Key West Island: largest island in the city of Key West, Florida
|Area||5.27 sq mi (13.6 km2)|
|Length||4 mi (6 km)|
|Width||1 mi (2 km)|
|Highest elevation||18 ft (5.5 m)|
|Highest point||Solares Hill, 18 feet (5.5 m) above sea level|
The island is about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, with a total land mass of 4.2 square miles (11 km2). Duval Street, its famous main street, is a mere 1.1 miles (1.8 km) in length in its 14-block crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Straits/Atlantic Ocean. In the late 1950s, many of the large salt ponds on the eastern side were filled in, nearly doubling the original land mass of the island. The island is 3,370 acres (13.6 km2) in area.
- 1 History
- 2 Geography
- 3 Notable places
- 4 Geography and climate
- 5 Education
- 6 Notable people
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Colonial and precolonial times
In Pre-Colonial times Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. The first European to visit was Juan Ponce de León in 1521. As Florida became a Spanish territory, a fishing and salvage village with a small garrison was established here.
Cayo Hueso (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkaʝo ˈweso]) is the original Spanish name for the island of Key West. Spanish-speaking people today also use the term when referring to Key West. It literally means "bone cay (a low island or reef)". It is said that the island was littered with the remains (bones) of prior native inhabitants, who used the isle as a communal graveyard. This island was the westernmost Key with a reliable supply of water.
In 1763, when Great Britain took control of Florida, the community of Spaniards and Native Americans were moved to Havana. Florida returned to Spanish control 20 years later, but there was no official resettlement of the island. Informally the island was used by fishermen from Cuba and from the British, who were later joined by others from the United States after the latter nation's independence. While claimed by Spain, no nation exercised de facto control over the community there for some time.
In 1815, the Spanish governor of Cuba in Havana deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas, an officer of the Royal Spanish Navy Artillery posted in Saint Augustine, Florida. After Florida was transferred to the United States in 1821, Salas was so eager to sell the island that he sold it twice – first for a sloop valued at $575 to a General John Geddes, a former governor of South Carolina, and then to a U.S. businessman John W. Simonton, during a meeting in a Havana café on January 19, 1822, for the equivalent of $2,000 in pesos in 1821. Geddes tried in vain to secure his rights to the property before Simonton who, with the aid of some influential friends in Washington, was able to gain clear title to the island. Simonton had wide-ranging business interests in Mobile, Alabama. He bought the island because a friend, John Whitehead, had drawn his attention to the opportunities presented by the island's strategic location. John Whitehead had been stranded in Key West after a shipwreck in 1819 and he had been impressed by the potential offered by the deep harbor of the island. The island was indeed considered the "Gibraltar of the West" because of its strategic location on the 90-mile (140 km)–wide deep shipping lane, the Straits of Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
On March 25, 1822, Lt. Commander Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, claiming the Keys as United States property. No protests were made over the American claim on Key West, so the Florida Keys became the property of the United States.
After claiming the Florida Keys for the United States, Perry renamed Cayo Hueso (Key West) to "Thompson's Island" for Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson, and the harbor "Port Rodgers" in honor of War of 1812 hero and President of the Navy Supervisors Board John Rodgers. In 1823, Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron took charge of Key West, which he ruled (but, according to some,[according to whom?] exceeding his authority) as military dictator under martial law. Porter was tasked by the American Navy to end acts of piracy in the Key West area including slave ships.
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Soon after his purchase, John Simonton subdivided the island into plots and sold three undivided quarters of each plot to:
- John Mountain and U.S. Consul John Warner, who quickly resold their quarter to Pardon C. Greene, who took up residence on the island. Greene is the only one of the four "founding fathers" to establish himself permanently on the island, where he became quite prominent as head of P.C. Greene and Company. He was a member of the city council and also served briefly as mayor. He died in 1838 at the age of 57.
- John Whitehead, his friend who had advised him to buy Key West. John Whitehead lived in Key West for only eight years. He became a partner in the firm of P.C. Greene and Company from 1824 to 1827. A lifelong bachelor, he left the island for good in 1832. He came back only once, during the Civil War in 1861, and died the next year.
