History Happened Here

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Key West

Monroe County

Year Founded: 1828

History

Key West, Anglicized from “cayo hueso” (Spanish for “bone key”), was purchased by John Simonton from Juan Pablo Salas for $2,000. The city was incorporated over 160 years ago (1828), making it one of the oldest in the state. It was a pirate haven for many years until Commodore David Porter established a Naval base on the island and ran the pirates away. Early settlers were Tory sympathizers from New England who used wrecking/salvage of vessels as a means to become one of the wealthiest (per capita) cities in the United States. Cigar manufacturing was also an economic factor for the Cuban population. Key West, the island city, is at the end of a chain of islands called “Keys” and is the southernmost city in the continental United States. The military has been an important presence here since 1823. In 1912, the overseas railway linked the island with the mainland. In 1938, the highway was built over the bed of the railroad, permitting motorists to drive from Miami to Key West. International air passenger and mail service between the United States and Cuba were established in 1920. Pan American Airlines was born in Key West in 1927. In 1942, a freshwater pipeline opened, bringing water to the island from the mainland. Prior to that time, residents relied on cisterns and a few freshwater wells for their water supply. Key West is the county seat.

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