Making the Most of Your Key West Vacation

How did you spend your first trip to Key West? A friend recently told me a story about his first – a few guys celebrating an upcoming wedding with an impromptu bachelor party in Key West’s historic Old Town. They spent their time wandering Duval Street in a drunken stupor and ate “almost every meal” at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.

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Mallory Square – Courtesy of Good Free Photos

Sound familiar? Lined with so many hotels, bars, restaurants, galleries, & shops, Duval Street is often the first (and only) stop for visitors to this tiny island. Often referred to as party central, Duval Street is most famous for its adult-themed entertainment, including pub crawls, live music, dive bars, lax public drinking enforcement, and even more lax dress code.

So while it’s neither surprising nor uncommon to hear Key West vacation stories similar to my friend’s, it is a bit unfortunate because this tiny island has so much more to offer.

Many of Key West’s treasures can be found off Duval Street.

Assuming you’ve got more than 24 hours to spend in Key West, there’s a wide variety of things to do before you head out for a night of frozen drinks and live music. And if you aren’t quite feeling up to one more meal at Margaritaville, or you’d just like to experience the slightly quieter side of Old Town, there’s an array of excellent restaurants off Duval that are absolutely worth your attention.

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The Famous Key West Lighthouse

Want to hit the beach? There’s some fantastic beaches to choose from. Feel like some museums and history? From Hemingway’s home to Truman’s Little White House, there’s dozens of attractions to explore. Feeling a bit lazy? Let the World Famous Conch Tour Train guide you around paradise.

If you’d like to make the most of your next Key West vacation, set down that frozen daiquiri and follow Southernmost Points for a glimpse of all that Key West has to offer.

Next time: Who Says Key West Doesn’t Have Good Beaches?

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Awarded for Excellence in Preservation & Restoration in Historic Key West

As I mentioned in my previous blog, OIRF sent a team of volunteers to our home for two nights in late December for the Key West historic home tour. It was because of this tour that we ended up applying for a historic preservation award in 2017.

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Finishing touches prior to the historic house tour.

During the tour, one of the docents complimented us on the massive remodel that we had recently completed in late 2016. We were standing in the new kitchen as  I showed her some before & after photos of our work. She knew that my wife had been the architect behind the 6-month renovation, and as we looked at photos together, I explained the changes we had made to this historic home. Are you going to apply for the preservation award? The ceramic star? she asked me.

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The Ceramic Star Preservation Award

The star that she referred to is an honor that is awarded by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation (HFKF). Since 1981, the HFKF has been giving out awards that recognize excellence for historic preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation. The criteria for judging the award applicants is based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. There have been numerous award applicants over the years, but only the most exemplary preservation or restoration projects earn the ceramic star. According to the HFKF, the ceramic star represents the highest level of award, and the hallmark of the Preservation Awards Program. The star represents the tie-rod, which strengthens a structure, and thus symbolized the strength of historic preservation in Key West.

Back in the kitchen, I left the docent alone so she could prepare for the tour, and for the rest of the evening I continued to think about the words I had heard earlier. Are you going to apply for the preservation award?

So over the next few days Heather & I tossed around the idea of applying for a preservation award. When I went to the HFKF’s website, I found out that the applications were due in mid-January. That didn’t leave us much time, but we decided to go for it.

The application is available on their website and the projects are awarded based on the Standards for Rehabilitation. The bulk of the application is based on several questions, including some of the following:  What is the history of the property? What features contribute to the historic character of the property? How have those features been maintained?

The first question asks about the history of the property. We were in luck, because like many homes in Old Town, our house has a ton of history. We wanted to demonstrate that, as the owners of the house, we truly cared for and wanted to celebrate the home’s unique history. As the architect, Heather was extremely knowledgable about the nuts and bolts of the project. Her answers to the questions were thorough and well-informed.
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Including the before & after photos, the application ended up being just under 10 pages long. Crossing our fingers, we sealed the envelope and put it in the mail to the HFKF. We knew that the panel of judges would not conduct their site visits until early February, so we had a few weeks to wait.