- John Fleeming (nowadays spelled Fleming). John W.C. Fleeming was English-born and was active in mercantile business in Mobile, Alabama, where he befriended John Simonton. Fleeming spent only a few months in Key West in 1822 and left for Massachusetts, where he married. He returned to Key West in 1832 with the intention of developing salt manufacturing on the island but died the same year at the young age of 51.
Simonton spent the winter in Key West and the summer in Washington, where he lobbied hard for the development of the island and to establish a naval base on the island, both to take advantage of the island's strategic location and to bring law and order to the town. He died in 1854.
The names of the four "founding fathers" of modern Key West were given to main arteries of the island when it was first platted in 1829 by William Adee Whitehead, John Whitehead's younger brother. That first plat and the names used remained mostly intact and are still in use today. Duval Street, the island's main street, is named after Florida's first territorial governor, who served between 1822 and 1834 as the longest-serving governor in Florida's U.S. history.
William Whitehead became chief editorial writer for the "Enquirer", a local newspaper, in 1834. He had the genius of preserving copies of his newspaper as well as copies from the "Key West Gazette", its predecessor. He later sent those copies to the Monroe County clerk for preservation, which gives us a precious view of life in Key West in the early days (1820–1840).
In 1852 the first Catholic Church, St. Mary's Star-Of-The-Sea was built. The year 1864 became a landmark for the church in South Florida when five Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary arrived from Montreal, Canada, and established the first Catholic school in South Florida. The Convent of Mary Immaculate, the oldest Catholic School in Florida which is now known as Mary Immaculate Star of the Sea School.
American Civil War and late 19th century
During the American Civil War, while Florida seceded and joined the Confederate States of America, Key West remained in U.S. Union hands because of the naval base. However, most locals were sympathetic to the Confederacy, and many flew Confederate flags over their homes. Fort Zachary Taylor, constructed from 1845 to 1866, was an important Key West outpost during the Civil War. Construction began in 1861 on two other forts, East and West Martello Towers, which served as side armories and batteries for the larger fort. When completed, they were connected to Fort Taylor by railroad tracks for movement of munitions. Fort Jefferson, located about 68 miles (109 km) from Key West on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, served after the Civil War as the prison for Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, convicted of conspiracy for setting the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
In the 19th century, major industries included wrecking and salvaging; fishing; turtling, and salt manufacturing. From 1830 to 1861, Key West was a major center of U.S. salt production, harvesting the commodity from the sea (via receding tidal pools) rather than from salt mines. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Union troops shut down the salt industry after Confederate sympathizers smuggled the product into the South. Salt production resumed at the end of the war, but the industry was destroyed by an 1876 hurricane and never recovered, in part because of new salt mines on the mainland.
A fire on April 1, 1886, started at a cigar club and grew out of control, destroying 18 cigar factories and 614 houses and government warehouse buildings.
By 1889, Key West was the largest and wealthiest city in Florida.
The USS Maine sailed from Key West on its fateful visit to Havana, where it blew up and sank in Havana Harbor, igniting the Spanish–American War. Crewmen from the ship are buried in Key West, and the Navy investigation into the blast occurred at the Key West Customs House.
The Overseas Railroad linked Key West to the mainland in 1912; it was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. The Overseas Highway, and extension of U.S. Route 1 in Florida, was completed in 1938; it was built atop many of the footings of the railroad.
Pan American Airlines was founded in Key West, originally to fly visitors to Havana, in 1926. The airline contracted with the United States Postal Service in 1927 to deliver mail to and from Cuba and the United States. The mail route was known as the 'Key West, Florida Havana Mail Route.
Prior to the Cuban revolution of 1959, there were regular ferry and airplane services between Key West and Havana.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.4 square miles (19 km2), of which 5.9 square miles (15 km2) is land and 1.5 square miles (3.9 km2) (19.73%) is water.
Key West and most of the rest of the Keys are on the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The two bodies have different currents, with the calmer and warmer Gulf of Mexico being characterized by great clumps of seagrass. The area where the two bodies merge between Key West and Cuba is called the Straits of Florida.
Port of Key West
In 1984, the city opened a pier right on Mallory Square. The decision was met with considerable opposition from people who felt it would disrupt the tradition of watching the sunset at Mallory Square.
