A Journey Through History: The Street Names of Key West

A Journey Through History: The Street Names of Key West

Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, is known for its vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and a history that stretches back to the early 19th century. The island’s street names are a testament to its unique and diverse heritage, reflecting the influences of Native Americans, Spanish explorers, pirates, and more. In this article, we’ll delve into the history of Key West’s street names, exploring the stories behind the roads and lanes that wind through this picturesque island.

Native American Roots

Long before the arrival of European explorers, the island of Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. While the island’s modern street names do not directly reference this indigenous culture, the native history is an important backdrop for understanding Key West’s past. The Calusa left behind a legacy of shell mounds and other archaeological sites that remind us of their presence.

Spanish Explorers and Settlers

In the early 16th century, Spanish explorers, including Juan Ponce de León and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, visited the Florida Keys and made their mark on the region. Spanish explorers and settlers played a pivotal role in naming many of the islands, including Key West.

Duval Street: One of the most famous streets in Key West, Duval Street, is named after William Pope Duval, the first territorial governor of Florida. It reflects the Spanish influence in Florida, as the region was under Spanish rule for many years.

Simonton Street: This street is named after John Simonton, a wealthy American businessman who purchased the island of Key West in 1822. Simonton’s acquisition marked the beginning of American influence on the island.

Maritime and Nautical Influences

Key West’s strategic location has made it a hub for maritime activities throughout its history. The island’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many of its street names.

Front Street: As the name suggests, Front Street was located near the waterfront and served as a bustling commercial area for maritime trade. It is a reminder of Key West’s maritime heritage.

Harbor Walk: This street, located near the harbor, showcases the island’s continued connection to the sea. It is a popular spot for both tourists and locals, offering stunning views of the waterfront.

Margaret Street: Named after Margaret Watlington, this street is a nod to the maritime heritage of the Watlington family, who were prominent shipbuilders and sailors on the island.

Influences of Caribbean and Bahamian Culture

Key West has strong ties to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and these connections are reflected in the island’s street names.

Bahama Street: This street pays homage to the Bahamian immigrants who settled in Key West in the 19th century. These settlers played a significant role in shaping the island’s culture and economy.

Cuba Road: Cuba is just 90 miles south of Key West, and the island’s relationship with its Cuban neighbors has had a profound impact on its history. This street name reflects the island’s connection to Cuba.

Whitehead Street: Named after John Whitehead, an American who had strong ties to the Bahamas, this street showcases the Bahamian influence on Key West.

Military and Historical Figures

Key West has a long history of military presence, and many of its streets are named after notable military and historical figures.

Truman Avenue: Named after President Harry S. Truman, who spent significant time in Key West during his presidency. Truman’s Little White House in Key West is a popular tourist attraction.

Eaton Street: Named after General John Eaton, a military officer who played a role in the history of Key West during the 19th century.

Fleming Street: Named after Richard Fleming, a naval officer who served during the War of 1812 and was stationed in Key West.

Literary and Cultural References

Key West has a rich literary history, and several streets pay homage to famous authors and cultural figures.

Hemingway Lane: Named after the iconic American author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Key West for many years and wrote some of his most famous works there.

Tennessee Williams Street: Named after the renowned playwright Tennessee Williams, who also called Key West home.

Green Street: Named in honor of Judge Jefferson B. Browne, who was known as “Green Turtle.” He was a colorful character in Key West’s history and had a strong influence on the island’s culture.

Pirates and Legends

Pirates have always held a special place in the folklore of Key West, and the island’s street names pay tribute to this romanticized aspect of its history.

Pirates Road: This street name captures the enduring fascination with pirates who roamed the Florida Keys.

Seaport Place: Located near the historic seaport, this street is a nod to the island’s seafaring past and the legends of pirates who once frequented these waters.

Bone Island: While not a street name, Bone Island is a historical reference to Key West. Early maps and explorers referred to the island by this name due to the large amount of indigenous Calusa skeletal remains found there.

Preservation and Renaming

In recent years, Key West has made efforts to preserve its unique heritage by naming streets and landmarks to honor its diverse history.

Salute! On The Beach: Salute! On The Beach is a popular restaurant located near Higgs Beach. The name is a tribute to the military history of the area and is often associated with saluting the flag.

Truman Waterfront: This area was once a U.S. Navy submarine base and is now a public waterfront park. It serves as a reminder of the military history of Key West.

Duval Square: While Duval Street remains one of the most iconic streets on the island, Duval Square is a newer development that pays homage to the street’s historical significance.

Key West’s street names serve as a living history book, recounting the island’s diverse cultural influences and the key figures who have shaped its past. From the indigenous Calusa people to Spanish explorers, American settlers, Bahamian immigrants, and literary giants like Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, the names on Key West’s streets reveal the tapestry of its history.

Whether you’re strolling down Duval Street, enjoying the views along Harbor Walk, or savoring a meal at Salute! On The Beach, each street and landmark in Key West has a story to tell. These street names are more than just labels; they are a testament to the island’s enduring charm and the people who have left their mark on this tropical paradise.

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