The Oldest House in Key West, and all of South Florida for that matter, was originally located on Whitehead Street when it was built in the 1820’s by a ship’s carpenter using cedar and pine. But in 1829 the house was moved to its current Duval Street location using logs and donkeys to pull the house! The house was also expanded from a simple four room house to one that could accommodate a family of eleven. Captain Francis Watlington had a large family with nine daughters; I bet they were a handful! Anyway, up until the 1970’s descendants of this family still inhabited the house. Now, the house and gardens are a museum and a part of the Key West Historic Marker tour. When the house was donated to the State of Florida in the 1970’s, it was in need of some TLC, which was provided by the Old Island Restoration Foundation who continues to maintain the house today.
Amazingly, this house has for the most part withstood years of torture from the elements, yet it still stands. It stands one and a half stories and has a pitched roof. The back door lines up perfectly with the front door allowing for excellent ventilation which was especially important in 1800’s when there was no such thing as air conditioning. We are spoiled nowadays! While there used to be several other buildings on the premises for the purposes of stabling the horses and kenneling the dogs, you can still get a feel for what life was like in the 1800’s by the existing structures.
Attached to the back of the main house you will find the Captain’s office. It was initially part of the back porch, but Captain Watlington enclosed the ends to create two separate rooms. This area now encompasses the gift shop where you can purchase art, books, or a bottled water to enjoy while taking in the gardens. When visiting, make sure to look up to see a building anomaly at the entrance to this room.
Behind the main house you will find the Cook House, which is a separate structure still standing in its original location. The “beehive” oven, the fireplace, and the chimney are all original, but the roof and the exterior walls have been restored.
Looking at the house from bustling Duval Street, one would never imagine the history you can learn inside, nor the veritable nirvana out back. While the gardens are not spectacular, it is a truly relaxing and beautiful place. The trees and gardens were planted for shade, food, and medicinal purposes. The beautiful shade trees are Spanish lime trees, but you will also find banana trees and coconut palms in the yard as well. The gate to the left of the main building has a brick pathway that leads to the gardens and a tranquility that you probably never knew existed on Duval Street. The sounds of the town seem to fade away back here as you sit under the cooling shade of a tree on a bench and sip a refreshing drink and talk quietly with a friend or read a book. Oh, and there are clean bathrooms available to visitors too.
My maltese, Indiana Bones and I like to come here and hang out to cool off and relax on a hot summer day when we are doing the Duval Crawl.
The gardens are free to visit, but donations are welcome and much appreciated. You can tour the house and gardens on your own, but you will find a helpful docent on staff to answer any questions that you may have.
To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.
Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.
Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!
Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge