigar Factory in Key West, Florida

Five hundred employees worked at the factory in the late 1800s and produced 70,000 cigars every week. Each roller had their own table and were paid by the number of cigars they could roll every day. The best rollers could produce up to 300 cigars per day.

The factory was among the earliest American integrated workplace where Cuban, African, Bahamian-Americans, and whites worked side by side while their children attended the same school. The factory was also a political center, where workers raised money to help free Cuba from Spain.

The original factory was destroyed by fire in 1915, and Gato began building a new fireproof factory a year. The new Neo-Classical Revival poured concrete structure was completed in 1920. During construction, he moved his operations to several buildings in Key West that had been vacated by cigar companies that moved to Tampa.

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The second Gato Cigar Factory in Key West, Florida

To ensure that he could retain the best cigar artisans and improve their lives, Gato built 40 cottages around his factory during the construction of the new factory.  The community of cottages became known as Barrio de Gato, or Gatoville.

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An old police car parked in Gatoville in Key West, Florida

He also started the first Key West Street Car, a horse-drawn system; built a hospital; and supported a baseball league.

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Flowers in Gatoville in Key West, Florida

Gato was the president of the company, while his son, Eduardo H. Gato Jr., served as vice-president and oversaw the family’s extensive real estate holdings. Eduardo Gato Sr. was also the vice-president of the Key West Bank.

In 1942, the Gato factory was sold to the Department of the Navy for use as a military barracks and cafeteria, and later served as the Navy Commissary until 1989.

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The entrance to the second Gato Cigar Factory in Key West, Florida

Monroe County obtained the property in 1998. Three years later, the county finished renovating the building to accommodate Monroe County offices, a cigar museum, and the Florida State Health Department.

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A rooster hanging outside the old Gato Cigar Factory in Key West, Florida. I saw some hens nearby, so they probably are part of the same flock.

Whimsical Business Names

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The Bottle Cap cocktail bar, stand-up comedy club Comedy Key West, and Bad Boy Burrito at 1128 Simonton Street in Key West, Florida. The Bad Boy Burrito name caught my eye during my walk along this street.

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The Tipsy Rooster Liquor Store & Bar at 1325 Simonton Street in Key West, Florida

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The Wicker Guesthouse at 913 Duval Street is a bed and breakfast consisting of six houses converted into 24 rooms with private entrances and bathrooms. It’s located in Key West’s historic Old Town. Duval Street is well known for its art galleries, restaurants, bars, and shops.

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The Little Room Jazz Club at 821 Duval Street describes itself as a “posh intimate listening room with live jazz performances by top artists seven nights a week.” From the outside, the club looked larger than the name implied. I couldn’t go inside, because the club was closed to repair the damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. It reopened after my trip.

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A colorful Tarzan Tree Care truck parked on Duval Street in Key West, Florida

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Panini Schamini in the Duval Square Mall at 1075 Duval Street in Key West, Florida

The End and Beginning of U.S. Highway 1

U.S. Highway 1 ends or begins at Key West, Florida, depending on which direction you’re going.

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U.S. Highway end and begin signs at the intersection of Fleming and Whitehead Streets. (Whitehead Street is U.S. 1). The Green Parrot Bar is at 601 Whitehead Street, two blocks from the mile 0 markers.

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The intersection of Fleming and Whitehead Streets, where you can see the End U.S. 1 sign with the 0 marker in front of the building.

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The End of the Rainbow sign at the kapok tree at 502 Whitehead Street (U.S. 1), one block from the mile 0 markers

A kapok tree can grow more than 130 feet. It was the sacred tree of the Mayans, who believed the souls of the dead climbed a kapok tree with branches reaching into heaven.

Kapok trees bloom every five to 10 years and have foul-smelling pink and white flowers with five petals. The flowers open in the early evening to attract tropical bats for pollination.

Most commercial kapok comes from the Island of Java in Indonesia. It’s used to make furniture, insulation, and stuffing. The seeds are eaten in some parts of the world, such as the island of Celebes in Indonesia. In Africa, the soft kapok wood is called bentang and used to make dugout canoes, carvings, and caskets.

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The kapok tree at 502 Whitehead Street (U.S. 1), one block from the mile 0 markers.

 

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Crystals and Coconuts, a gift shop at 803 Whitehead Street (on U.S. 1), five blocks from the mile 0 markers. The shop specializes in locally made jewelry, hand-painted coconuts, and other tropical treasures.

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Bahama Village Market entrance on Whitehead Street (U.S. 1), six blocks from the mile 0 markers in Key West, Florida

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The Key West Lighthouse at 938 Whitehead Street (on U.S. 1), 6.5 blocks from the mile 0 markers

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