Monday, February 28, 2011

Inside and Out: A Key West Dream Home

Key West is known for its gingerbread -- fanciful decorative scrollwork adorns many of the historic homes in Key West’s Old Town. In the late 19th Century when many of these homes were built, each home had its own distinctive pattern. It was considered poor form to copy anyone else’s.

I viewed one home recently – well outside my price range, though, but a listing of a client's – that had brought their gingerbread into the house to decorate the archways. What a novel idea, I thought!

In the photo above and below, the pillars and scroll work frame, a comfortable sitting room and a cheery reading room.

The C scroll adorns the “dogear” arch from the hall to the great room show below. Beyond a glimpse of the patio and pool area.

Looking into the hall from the great room (above).

More elegant whimsy: a mural of poppies blooms brightly on a guest room wall.

The owners have also brought the outside into their home through French doors and covered patio space that truly create an indoor/outdoor living space – the sought after Key West lifestyle.

Patio, pool and guest cottage.

Note the outdoor covered dining area above left.

From the covered patio dining room looking toward Nassau Lane. The side yard walk is shaded with an arbor of bougainvillea.

Nassau Lane is one of Key West's hidden avenues, tucked away off Fleming Street in the "Millionaires' Row" of the Historic District.

More photos on this property can be found on this Facebook album and more photo and price details are here: 6 Nassau Lane.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Morning Garden Party of One

Chalice Vine (Solandra maxima)

The chalice vine, or cup of gold, grows around the back of the compound of my Key West cottage rental.

I am quite entranced by the bud; it reminds me of a child’s cheeks full of water, ready to burst:

More Chalice Vine photos.

Courtesy of a (planned) power outage this morning, I found myself in the garden rather than at the keyboard. I have a few tomato plants, some herbs and some Ming Aralia cuttings I rooted that are doing well.

One is wired, and I plan to ‘bonsai’ it in the conch shell. The other is straight, but still wonderfully “oriental” in its look. I will probably have to carry them back to Asheville so that I can keep them watered over the summer. I’m leaving the tomato plants behind, though. ;)

Karma and the Ming Aralia

Mermaid In The Garden

Monday, February 14, 2011

Key West's Earliest Settlers Saw Opportunity

Key West's earliest settlers didn’t come for the weather. They came for opportunity.

In 1821 Florida had just become United States Territory and Key West’s deep water harbour was perched along a major shipping route. Along the Gulf Stream from Mexico and Cuba came molasses, sugar, coffee; from Spain flowed fine wines, lace and silver. Ships plied the Gulf Stream along a treacherous stretch of barrier reef whose tentacles brought an average of one ship a week ashore!

When a ship foundered in the reef, wreckers sailed with dispatch to the rescue, vying to be the first on the scene, as the wrecking master and his crew would take the largest share of the salvage. The wreckers would labor quickly to “lighten the ship” of its cargo so that it could float off on the next high tide. Once removed cargo became ‘salvage’ and was liquidated to compensate the wrecking captain and his crew.

These were the days before the permanent lights that now line Florida’s barrier reef and the frequent wrecks would make Key West into the largest city in Florida and reputedly the most prosperous US city per capita of the mid 19th Century.

As the first settlers moved in, the last of the pirates were quickly run out of the Florida Straits by a naval detachment, the Mosquito Fleet, under the command of Commodore David Porter, Many thought the wreckers little better than privateers. Yet, the wreckers risked their vessels, their equipment and often their lives to rescue the vessels and cargo that ran afoul of the reef. Divers frequently worked in waters polluted with dye or guano to recover goods from the bottom of the hold of a sinking ship or the ocean bottom. Without their skill and heroics, all would have been lost. But, before a US Territorial Court was established in 1828 and a Judge James Webb was installed, the wreckers often negotiated as much as 95% of the salvage value.