On February 10th, a letter arrived in our mail box from the Historic Florida Keys Foundation. We opened it together, reading nervously and quickly scanning for anything mentioning an award. About half-way down the letter, in bold lettering, we were told that all of our hard work was being rewarded. It read:

I am happy to inform you that you have been selected to win a Star and Certificate of Excellence for Preservation and Restoration at 307 Truman Avenue.

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Heather Korth (architect) & Thom Toler (Tomca Kier Construction) with their award certificates.

As well, we were invited to the awards presentation and reception at the Harry S. Truman Little White House, where both Heather and our general contractor, Thom Toler, would be recognized for the success of our project. At the presentation, we were joined by our friends Thom & Camille Toler, as well as our close friend & realtor  John Parce, who was instrumental in helping us purchase this home in late 2015.

As the architect and builder, Heather & Thom each received a certificate of excellence. As the homeowners, Heather & I left the presentation with our own certificate of excellence and a ceramic star. The star will be placed on the front of our home for all to see, and as a constant reminder of not just all the hard work and effort that went into the remodel, but as a symbol of the teamwork that took place over the past 18 months. From Heather’s first sketches, to our meetings with HARC and The City of Key West, to the 6 months that Tomca Kier Construction spent working on our home, the ceramic star award is for everyone who contributed to the success of our historic preservation and restoration project in Key West.

If you’d like to learn more about the Preservation Awards, the history of the Historic Florida Keys Foundation, and how they operate today, check out this very informative blog, published recently by John Parce.

Participating in the 57th Annual Key West Historic House Tour

In April of 2016 we began construction on a significant remodel to our old Key West home. Our home first appears on a very old hand-drawn map of Key West from 1884. It’s our best guess that the home was constructed shortly prior to the drawing of that 1884 map. While the home was probably well-cared for during its first 100 years of existence, it suffered a bit of neglect over the last 40 years and our intent was to bring it back to its former glory. Fortunately, my wife is an architect and we spent several months creating a design to replace an existing, non-historic shed roof & awning with a new, full-height sawtooth roof that would be a more appropriate historic design that what the home exhibited when we purchased it.

Key West 1884 Map
Closeup from the historic hand-drawn map from 1884.

Many months prior to beginning construction in 2016, we sat down with Key West’s Historic Architecture Review Commission (HARC) in order to secure their approval on our remodel project. We met with HARC many times in 2015 in order to ensure that our project followed HARC guidelines so that we could receive their approval and the necessary receipt of a Certificate of Appropriateness in order to officially break ground.

Construction began on April 1st of 2016 with the goal of finishing and passing our final inspection prior to the end of the year. In July, as the project was well underway, we received a letter from Teri Beard of Key West’s Old Island Restoration Foundation. In the letter, Teri wrote, I am writing you because your home on Truman Ave. has been nominated to be on our 2016-17 house tour. Your lovely home would be a welcomed addition on our tour.

It was a pleasure to receive the letter from OIRF, and we were excited to be offered the opportunity to be a part of the historic home tours. But at the time we received the letter, our poor old house and yard had been gutted, with no sign of completion in sight. The  historic tours would begin in December, and we weren’t 100% sure we’d be done with the remodel by then.

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The remnants of our back yard during construction.

Teri went on to write, Old Island Restoration Foundation was founded in 1960 and has been instrumental since that time in preserving the unique architecture and cultural heritage of Key West. The popular House Tour series is the most dependable source of funds for continuing the work of OIRF. These very successful events make it possible for us to maintain the “Oldest House” in Key West, to award scholarships to deserving college-bound Key West High School seniors, and provide funds to help those who cannot afford to preserve their own historic residences.