Cruise ships now dock at all three piers.
Cruise Ship Statistics for 1994:
- Number of visits: 368
- Passenger count: 398,370
- City revenues from docking charges: $852,887
NAS Key West, Boca Chica and the Truman Annex have been the home of US ships, submarines, Pegasus-class hydrofoils and Fighter Training Squadrons like the VF101 detachment. NAS Key West is still a training facility for top gun pilots.
Key West has had a military presence since 1823, shortly after its purchase by Simonton in 1822. John W. Simonton lobbied the U.S. government to establish a naval base on Key West, both to take advantage of its strategic location and to bring law and order to the Key West town. On March 25, 1822, naval officer Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag claiming the Keys as United States property. In 1823 A naval base was established to protect shipping merchants in the lower keys from pirates. The original base is now known as Mallory Square.
Geography and climate
The earliest Key West neighborhoods are broadly known as Old Town, designated as the Key West Historic District. This includes the major tourist destinations of the island, including Mallory Square, Duval Street, the Truman Annex and Fort Zachary Taylor. It is where the classic bungalows and guest mansions are found. Bahama Village, southwest of Whitehead Street, features houses, churches, and sites related to its Afro-Bahamian history. The Meadows, lying northeast of the White Street Gallery District, is exclusively residential in character.
Some antebellum structures survive, including the Oldest (or Cussans-Watlington) House (1829–1836) and the John Huling Geiger House (1846–1849), now preserved as the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens. Fortifications such as Fort Zachary Taylor, the East Martello Tower, and the West Martello Tower, helped ensure that Key West would remain in Union control throughout the Civil War. Another landmark built by the federal government is the Key West Lighthouse, now a museum. Many structures date from 1886 to 1912. The basic features that distinguish the local architecture include wood-frame construction of one- to two-and-a-half-story structures set on foundation piers about three feet above the ground. Exterior characteristics of the buildings are peaked "metal" roofs, horizontal wood siding, gingerbread trim, pastel shades of paint, side-hinged louvered shutters, covered porches (or balconies, galleries, or verandas) along the fronts of the structures, and wood lattice screens covering the area elevated by the piers.
Two of the most notable buildings in Old Town, occupied by prominent twentieth-century residents, are the Ernest Hemingway House, where the writer lived from 1931 to 1939, and the Harry S. Truman Little White House, where the president spent 175 days of his time in office.
In addition to architecture, Old Town includes the Key West Cemetery, founded in 1847, containing above-ground tombs, notable epitaphs, and a plot where some of the dead from the 1898 explosion of the U.S.S. Maine are buried.
The Casa Marina area takes its name from the Casa Marina Hotel, opened in 1921, the neighborhood's most conspicuous landmark. The Reynolds Street Pier, Higgs Beach, the West Martello Tower, the White Street Pier, and Rest Beach dominate the shoreline. Rose Williams, sister of playwright Tennessee Williams lived on Von Phister Street for a while.
The island has more than doubled in size via landfill. The new section on the east (perceived as north) is called "New Town." It contains shopping centers, retail malls, residential areas, schools, ball parks, and Key West International Airport.
Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic
Key West and most of the rest of the Keys are on the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The two bodies have different currents, with the calmer and warmer Gulf of Mexico being characterized by great clumps of seagrass. The area where the two bodies merge between Key West and Cuba is called the Straits of Florida. The warmest ocean waters anywhere on the United States mainland are found in the Florida Keys in winter, with sea surface temperatures averaging in the 75 to 77 °F range in December through February.
One of the biggest attractions on the island is a concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets that claims to be the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states (see Extreme Points for more information.) The point was originally just marked with a sign, however the city of Key West erected the now famous monument in 1983. Brightly painted and labeled "SOUTHERNMOST POINT CONTINENTAL U.S.A.", it is one of the most visited and photographed attractions in the United States. Land on the Truman Annex property just west of the buoy is the southernmost point of Key West, but still not the southernmost point of the continental US, and it has no marker since it is U.S. Navy land and cannot be entered by civilian tourists. The private yards directly to the east of the buoy and the beach areas of Truman Annex and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park also lie farther south than the buoy. The farthest-south location that the public can visit is the beach at the state park for a small entrance fee. Florida's true southernmost point is Ballast Key, a privately owned island just south and west of Key West.
