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.
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.
The architect built his own house across the street. (Below).
This 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.
At the back of the house is an addition with a covered outdoor kitchen and sleeping loft.
This 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.
This 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.