The Southernmost House – Historic Walking Tour
The Southernmost House is located at 1400 Duval Street at the corner of Duval and South Streets.
William Curry came to Key West, from the Bahamas, penniless. He became a wrecker and with his massive fortune, built eight mansions in Key West and became Florida’s first millionaire. His daughters wed wealthy men as well. One of his daughters, Florida Euphemia, married Judge Vining Harris.
Judge Vinning Harris and Florida built the Southernmost House in 1897 for $250,000.
This impressive Queen Anne Victorian style house was designed as a one-bedroom mansion. What it lacked in bedrooms it more than made up for with its open water views, elegant public rooms, two story balconies, and large stained glass windows to catch the ocean breezes. Upon return from a trip, Florida saw the home sided with dark red bricks. She didn’t like the look and insisted the house be re-bricked with the cream color bricks you see today. Those bricks were sent over from New Orleans. The walls of the home are two and one-half thick. Judge Harris feared attacks from the Seminole Indians and had a excavated basement build. There are secret passages from most of the rooms, in the house, leading to the basement shelter, in case of attack. To accommodate their many guests a large guest house was built next door.
Electricity was a novelty and a luxury in the 1890’s. Mrs. Harris wanted the best and was able to engage Thomas Edison to oversee the electrical design and installation for the house.
The Harrises were prominent citizens at the turn of the century and had invested in Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad to Key West. They often entertained him at the mansion during the construction of what is thought to be one of the transportation engineering feats of the day.
During the Prohibition period from 1919-1933 the mansion served as a “speakeasy.” The first floor was a restaurant; the second floor was used for casino gambling and the third floor for “socializing.” During this period, celebrities and notorious gangsters who were en route to Havana visited the mansion.
The Ramos family purchased the home and in the 1940’s ran the Cafe Cayo Hueso nightclub out of the home. the night club hosted such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Louis Armstrong, and Charles Lindbergh.
The Cafe Cayo Hueso ran for about 15 years, when in 1954 the Ramos family decided to close the cafe and return the home to a private residence. Since then many dignitaries and heads of state have been welcomed at the mansion. Among these are King Juan Carlos of Spain and five American Presidents: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. To accommodate one of their frequent guest, and cousin, the Ramos’ installed a helicopter pad for King Juan Carlos of Spain. This eliminated security issued associated with the King visiting Key West.
In 1996 the home underwent a $3 million renovation and was converted into an 18 room hotel.
(credit: Key West Historic Marker Project, KeyWesting.com)