The Oldest House – Historic Walking Tour
The Oldest House is located at 322 Duval Street. The house and gardens are open to the public from 10am to 4pm every day except Sunday and Wednesday. There are very friendly staff and volunteers on the property to answer questions and give great tours. Not only is this considered the Oldest House in Key West, but it is also the Oldest House in South Florida.
The house has family portraits and original furnishings as well as other period pieces, ship models and documents telling the story of old Key West. The Florida Public Library has a collection of old photos of the home through the years.
In the rear of the house is a spacious, peaceful garden where inviting benches offer a great place to sit and relax… just steps away from the hustle and bustle of Duval. In these gardens you will find the only surviving Cook House in South Florida.
Captain Richard Cussans built the house. He was born in Nassau in 1806 and moved to Key West in 1828. He was a builder and a merchant. Captain Cussans built a one-story house in 1829 on Whitehead Street. At the time, Duval didn’t exist. A natural salt pond ran from Whitehead Street to the old city hall site to the ports. But by 1829 a large portion of the lake had been filled in and in 1836 the house was moved to its current location. The home was then enlarged to four rooms to accommodate Captain Walington and his large family.
For decades the house was home to Captain Frances Walington, his wife Emeline and their nine daughters. Captain Walington was a sea captain, Harbor Master and then in 1859 became part of the state legislature. In addition to these jobs, the Captain was also a wrecker, Coastal Pilot for the US Navy during the Second Seminole War and the Inspector of Customs. One of his duties for the Custom’s office was to oversee the “light ships”. These were vessels used as floating lighthouses at dangerous coastal and reef location.
In 1861 he joined the Confederate Navy in Mobile, Alabama and served as the Captain of the gunboat Gaines of the Naval Squadron. He surrounded in May 1865 and shortly thereafter was paroled and returned to Key West where he died in 1887. Emeline died in 1883.
Lily was their youngest daughter. She never married and lived in the house until she died in 1936. Earl Johnson was the last member of the Walingtons to live in the house. He lived there until he died in 1972.
In 1974, Mrs. Robert Austin, of Islamorada, purchased the home and deeded it to the Historic Key West Preservation Board to preserve the property.
The house has weathered hurricanes, fires and the harsh marine environment. Its resiliency is due to the skill of its builder, Captain Cussans. His mortis and tenon joinery, horizontal wallboards and ventalation hatches or “scuttles” have enabled the house to withstand the tests of time.
(credit: Keywesthistoricmarkertour.org and oirf.org)