The Old Houses of Key West

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History
Built in 1834, Saved in 1934

Built in 1834, Saved in 1934

Key West is one of my favorite places to visit. If I ever win the lottery, the island may become my full time address, not because of the partying and nightlife of Duval Street–although I have to say I’ve had some enjoyable times there. (It is a unique experience sitting in an establishment where a tree that supposedly was once used to hang pirates grows through the ceiling!) No, I would move to Key West because of the island’s beauty, atmosphere, and old houses with their fascinating histories.

Saving Key West’s Old Houses

When you consider Florida and all the huge cities that are a part of the state, especially the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area, it’s hard to imagine that in 1880 Key West was the largest, most prosperous city in Florida. That’s only 130 years ago! Many of the old houses in Key West reflect that prosperity and their architectural styles are often based on where the original owners or builders were from. Quite a few of these historic old houses were slated for demolition during the years Key West suffered major downturns to its economy, but luckily old house enthusiasts stepped in to save and restore many of those homes.

One old house, until recently known as the Heritage House Museum, was built in 1834 andwas to be torn down in 1934.  But a Key West preservationist purchased the home, restored it, and lived in it until she died in 1979. Robert Frost wintered in a cottage behind the home for 16 years, and Key West still has an annual Robert Frost festival.

John James Audubon stayed in the Geiger home in 1832 while drawing pictures of tropical birds for one of his books. One of the pictures features a tree from the yard of that old house. The home was scheduled to be demolished in 1958–before it was saved by another preservationist.

Ernest Hemingway lived in an old house built in 1851 and wrote some of his most famous books there. He installed the first swimming pool in Key West and had a fountain constructed for his famous cats whose offspring still roam the grounds. Hemingway continued to own the home until his death, when it was purchased by a Key West businesswoman who realized its historical significance. It is now a literary landmark.

If you ever have the chance, visit the old houses of Key West, and if I have hit the lottery by then, feel free to knock on my door.

First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit Update

There is a proposal before the Senate to extend the June 30 time limit for the First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit. It’s an addendum that may be added to a bill extending unemployment benefits. The original tax credit stated that a signed sales agreement for a home had to be completed by April 30, and the sale had to be completed by June 30 to qualify for the credit. However, due to lending institutions being extra careful before approving loans, many buyers were not going to meet the June 30 deadline. If approved, the bill will extend the credit until September 30, but will only benefit those who already have a sales agreement and are awaiting approval. If you fall into that group, you may get your tax credit yet!