The history of Florida Keys includes tales of explorers, pirates, entrepreneurs, famous authors, and plenty of folks who came to enjoy the sun or the nightlife. When visitors explore the islands, they will find an array of places to connect with this history, all in a laid-back atmosphere. One chapter of Florida Keys history was written by Ponce de Leon, the famed Spanish explorer who came to the New World in search of the Fountain of Youth.
Soon thereafter, pirates and other ruffians frequented the Keys, as they did other islands in that part of the world. This chapter in the history of Key West has been embraced in the present, especially with the Pirate Soul Museum and the adjacent Rum Runner Restaurant, which celebrate the golden age of piracy with interactive tours, rum tastings, and other fun events. On a narrated tour, either on foot or by trolley, visitors can soak in Key West history as they visit the same places the pirates did, as well as others who changed the course of events.
After the pirates became the centerpiece of legends rather than a daily reality, Key West became a city of gold, thanks to the influx of entrepreneurs. Many of these men made their fortune scavenging shipwrecks. Some of these ships still remain at the bottom of the sea, and they can be discovered on diving excursions for tourists who are interested in seeing them.
Later in Key West history, sponge harvesters made their fortunes and cigar makers came in from Cuba. The Audubon House, which was visited by the famed naturalist, was originally the home of a master wrecker. Today, this site preserving the history of Key West is surrounded by lovely tropical gardens. Henry Flagler changed the history of the Keys when he brought the railroad south in the early 1900s. Pigeon Key, now a ghost town, offers tours and exhibits detailing the men who built the bridges and laid the tracks of the engineering marvel.
In the twentieth century, perhaps the person most associated with the island and its laid-back lifestyle is Ernest Hemingway. The author, who looms large in the history of Key West, spent ten years in the Keys, where he did a lot of his writing. Today, visitors can learn about his connection to Florida Keys history when they visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Old Town Key West and take a guided tour. They also can visit Sloppy Joe’s, his favorite watering hole, to throw back a pint in his memory, listen to the live music, and enjoy the nightlife.
Key West history is also waiting to be discovered at the Key West Heritage House Museum & Robert Frost Cottage. The Caribbean Colonial home of an island grand dame hosted the poet, in addition to other famous folks such as Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, and Gloria Swanson. Today’s visitors can take guided tours, complete with time to enjoy the Atrium Garden.
The story of Florida Keys history is limited to Key West. Travelers can connect with Key Largo history at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in all of America. Its list of things to do includes snorkeling, scuba, and glass-bottom boat tours, in addition to ranger-led hikes.
The longest island in the chain, Key Largo was the inspiration for the movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Visitors can see where some of the movie was filmed and see the African Queen, the same boat from Bogart skippered in the film of that name. The waters are also home to the Spiegel Grove, a sunken U.S. Navy ship that’s now an artificial reef. Marathon Key, perched between Key Largo and Key West, is home to the Crane Point Museum, where visitors can learn about the people who lived in the Keys before Columbus arrived. On site, the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys is a fascinating place to look back at the past that shaped the region.