One of the most striking and distinctive buildings in Key West, the Southernmost House proudly sits at a prime location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the quieter end of Duval Street. This impressive example of Queen Anne-style architecture is just one of many iconic Key West attractions. Boasting a long history of hospitality, this building is now a historic adult-only bed-and-breakfast situated on the edge of the Old Town District. The inn boasts a retro, pastel-colored exterior, elegant gables and bold landscaping. It is the southernmost private residence in the United States. Although a few other living quarters are further south, they are located on the Key West Naval Station and are not open to the public. The hotel is one of the most-photographed buildings in Key West.
Built in 1896 at a cost of $250,000, the Southernmost House, a Queen Anne-style mansion, was originally the private residence of Judge Vining Harris. His wife, Florida Curry, was the youngest daughter of the state’s first millionaire William Curry. A prominent Florida family, the Curry’s built eight mansions within the Key West Historic District. Although the home was designed with only a single bedroom, it featured elegant public rooms, large stained glass windows to let in cool ocean breezes and multi-story balconies offering dramatic ocean vistas. Mrs. Harris engaged Thomas Edison to oversee the installation of electric lighting, which was a novelty at the time. Investors in Henry Flagler’s overseas railroad, the family entertained the industrialist during the construction of this engineering marvel.
During Prohibition, the home became a speakeasy. While the first floor of the Southernmost House served as a restaurant, the second floor was used as a casino, and the top floor was the backdrop for socializing. Celebrities and notorious gangsters would frequent the establishment while on their way to Havana. In 1939, it became the Café Cayo Hueso, a Cuban-style nightclub. The club hosted legendary figures such as Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote as well as Louis Armstrong, Gloria Swanson and Tallulah Bankhead.
In the early 1950s, the Victorian mansion was converted back into a private residence. In addition to King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Southernmost House has welcomed five U.S. presidents. They are Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Four decades later, the mansion was renovated into the modern-day, 18-room boutique hotel that features numerous modern amenities. Many visitors and locals celebrate important events like birthdays and anniversaries at the hotel, which is also a famous wedding venue with its mansion, seaside and garden settings.
Historical Marker No. 8, situated at the corner of Duval and South streets, explains the significance of the Southernmost House. Inside the boutique hotel, there is a small collection of interesting documents signed by various U.S. presidents, including a copy of Kennedy’s inaugural address. Various other presidential artifacts on display include the signatures of William Henry Harrison and Lyndon Johnson. There is also a small collection of personal writings from Ernest Hemingway. These include letters to close friends and family members. Another exhibit displays treasures and artifacts salvaged from a sunken Spanish Galleon by Whitey Keevan.
There is limited parking near the inn, so the best way to see the Southernmost House and learn about its fascinating history is to take an Old Town Trolley Tour. The excursion is one of the most popular things to do in Key West. The educational and entertaining sightseeing tour includes many little-known facts about dozens of popular sites around the island.
The Southernmost House is within walking distance of several other places to visit in Key West.
The Southernmost Point Marker is a multicolored, concrete buoy designating the southernmost point of the continental United States. This popular tourist attraction was installed at the corner of South and Whitehead streets in 1983, replacing a small sign that was often stolen or moved. At 90 miles, the large anchored buoy is closer to Havana than it is to Miami.
Located at the end of Duval Street near the Southernmost Point Buoy, South Beach is a pleasant 200-foot-long stretch of sand with shallow water and a concrete pier. This quiet beach is a local favorite. It features a café as well as views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Southernmost House. Legends hold that Tennessee Williams would swim here almost every day that he lived in Key West. For early risers, the beach offers breathtaking views of the sunrise from the beach and pier, which is also used for fishing.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is home to more than 50 different species of these colorful creatures in a tropical haven. The conservatory features specimens from around the world in various shapes, sizes and patterns. There are also cascading waterfalls, flowering plants and an aviary filled with free flying butterfly-friendly birds, such zebra finches and Chinese painted quails.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was the residence of the prolific author when he lived in Key West in the 1930s. Designated a National Landmark, the home is furnished with period pieces and Hemingway memorabilia. The office is staged to appear as it did when the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner penned stories like “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”