Florida Key West 200th

Key West celebrates 200 years of surprising Florida history

Susan B. Barnes
Published: March 23, 2022

It’s time to celebrate! This week marks 200 years since U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Perry (not to be confused with Friends’ Matthew Perry) planted the American flag on Key West’s island soil on March 25, 1822. In the decades — indeed centuries since — Key West has been a destination for travelers. Let’s take a look at the different ways Key West celebrates 200 years of surprising Florida history.

Key West was the richest city in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. (Photo courtesy of The Key West Heritage Festival)

A look back

Before we get to the festive celebrations, let’s take a look at Key West’s history. Long before Perry planted the flag, and long before the Spanish colonized the island, Native American peoples like the Calusa and Tequesta made their homes on the island, and Ponce de Leon even stopped by in 1521 during his quest to find the Fountain of Youth. 

After Perry planted the flag, various industries arrived in Key West and initiated tremendous growth, changing the sparsely-populated island to a bustling city in the early-1830s. Everyone from merchants, warehouse owners, carpenters, shipbuilders, sailmakers, attorneys, doctors, insurance representatives, politicians, military personnel, journalists, treasure hunters and many more headed south to Key West to make their fortunes.

In 1912, railroad magnate Henry Flagler and his team of workers built the Overseas Railway, connecting Key West to mainland Florida some 128 miles north. With the railroad came more visitors and travelers, and the island vibe drew people from all walks of life to make their homes here, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Buffet, Judy Blume and countless others.

Today, Key West continues to welcome visitors and travelers from all walks of life. And everyone is especially welcome to turn out as Key West celebrates 200 years.

Florida Key West 200th

The Key West Heritage Festival

The Conch Republic, as Key West is affectionately known by locals and those who love the island, has a slew of fun events planned — just take a look!  

  • A re-enactment Perry’s claiming of the continental United States’ southernmost island as U.S. territory will be held Friday, March 25, 2022 at 4 p.m. at Mallory Square. A parade down Duval Street will follow.
  • “Heritage Day” celebrations will be held Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Truman Waterfront Park and include family-friendly festivities, local vendors, continuous stage performances with local music and historic talks, and evening, eco-friendly drone fireworks.
  • “Play Ball,” a baseball bat exhibit created by 200 artists brings Key West’s love of baseball to life at The Studios of Key West
  • Perry’s original logbook, which details his voyage to the island on the U.S.S. Shark, is now permanently housed at the Monroe County Public Library’s Florida History Department in Key West.

In addition to The Key West Heritage Festival, there’s another celebration happening this April — the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the Conch Republic. Another 10 days of “FUN-Dependence” are scheduled from April 15-24, 2022 with more than 40 unique, colorful and “somewhat historical” events.

Pan American Airlines — Pan Am — was founded in Key West in 1927. (photo courtesy of The Pan Am Historical Foundation)

Fun facts about Key West

  • Key West was the richest city in the U.S. in the mid-1800s.
  • It was once the largest city in Florida, reaching its highest numbers in the 1890s.
  • Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) was founded in Key West in 1927.
  • Key West is closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.
  • Temperatures have never reached freezing in Key West.
  • The entirety of Key West is eight square miles.

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