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10 Facts About Key West – Plus Amazing Numbers

Key West is one of the most historical cities in the United States. Second only to St. Augustine, Key West was actually a functioning Calusa stronghold long before the Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565.

The 10 Facts about Key West below give a thumbnail glance at this tropical island universally loved for its charm and cultural diversity. However, we have collected several dozen more facts to dazzle your fellow travelers or win every trivia contest about Key West.

10 Facts About Key West by the numbers –

  • 4.2 – Square Miles – The size of Key West Island
  • 4-23-1982 – Date Key West Seceded from the United State and became the Conch Republic. Lasted one day.
  • 1848 – The year the Key West
    10 facts about key west - lighthouse
    Key West Lighthouse built in 1848.
     Lighthouse was built.
  • 1912 – The year Henry Flagler completed the railroad to Key West
  • 1935 – The year the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States hit the Keys
  • 24,909 – The estimated population of Key West in 2024
  • 1890 – The year Key West was the wealthiest city in the United States
  • 1717 – The year the pirate Black Caesar roamed Key West
  • 500 AD – 1750 – Years in which the Calusa Indians occupied Key West
  • 1829 – the year the oldest building in Key West was built, now known as The Oldest House Museum at 322 Duval Street.

More Historical Key West Facts

These facts highlight the diverse and colorful history, culture, and unique characteristics that make Key West a fascinating destination.

  • Tennessee Williams: The renowned playwright Tennessee Williams spent many winters in Key West and wrote parts of his famous plays, including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” while living in the city.
    Key West Facts - Railroad extension 1912
    Brochure advertising Flagler’s East Coast Railroad extension to Key West in 1912.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor: The state park in Key West, named after President Zachary Taylor, is home to one of the largest collections of Civil War cannons in the United States.

  • Pirates and Smugglers: Key West has a rich history of pirates and smugglers, including the infamous wreckers who lured ships onto reefs to plunder their cargoes. The wrecking industry was a major source of wealth for early settlers. That is also why Key West was one of the wealthiest cities in the country in the 19th century.

  • Oldest City in South Florida: Key West is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South Florida, with settlement dating back to the early 19th century.

  • Civil War Role: During the American Civil War, Key West remained under Union control and served as an important base for blockading Confederate ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • Historical facts about Key West - seven mile bridge
    Seven mile bridge heading to Key West originally completed in 1935 after railway was destroyed by hurricane.

    Truman’s Winter White House: President Harry S. Truman spent many winters in Key West during his presidency (serving 1945-1953). The Little White House, now a museum, served as Truman’s winter retreat and a place for conducting official business.

  • Cuban Connection: Key West has long had strong cultural and commercial ties with Cuba due to its proximity. Cuban immigration and trade have significantly influenced Key West’s culture, cuisine, and architecture.

  • Bone Island:The name Key West is actually misnamed. The Spanishoriginally called Key West Cayo Hueso, which translates to bone island, referring to the bones of the Calusa Indians who once lived in the Florida Keys. English settlers mistook Cayo Hueso, thinking it sounded like Key West and the name stuck.
  • Sponge Industry: In the early 20th century, Key West was a major center for the sponge industry. Sponge fishermen harvested natural sponges from the waters surrounding the Keys, contributing significantly to the local economy. Many of the spongers moved to Tarpon Springs.

  • 42 Bridges Connect Key West to the Mainland: The Overseas Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. It was completed in 1938, it connects a string of keys and coral rock with 113 miles of concrete roadway. The Seven Mile Bridge is the longest and most scenic bridge of all the islands.
    facts about Key West florida - hemingway
    Ernest Hemingway brought a lot of publicity to this poor city in the late 1930’s. His home is a museum today.

Fun Facts About Key West

  • Haunted History: Key West is reputed to be one of the most haunted cities in the United States. Locations such as the William Curry Mansion and the East Martello Tower are said to be haunted by various spirits.
  • Key Lime Pie: Key West is famous for its Key lime pie, a dessert made from Key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in a pie crust. The pie is considered a quintessential part of Key West cuisine.

    things you need when flying

    One popular story credits the invention of Key lime pie to “Aunt Sally,” the cook of William Curry, a Key West ship salvager and one of Florida’s first millionaires. According to this legend, Aunt Sally created the pie in the late 1800s. 

  • fun facts about Key West Florida - Rail station
    Flagler’s original railroad station is in the same location today as a museum.

    Hemingway’s Cats: The Hemingway Home and Museum is famous for its population of polydactyl (six-toed) cats, descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cats. The cats freely roam the property and are considered good luck.

  • Southernmost Point: The Southernmost Point Buoy in Key West is not the southernmost point in the continental United States. The true southernmost point is located on private property a short distance away at Ballast Point.

  • Coldest Temperature Ever in Key West – On January 13, 1981 the temperature dropped to 41 degrees! 

Hurricane Facts About Key West

Key West, located in the Florida Keys, has experienced numerous hurricanes throughout its history due to its position in a region frequently affected by tropical storms and hurricanes. While exact counts may vary slightly depending on sources and criteria, here are some notable hurricanes that have impacted Key West:

Key West Facts -Custom house museum.
The red building is the Key West Museum. It is in the old Customs House built in 1891.

Historical Overview:

  1. 19th Century:

   – 1846 Hurricane:** A devastating storm that nearly destroyed the city.

   – 1886 Hurricane:** Caused significant damage and loss of life.

  1. Early 20th Century:

   – 1910 Cuba Hurricane: Brought significant damage to the Keys.

   – Labor Day Hurricane of 1935: One of the most powerful and devastating hurricanes to strike the U.S., severely affecting the Florida Keys, including Key West. Killed hundreds of people.

  1. Mid to Late 20th Century:
    fun facts about key west - Railroad connections
    Note these connections advertised by the East Coast Railway were also stem boat transfers all the way to Cuba. Circa 1912-35.

   – Hurricane Donna (1960): Caused extensive damage across the Florida Keys.

   – Hurricane Betsy (1965): Known for its impact on the Keys and subsequent flooding.

   – Hurricane Georges (1998): Struck Key West, causing significant damage and flooding.

  1. 21st Century:

   – Hurricane Wilma (2005): Produced extensive storm surge and flooding in Key West.

   – Hurricane Irma (2017): A Category 4 hurricane that caused widespread damage to Key West and the Florida Keys.

Total Number:

While precise numbers may vary, it is estimated that over the last century and a half, Key West has been directly hit or significantly affected by around 20-30 major hurricanes and tropical storms. This number includes both direct hits and storms that have caused considerable impact even if their eyewall did not pass directly over Key West.

Considerations:

  • The total number of hurricanes affecting Key West includes both major hurricanes (Category 3 and above) and lesser storms that still caused notable damage.
  • The frequency and severity of storms can vary significantly from year to year due to atmospheric conditions, sea temperatures, and other climatic factors.

Final Thoughts on 10 Facts About Key West Florida

We love our road trips to Key West. There are so many things to see and do is a city that has the historical background that Key West does.

The island hasn’t always been as prosperous as it now, but it has always been culturally diverse, tolerant and most of all just down right fun! Plan a trip to Key West soon.

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