An oasis of natural beauty, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens is also a gem of restoration. The nineteenth-century home was spared from certain demolition by the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to preserve the island's cultural treasures. One of the island's many interesting museums, the Key West Audubon House has a fascinating story to tell, illustrating the work and celebrating the life of one of America's foremost nature artists.
As visitors begin to explore the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, they can learn about the famed naturalist and wildlife artist, John James Audubon. The ornithologist visited the Florida Keys in the 1830s, adding several new species to his portfolio. His painting of a white-crowned pigeon that still hangs in the house features one of the trees in the front yard. Nearly thirty original works by the naturalist hang in the historic house.
The Audubon House in Key West is a haven for antique lovers as much as nature buffs. Built in the era of pirates and shipwrecks, the house was built by John H. Geiger, who served as a harbor pilot and was an expert at dealing with wrecks. The furnishings were purchased in Europe and serve as a fine example of what prosperous Key West families enjoyed when living the good life.
The home is filled with treasured antiques. These high-quality items from the past were bought for the Audubon House at estate sales and auctions in various places throughout Europe. Today, the furniture is representative of items one could expect to find in a prosperous Key West home during the 1800s. Another Key West Museum, the Shipwreck Historeum, explores a similar story of fortunes made from salvaging during this era.
The natural areas surrounding the Audubon House in Key West measure nearly an acre. As visitors wander along the brick-lined trails, they see an array of colorful blooms, including fragile and beautiful orchids. Bromeliads, a native family of plants, are plentiful as well. Members of this group are as diverse as pineapples, Spanish moss, and some plants that look just like aloe.
The gardens of the Key West Audubon House are also home to an herb garden, where many tasty plants grow. With the historic nursery, guests can step back to 1840 and learn how gardening was done in old Key West. Both native plants and exotic species are growing here. The plants are well labeled with information about the country of origin as well as their names, both the everyday ones and the official botanical designations. Some signs explain how the plants can be used for healing and other medical applications.
The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens has an audio tour as well, which is available in English and Spanish. The voices of Captain Geiger and his family tell tales of life in Key West and its interesting history. Those who want to take a piece of Audubon House in Key West home with them should plan a visit to the museum store. It carries a selection of works related directly to Audubon as well as gifts and decorative items. Bronze sculptures of a variety of birds are worth a look.
Peoples who are entranced by this story likely will enjoy a visit to similar attractions in the area. Many who visit the Key West Audubon House Gallery of Natural History come to see an amazing collection of art. Several of the pieces in the collections are originals dating to the nineteenth century. In total, the works in the collection provide a comprehensive look at the artist's rendering of the natural world. Other artists are well represented, and many of the works of art are for sale.
The Key West Butterfly Conservatory is another favorite place to explore for those interested in nature. Of course, there's no shortage of eco tours, diving, parks, beaches, and other fun places to admire the natural side of the Keys that would have made Audubon proud.
Image: James Ashburn