Even though our remodel had taken on a life of its own, we decided to accept OIRF’s invitation and offer up our home for the December, 2016 house tour. Our thinking was that if we had a goal for completion (in this case, the date of the tour), then maybe that would help us get focused on not only completing the remodel, but on finishing all the little things we’d had on our to-do list for the last year or so…

Fast forward a few months. We completed the remodel and passed our final inspection in October. This gave us about 8 weeks to put the finishing touches on the house in preparation for the house tour. We were told that most of the homes on the December tour would be decorated for the holidays, so we decided to start putting up some Christmas decorations. We finished painting the inside, put up some new artwork, purchased some interior accessories and throw pillows, and began to stage the house for the tour.

Shortly before the tour, Pat Cummings (from OIRF) contacted me to arrange for her and a few colleagues to check out the house in person and work out the logistics. They wanted to plan out the pathway through the house for the tour and the placement of docents. After that, she wrote the docent script that would be used by the guides during the tour. The script was thorough, including everything from the history of the home to the updated information on our completed remodel. She even went so far as to include descriptions of our front porch, rear deck, and swimming pool. She dug deep into the home’s history, discovering that four members of the Arnold family lived here in the 1890s. She even discovered that Mr. Arnold was a civilian laborer employed by the Navy.

Because the tour is a major fundraiser for OIRF, it is heavily publicized in the local media. The December tour, including a brief description of our home, was advertised in several places, including OIRF’s website and both the Key West Citizen and the Florida Keys  News.

A few hours prior to the beginning of the historic house tour, a team of docents arrived at our home and began to set up. While a few volunteers set up their table and collected tickets on the sidewalk in front of the house, the rest positioned themselves strategically throughout the home and prepared for the tour. We left the house to the volunteers from OIRF and returned toward the end as the tour was winding down. We were told that over the course of two nights, over 500 people came to see our home. It was an enormous honor for us to be able to share our historic remodel with over 500 visitors during the tour. As an added bonus, OIRF sent us a floral arrangement and a metal house plaque signifying that we were a part of the 57th Annual Key West House Tour. The plaque is displayed on a shelf in the living room of our home for all to see.

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House plaque from the Old Island Restoration Foundation.

On the afternoon of the first tour, as the volunteers were getting organized, one of the volunteers was complimenting us on our remodel project when she asked if we were going to apply for the annual Historic Preservation award. If you’ve spent any time wandering the neighborhoods of Old Town, you may have seen the Ceramic Star award plaque displayed on the front of an historic home. We learned that this star symbolizes the tie rod, which strengthens a structure, and represents the strength of historic preservation in Key West.

We were vaguely aware of the Ceramic Star award, but hadn’t considered applying for a preservation award. After all, wasn’t an award like that reserved for the biggest projects with the most important architects? Not at all, we were told. As a matter of fact, she said, you should definitely apply for it. So over the next few days we thought about applying for the prestigious Ceramic Star preservation award. The only problem was that the deadline was just a few days away…

Southernmost Golf in Key West

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The par 3 fifth hole at The Key West Golf Club

If you’re planning a visit to Key West and you enjoy playing golf, I’d recommend taking in 18 holes at the picturesque Key West Golf Club. The course sits on over 200 acres of Key West landscape and offers all the unique aspects of south Florida golf that you’d expect – flowers, palm trees, ponds, dense mangroves, wildlife – all on a fun course that plays fair…most of the time. While most days are perfect days to be out playing 18 holes, the challenge at The Key West Golf Club isn’t necessarily the course itself (as long as you’re hitting it straight), but the prevailing easterly winds that can feel like you’re having to take more club on almost all the holes.

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The tee box on the infamous mangrove par 3. The green is in the distance.

But don’t let the wind stop you from heading over to the course while you’re down in Key West. The last time I played the course, the fairways, rough, and greens were all in great shape and the iguanas, ducks, and other wildlife were out in full force. That’s right – iguanas are often seen roaming the course or lounging near the ponds along the fairways. I’ve taken numerous visitors to the course while they’re in town and everyone has enjoyed the course immensely. While the course does rent clubs, I’d recommend bringing your own set and make sure that you’ve got plenty of golf balls. There’s water on most holes and if it is a breezy day, you’re almost guaranteed to find it at some point. As well, the course is known for its famous (or infamous, as their site suggests) par 3 mangrove hole – a 140+ yard carry over dense mangroves that will have you teeing up more than one golf ball.

