Key West Live Cam

Discover Key West cultural attractions


Hosted by:
  • Hog's Breath Saloon
  • 400 Front Street - Key West
  • Florida 33040 - United States
  • (305) 296-4222
  • [email protected]

In Key West, you can embrace being on ‘island time’

At first only a collection of houses and storage sheds, the city of Key West grew up around what is now the Sunset Pier, and near the present day Ocean Key Resort. The earliest drawings of the city clearly show where Front street crossed Duval, only yards from the resort. A natural deep water harbor was at the end of Duval Street, and a pier was erected in the location of the present day Sunset Pier by the mid 1840’s. By the 1860’s Key West was the wealthiest town per capita in the United States.

Within 20 Years, a series of reliable lighthouses, and more accurate charting made the wrecking business unprofitable. The Bahamians, which made up the primary population of Key West turned to Sponges for income. Using a bottomless bucket that the gatherer could look through, he would use a long pole with a hook to pull up the sponges. Once dried and trimmed, they were shipped off to major metropolitan cities, where they were sold.

1860 woodcut of slaveship pulling into Key West

With the Civil War looming in the distance, Key West became more important as a strategic location for the Union. Much of the Union blockade squadron was stationed in Key West, and the South was effectively choked off from supplies to New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, and Charleston by the strong union presence. While under Union control, many Key West citizens remained quietly loyal to the South. Again, the Sunset Pier was a part of history, and used as a Union military dock for disembarking of captured Confederate ships. Blacks from captured Confederate slave ships, along with Bahamians formed the nucleus for Bahama Village and one of the larger populations of free blacks in the south during the civil war.

A tragic story that has recently surfaced was about three slave ships that were captured by the Union Navy in 1860 with 1400 Africans in chains. The freed blacks were brought to Key West in preparation for repatriating to Liberia, a country in Africa primarily populated by freed slaves. Although most were sent back within a few months, 294 would remain in Key West forever, perishing of typhoid fever and dysentery. They were buried in an unmarked mass grave very near what is present day Higgs Beach in Key West.

Very early picture on Front Street near present day Ocean Key

After the Civil War, with sponging flourishing, the cigar industry began to grow. Using Cuban tobacco, and Cuban workers, by 1873 Cubans comprised a substantial portion of the Key West population. The cigar industry grew tremendously, and became the island’s most important industry. No less than 150 cigar factories existed in Key West at its peak.

In the 1880 census, Key West is the largest city In Florida with 8,890 residents. In 1890 100 million cigars were manufactured in Key West. Late in that decade other areas in Central Florida, including Tampa, recognized the tremendous profits in cigar making, an industry that required only Cuban workers, and tobacco, readily available from Cuba. They began to woo away the factories from Key West, and by the time of the Spanish American War, cigar making had all but vanished from Key West.

The Spanish American War was another turning point for Key West. With the Spanish territory of Cuba a mere 90 miles away from Key West, the island again became a strategic military stronghold. It was Key West that the US battleship Maine sailed from in 1898 to Havana Harbor where, while anchored, it mysteriously blew up. The Maine sailed right by our Sunset Pier, then called Porter Docks, as it left for Havana. At least part of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders likely boarded ships at the Sunset Pier enroute to Cuba and the famous charge up San Juan Hill.

After the Spanish American War, Key West returned to its quiet, between-war existence as a backwater island reachable only by sea, until 1912 when Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad was completed to the Island, making it possible to travel to the city by rail. With the building of the railroad, and construction of the Panama Canal in progress the city again began to boom, right through World War I, when U-Boats prowled the Florida Straights and sunk many cargo ships.