Key West has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw, similar to the Caribbean islands). Like most tropical climates, Key West has only a small difference in monthly mean temperatures between the coolest month (January) and the warmest month (July) – with the annual range of monthly mean temperatures around 15 °F (8.3 °C). The Florida Keys are one of the only locations on the mainland U.S. known to never have had a frost or freeze – the lowest temperature on record is 41 °F (5 °C) on January 12, 1886, and January 13, 1981. Prevailing easterly tradewinds and sea breezes suppress the usual summertime heating, with temperatures rarely reaching 95 °F (35 °C). There are 55 days per year with 90 °F (32 °C) or greater highs, with the average window for such readings June 10 through September 22, shorter than almost the entire southeastern U.S. However, low temperatures often remain above 80 °F (27 °C). The all-time record high temperature is 97 °F (36 °C) on July 19, 1880, and August 29, 1956.
|Climate data for Key West Int'l, Florida (1981–2010 normals,[a] extremes 1872−present)[b]|
|Record high °F (°C)||90
|Mean maximum °F (°C)||82.0
|Average high °F (°C)||74.3
|Daily mean °F (°C)||69.3
|Average low °F (°C)||64.2
|Mean minimum °F (°C)||51.0
|Record low °F (°C)||41
|Average rainfall inches (mm)||2.04
|Average rainy days (≥ 0.01 in)||6.2||5.3||5.8||4.5||7.2||11.0||11.7||14.2||16.2||11.3||6.6||6.4||106.4|
|Average relative humidity (%)||76.0||74.3||73.0||70.1||71.8||74.0||72.2||73.4||75.3||75.1||76.0||76.2||74.0|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||249.6||245.4||308.8||324.6||340.3||314.0||325.2||306.6||269.6||254.7||230.9||234.5||3,404.2|
|Percent possible sunshine||75||77||83||85||82||77||78||76||73||71||70||71||77|
|Source: NOAA (relative humidity and sun 1961−1990), The Weather Channel|
Wet and dry seasons
Like most tropical climates, Key West has a two-season wet and dry climate. The period from November through April is normally sunny and quite dry, with only 25 percent of the annual rainfall occurring. May through October is normally the wet season. During the wet season some rain falls on most days, often as brief, but heavy tropical downpours, followed by intense sun. Early morning is the favored time for these showers, which is different from mainland Florida, where showers and thunderstorms usually occur in the afternoon. Easterly (tropical) waves during this season occasionally bring excessive rainfall, while infrequent hurricanes may be accompanied by unusually heavy amounts. On average, rainfall markedly peaks between August and October; the single wettest month in Key West is September, when the threat from tropical weather systems (hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions) is greatest. Key West is the driest city in Florida, averaging just under 40 inches of rain per year. This is driven primarily by Key West's relative dryness in May, June and July. In mainland Florida peninsular areas like Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Fort Myers, June and July average monthly rainfalls typically reach 7 to 10 inches, while Key West has only half such amounts over the same period.
Hurricanes rarely affect Key West, and the island has been relatively unaffected by major storms. Some locals maintain that Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005, was the worst storm in memory. The entire island was told to evacuate and business owners were forced to shut their doors. After the hurricane had passed, the resulting storm surge sent eight feet (two meters) of water inland completely inundating a large portion of the lower Keys. Low-lying areas of Key West and the lower Keys, including major tourist destinations, were under as much as three feet (one meter) of water. Sixty percent of the homes in Key West were flooded. The higher parts of Old Town, such as the Solares Hill and cemetery areas, did not flood, because of their higher elevations of 12 to 18 feet (4 to 5 m). The surge destroyed tens of thousands of cars throughout the lower Keys, and many houses were flooded with one to two feet (thirty to sixty-one centimeters) of sea water. A local newspaper referred to Key West and the lower Keys as a "car graveyard." The peak of the storm surge occurred when the eye of Wilma had already passed over the Naples area, and the sustained winds during the surge were less than 40 mph (64 km/h). The storm destroyed the piers at the clothing-optional Atlantic Shores Motel and breached the shark tank at the Key West Aquarium, freeing its sharks. Damage postponed the island's famous Halloween Fantasy Fest until the following December. MTV's The Real World: Key West was filming during the hurricane and deals with the storm.
