A Key West House Tour

By Barb Ross, sad because I only have two more weeks in paradise

Last summer I wrote about the Boothbay Harbor House and Garden tour. At the time I disclosed that in addition to a love of old houses and beautiful houses, I go on these tours because I am one nosy parker.

In Boothbay, at least I can say I’m scouting locations for scenes in the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Here in Key West, I have no such excuse. I’ve been going to house tours here for years and loving them.

Key West is such a mystery. Sometimes you walk through a front door and find that what looks like three distinct properties are actually a big house, a guest house and a pool house with an enormous pool joining the lots. And then you look out of the window of that $6 million dollar house and the house next door is falling down, it’s yard a tangle of weeds, old cars and feral chickens. That’s Key West.

The tours are run by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the main organization dedicated to historic preservation in Key West. Let’s take the tour.

key west 10

This house is in the Truman Annex. This whole neighborhood was built or restored in the 1980s on former military land, named for Harry Truman’s “Little White House,” on the grounds. It’s a luxurious five bedroom, five bath house.

house tour key west 2I love these little vest pocket pools, called dipping pools in Key West, shoe-horned in because land is scarce. This one is fairly large by local standards.

house tour key west 3This house is a parsonage, home to the Methodist minister at the church next door. The house was built in the 1870s at the height of Key West’s wealth from cigar manufacturing.

The architect built his own house across the street. (Below).

house tour key west 6 house tour key west 4The church was originally wood, but was clad in stone between 1877 and 1892 as donor’s funds permitted.

key west 8This house was built on the street originally called Gruntbone Alley, which was where the islanders discarded grunt fish bones. A storm surge from a hurricane in 1844 wiped out almost all the buildings on the island, but it also washed away the grunt bones, which made room for new settlers from the Bahamas to build on the street. This house was built in the 1850s. During a renovation in the 1990s, the original clapboards, with their many layers of paint, were pulled off the outside and turned around, unpainted side out.

key west 7The house was built on these wooden pegs which have since petrified. Imagine that in Maine.

At the back of the house is an addition with a covered outdoor kitchen and sleeping loft.

key west 13This house was built for his family by a lighthouse keeper who worked out on a reef fifty miles from the island. His work schedule was two months on, one month off, but that assumed the weather permitted. The property, like many in Florida, was bank-owned in 2009. The new owners virtually rebuilt it.

key west 12This house is not in Old Town, but in the Casa Marina district, named for a resort hotel there built by Henry Flagler. The lots in the area were divided in the 1920s, but the Great Depression intervened and most of the houses weren’t built until the 40s. The lots are bigger in this part of town, but it’s still an easy walk to the beach. This house was owned by socialite Floy Vance Thompson who gave parties here into her 90s. She and her husband, who was from a prominent Key West family, were introduced by Ernest Hemingway and his wife at their finca in Cuba.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of Key West. I wish they’d let us photograph the interiors.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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16 Responses to A Key West House Tour

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Thanks for the tour, Barb! Visiting Key West is definitely on my bucket list! Love the historical details you included. Lea

  2. Edith says:

    Fantastic! Thanks, Barb. I love all those verandas upstairs and down.

    • Barb Ross says:

      The ones on the lighthouse keepers house were added later. The one on Gruntbone Alley had top and bottom porches added front and back as sleeping porches when it was turned into a two family house for a family with twelve children. The porches were removed in the renovation.

  3. Shari Randall says:

    Thank you for the tour, Barb (from another nosey parker) With temperatures here in CT in the negative numbers, that pocket pool looks especially good.

  4. If it wasn’t snowing/sleeting/freezing raining here I’d be jumping on a plane and coming down there to see them for myself. What lovely homes and a great tour.

  5. Liz Mugavero says:

    Awesome, Barb! I love the feral chicken mention 😉

  6. Ruth Nixon says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tour and I too wished they allowed the inside to be photographed. I bet Bill would have Taken some wonderful pictures.

  7. Such fun! I agree with Sherry. Get me on a plane! Thanks for sharing these great photos. I especially enjoyed the peek at the pool.

  8. Kait carson says:

    Thanks for a trip down some familiar streets. Key West is such an amazing place for spectacular architecture. and much of it very New England in flavor.

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