Located closer to Cuban capital city Havana than it is to Miami, Key West is one of the most curiously located towns in the USA – and it certainly has a cultural history that reflects its unique position. The last major settlement of the Florida Keys, before reaching Cuba, Key West seems at first to have more in common with its closest Caribbean neighbour than it does with the mainland.
Key West is now easier to reach than ever before, with the controversial Highway that goes to sea snaking along the Florida Keys, eventually linking the mainland with Key West. Environmentally conscious travellers need not despair too much, however, with the compact city of Key West offering all of its wonders within walking distance.
The city has more than doubled in size over the last 70 years, with land reclaimed to allow the expansion of Key West – land on which the city’s major retail centres and International Airport now sit. It is the existing Old Town where much of Key West’s historical treasure lies, however, and this western part of Key West is likely to be of the most interest to tourists.
Considering the cultural history of Key West is almost impossible without being drawn to the name Ernest Hemingway, the seminal American author who produced many of his best works whilst living in Key West. Parts of A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and For Whom The Bell Tolls were all written whilst he was living at 907 Whitehead Street.
Hemingway’s only novel to include scenes taking place in the USA, To Have and Have Not, was also set in Key West, underlining his affection for the place. Hemingway’s former home is now one of Key West’s most important tourist sites and has been transformed into a museum educating visitors about his life and career, particularly whilst living in Key West.
There is more to the fascinating cultural history of Key West than literature, however, and visitors are likely to be intrigued by the tongue-in-cheek secession of the city in 1982 following a dispute with the American government. The United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on the highway connecting Key West to the mainland, inconveniencing travellers and allegedly harming the Keys’ crucial tourism industry.
Protesting against their treatment, the City Council declared their independence, taking the name of the Conch Republic. The move had the effect of highlighting the plight of Key West, with the roadblock removed quickly, and has also become an increasing draw for tourists, with Conch Republic merchandise and souvenirs still sold across the city.
Photos: [all via Bigstockphoto.com].