In September 2005, NOAA opened its National Weather Forecasting building on White Street. The building is designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and its storm surge. Tours of the office are available, weather permitting, Monday-Friday from 10am to 12pm.
The most intense previous hurricane was Hurricane Georges, a Category 2, in September 1998. The storm damaged many of the houseboats along "Houseboat Row" on South Roosevelt Boulevard near Cow Key channel on the east side of the island.
Monroe County School District operates public schools in Key West.
District-operated elementary schools serving the City of Key West include Poinciana Elementary School, which is located on the island of Key West, and Gerald Adams Elementary School, which is located on Stock Island. District-operated middle and high schools include Horace O'Bryant School, a former middle school which now operates as a K–8 school, and the Key West High School. All of Key West is zoned to Horace O'Bryant School for grades 6-8 and to Key West High School for grades 9–12. Sigsbee Charter School is a K–8 school of choice, sanctioned by the District and serving predominantly military dependent children as well as children from the community at large. Admission to Sigsbee Charter School is limited and the waiting list is managed by a lottery system. Key West Montessori Charter School is a district-sanctioned charter school on Key West Island.
The main campus of Florida Keys Community College is located in Key West.
Born in Key West
- Bronson Arroyo, baseball player
- Stepin Fetchit, comedian
- Amber McDonald, actress
- George Mira, football player
- Quincy Perkins, filmmaker
- David Robinson, basketball player
- David Wolkowsky, real estate developer and preservationist
Residents and visitors
- John James Audubon, naturalist, painter, ornithologist
- Elizabeth Bishop, poet
- Judy Blume, children's author
- Jimmy Buffett, musician
- Tom Corcoran, author
- Mel Fisher, treasure hunter
- Ernest Hemingway, author
- Calvin Klein, fashion designer
- Alison Lurie, novelist
- Stephen Mallory, politician
- Kelly McGillis, actress
- James Merrill, poet
- Diana Nyad, First person to swim from Cuba to Key West, FL without a shark cage.
- John Dos Passos, novelist
- Boog Powell, baseball player
- Thomas Sanchez, author
- Shel Silverstein, author
- Wallace Stevens, poet
- Keith Strickland, musician, songwriter and founding member of The B-52s
- Michel Tremblay, Canadian playwright
- President Harry S. Truman, U.S. president
- Tennessee Williams, author
- Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the highest and lowest temperature readings during an entire month or year) calculated based on data at said location from 1981 to 2010.
- Official records for Key West were kept at the Weather Bureau in downtown from January 1871 to February 1958, and at Key West Int'l since March 1958. For more information, see ThreadEx.
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-  Archived June 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
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- Key West Citizen "New commissioners' trial by wind and flood" October 27, 2005
- Key West Citizen October 25, 2005, pp 1-2, 6
- Key West Citizen "Flooded cars litter the Keys" October 27, 2005
- "Monroe County School District - School Maps". keysschools.schoolfusion.us. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- "Sigsbee Charter School: About Us". www.sigsbee.org. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- "Sigsbee Charter School: Registration Facts". www.sigsbee.org. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- "Key West Montessori Charter School: About Our School". keywestmontessori.com. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
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- Calvin Klein House – Key West Archived 2009-01-26 at the Wayback Machine.
- Kelly McGillis
- Alvarez, Lizette (September 2, 2013). "Nyad Completes Cuba-to-Florida Swim". The New York Times.
- Dos Passos, John (1966). The best times: an informal memoir. New American Library.
- Boog Powell – Key West High School graduate
- Barnett, William C. "Inventing the Conch Republic: The Creation of Key West as an Escape from Modern America", Florida Historical Quarterly (2009) 88#2 pp. 139–172 in JSTOR
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- Ogle, Maureen. Key West: History of an island of dreams (University Press of Florida, 2003)