The Southernmost Point in US

Trip Start Apr 15, 2012
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Trip End Apr 21, 2012


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Flag of United States  , Florida
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Florida Keys are an archipelago that start below Miami. Ponce de Leon called them "Cayos" which means small island. Key West flourished since it was on the trade route between Cuba, the Bahamas and New Orleans. Wrecking was the main industry and at one point, Key West had the highest income per capita in the US. When improved navigation led to fewer shipwrecks, Key West started to lose its importance. The islands were only accessible by water, until Henry Flagler built a railroad to Key West via a series of over water rail trestles. In 1935, WW1 Vets were hired to help build highway bridges to connect the islands The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (a Category 5) ended the railroad. The highway, now US 1 or the Overseas Highway,remains as the connector of all the islands.

On to Key West, since that is where we spent our time. Key West, or Cayo Hueso --translation Bone Island- is the Southernmost city in the continental United States. It is 4 miles long and 2 miles wide.Since its official founding in 1922, only 4 people have been killed in hurricanes. Mallory Square was the site of the beginning of  "The Conch Republic" and motto "We Seceded When Others Failed" when the Florida Keys seceded from the United States on April 23, 1982 in protest of a US Border Patrol blockade that was setup on US 1 at Florida City.

Our first stop in Key West was Blue Heaven, a funky Caribbean Cuisine restaurant where you sit at tables like you are in someone's back yard. Cats lounge on the bricks and rooster perch on the sign. If you have ever had a tuna melt, then order either the shrimp melt or lobster melt and save room for their Key Lime pie. The meringue was about 4" thick. After lunch we headed over to the Ernest Hemingway House. Built by master salvager Asa Tift (more about him tomorrow) in 1851, it is 16' above sea level and is still the second highest site on the island. Built from limestone from the site, the walls are 18" thick and has survived many hurricanes. It actually has a basement and it has remained dry.. Hemingway lived here from 1931-1939. Pauline, Hemingway's second wife, found the house at auction and her Uncle bought it for $8000 cash as a wedding gift to Pauline and Hemingway. The house was one of the first to be fitted with indoor plumbing. The swimming pool was a first for Key West and the only one within 100 miles. Pauline had it built for $20,000 when she found out the Hemingway took Martha Gellhorn with him when he went to be a Spanish Civil War correspondent. Supposedly when Hemingway returned he held up a penny and said, "You may as well have my last cent." Pauline embedded that penny in the concrete by the pool.

Hemingway wrote "A Farewell to Arms" and "Snows of Kilimanjaro" in the Carriage House which served as his writing studio. He would write until noon, then go out fishing, then return to "Sloppy Joe's Bar" where he would drink and talk and hear stories which he would later write down and use as inspiration of his own stories.

The gardens are home to the famous polydactyl cats, all descendants of Snowball, a cat given to Hemingway from a captain aboard a merchant marine vessel. Currently there are about 44 cats on the property, half of which are polydactyl.  They have all been named after famous people such as Mark Twain and Mr. Bette Davis. The cats are the second largest expense on the estate.

After the house, we then went to go look at the buoy that marks the Southernmost point in the Continental  US.(It isn't really and although it says 90 miles to Cuba, it is closer to 94 --that's why I took a picture from the side) We found it rather amusing that one hotel was named "Southernmost Hotel"; another was "Southernmost Hotel on the Beach. A house (now a B&B) said it was the Southernmost house, yet next door someone beat them by building a house 6" further South and calling it "The Southernmost Southernmost House."

After dinner El Siboney, a Cuban Restaurant, we walked back to Sunset Square to watch the sunset. The clouds obscured the final setting, but it was pretty nonetheless.

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