When Spain held the peninsula prior to the 1820s, wreckers from Nassau and Cuba salvaged any wrecks that foundered along the coast of Florida. In 1825, the US passed a law requiring any salvage salvaged from a wreck in Florida waters had to be brought to a US port of entry. Key West soon became that port. At the same time, the law required wreckers to be licensed; they had to prove to have seaworthy vessels, the proper equipment and an honest character. Salvage portions feel to 25-35%, and still Key Westers grew rich. In 1824, the value of the salvage sold was $293,353,00! Using the consumer price index that’s the equivalent of $5-6 billion, depending on which inflation calculator one uses. It was a lot of money.

Wrecking’s "Golden Years" years would last until the mid to late 1800s when the lighthouses that warn ships of the dangerous shoals to this day, were built along the Florida Keys.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Tropical American Frontier Circa 1830: Food And Water In Pioneer Key West

A visit to Key West's Oldest House offers you a glimpse into the life of an early 19th Century American Pioneer. Think Wild West in the tropics – but without fresh water. Life on an island closer to Cuba than the mainland United States. Water collected in a cistern for drinking and cooking.

There’s a backyard Cook House (above), a small outbuilding with a beehive chimney and a large hearth, to keep the fire safely away from the house. Servants awaken early to stoke the fire; it takes 8 hours to get hot enough to bake bread.

The family of nine, a ship’s captain, his wife and seven daughters, awake to the smell of eggs with corn cakes or grits. If a ship has been in port, the cakes are slathered with molasses.

Fresh snapper, grouper or turtle steaks on the dinner table. Turtle eggs, a great delicacy dug from the sandy nests on the beach are an occasional treat.

The soil, a scant six or 12 inches of sandy dirt on limestone supports little but some fruit trees; sea grapes are abundant, the settlers plan Spanish limes and exotic fruits.

Ships do call, and with rice, coffee, cornmeal, apples and root vegetables could be ordered, but their delivery is uncertain. Sugar and molasses comes from New Orleans or the Caribbean and spices and coffee arrive from Mexico.

Occasionally there’s a shipment of beef from Abilene, Texas or Jacksonville, Florida. Key West’s salt ponds provided plenty of salt to preserve the meat, but food often spoils, and stomach complaints are common.

I learned what Key West's early residents ate for today's V7N Challenge: Learn Something New Every Day!

Key West's Oldest House is open 10-4 except Wednesday and Sunday.
Oldest House Website
322 Duval Street
Key West, FL 33040-6510
(305) 294-9501
Join the Oldest House on Facebook

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Double Dog Dare You ...

... To Learn Something New Every Day!

A V7N Forum 30 Day Challenge

If we’re lucky, we learn something new every day, right? I suspect most of the time, we hear something new every day, but we don’t always learn it. I know I don’t.

So, I've joined the 30 day challenge posed by V7N’s Cricket Walker to pick up a new trick every day. Cricket, in case you don't know, is the admin of a very friendly webmaster/marketing forum. (By the way, if you have a business website and you would like to learn more about promoting it, forums are a terrific place to learn something new about SEO or social media networking every day!)

I have been studying Key West history casually for a few months now. I volunteer as a docent at the Oldest House in Key West on Thursday and Sunday afternoons, and I try to add a new fact or anecdote to my repertoire every week. So, I just have to acquire six more facts a week.

This is a perfect time for me; I’m just between novels, and instead of picking up a new book, I will stick to the non-fiction I have in the house. I have several back issues of National Geographic, I’m reading a couple of books about pirate history, and more on early Key West.

I don’t promise to post here about it every day, but I will share in the V7N forum thread: Learn Something New Every Day Challenge.

If you’re interested in joining the challenge, check out Cricket’s post on it. It’s starts Feb 8th, but you can jump in any time. I promise you'll love the community you find at V7N – it’s the friendliest webmaster forum online! And think of the interesting people you will meet, and the new things you will learn reading what others share. Of course, you don’t have to join the challenge to follow what the participants share every day.

But I double dog dare you to join the challenge!