Sunday, January 9, 2011

Key West's Oldest House Open To Visitors

Oldest House In Key West
From the rear garden, the cook house in the foreground

Visitors and history buffs get a glimpse of the island's earliest settlement at the Oldest House in Key West. Built circa 1829, it's also the oldest wooden house in the state of Florida. There are older buildings in St. Augustine (the oldest city in the US) of course, but not entirely of wood.

The Oldest House opens its gardens and doors free of charge to visitors. Docents are on hand to give tours and answer questions every day from 10-4 except Wednesdays and Sundays.

Captain Francis Watlington and his wife Emeline didn’t build the house, but lived there from the early 1830s until their death. They raised 7 daughters in the house. Descendants lived in the house until 1969 when it was sold and donated to the State of Florida.

The cook house from the back porch

The home, operated by the non-profit Old Island Restoration Foundation, reflects the lifestyle of the early settlers. Visitors to Key West can tour many elegant Victorian mansions of successful early residents; the Oldest House highlights the more common experience of ordinary pioneers.

The Cook House was separate from the main house, to keep fire and heat away from the main structure. The “beehive” chimney is one of two in Florida, the other is in St. Augustine.

Interior of the cook house

The cook had to feed the first for seven hours before it was hot enough to bake bread.

The home is filled with period pieces, many of which belonged to the Watlington Family. Emeline kept her most valuable commodities - spices and sugar - locked in the top drawer of the sideboard.

Note the pocket door between the parlor and the dining room

This bed, on permanent loan from the Watlington family, is only 5’2”. I know what you’re thinking. People were shorter “back then.” Well, they were a little bit shorter, but not that much. They slept sitting up, propped by bolsters, much as people do today for acid reflux or sleep apnea. In the early 1800s Americans worried about consumption and pneumonia. Even healthy people feared that if they slept lying flat their lungs would fill with fluid in the night and they wouldn’t wake up.

Captain Watlington's desk

The Oldest House Museum
10 - 4 Except on Wednesday and Sunday
322 Duval Street
Key West, FL 33041
Tel: 305.294.9501