Golf is expensive enough as it is, without having to worry about the added costs of renting clubs and buying golf balls. This is especially true if you plan on losing a few balls out on the course (and you probably will!). But since Key West doesn’t really have any traditional sporting goods stores, you’re only option is to pick up a dozen brand new balls at the course. Like many things in Key West, the price of golf balls can be pretty expensive. I’d recommend heading over to my online store at theballguy.com and picking up a few dozen premium recycled golf balls prior to your visit to Key West. I sell only the best mint golf balls and I stand behind my products with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You can get 2 dozen mint 2016 Titleist Pro V1 golf balls shipped to your door for about the price of one dozen brand new balls from the big-box golf stores.

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At The Key West Golf Club, the staff is friendly and there’s a full-service pro shop and restaurant on site. At $99 (plus tax) for 18 holes, the green fees may seem a bit on the expensive side during the winter months (November 1st thru April 30th). But remember that the next nearest 18-hole public course if roughly 15o miles away and about a 3-hour drive. Besides, it’s great fun to be able to say you’ve played the southernmost golf course in Paradise and it may be a while before you get a chance to play it again.

Our Key West Remodel – Before & After

Originally slated to start construction on April 1st of this year, work ended up being delayed about a month due to a variety of factors, none of which involved our contractor. Now, roughly 20 weeks later, we are nearing completion on our Key West remodel.

As I’ve mentioned before, roughly 600 square feet of our 1,050 square foot home dates back to before 1889. This image shows our home on the Sanborn Fire Map for Old Town, Key West. This 1889 map is the oldest one for Old Town, making our home at least 127 yeas old, but in all likelihood it’s much older than that.

1889 Sanborn Fire Map
In 1889, our address was 406 Division.

Considering the age of the home, it was in desperate need of some work. After 20 weeks of construction and improvements, our Key West house is ready to last another 127 years.

Below are a few more before & after photos of our construction project – some you may have seen, but most are new.

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Ancient coral piers supporting the home. Only gravity kept the house sitting on these foundation piers.
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New concrete foundation piers that are structurally connected to the house.
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The kitchen before the remodel. Notice the low ceiling, wood floors, and wallpaper. You can also see the original blue awning that hung over the rear deck.
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Tile floors replaced the old wood floor in the new kitchen. A new 15′ ceiling gave us room to add a transom window, new lighting, and a new ceiling fan. The new door & windows are impact-rated and much more energy efficient.
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The original master bathroom included a jacuzzi tub that didn’t work. Aside from being dated and in need of an update, the layout needed improvement as well.
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The new master bathroom. A different layout makes this space feel larger than before and the 40″ x 40″ glass shower is much larger than normal.
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This photo shows the back yard as it was when we purchased the home in 2015. The low blue awning felt slightly claustrophobic and leaked during the rain. The yellow shed (in the background) was decaying and unusable. Different wood decks had been added over the years. Also notice the old wooden fence.
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The new back yard. The blue awning is replaced by a new, permanent, 15′ tall ceiling complete with outdoor lighting and ceiling fans. The decaying shed is replaced by more deck space and the the old wooden deck is replaced with brand new Azek decking that wraps around the entire back yard. Also notice the brand new wood fence.
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The stained original water feature. Notice the three small nozzles in the middle – that was the previous “waterfall”.
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We shortened the height of the waterfall wall, making the pool feel a bit larger. We also added glass tiles, a new waterfall, and a new quiet, energy-efficient pool filter. Also notice the new fence.
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Another view of the back yard, taken from where the shed used to be. You can’t see it, but the pool is in the background.
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Not quite the same view, but this photo is also taken from where the shed used to be. The pool is in the background.
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Finally…the new back yard. It looks even better in person.

After 20 weeks up construction, we’re finally getting ready to call this home. We are so pleased that we can share our home with you during the year. We’ve already welcomed several vacation renters to our home in Key West, and we’ve got a few more on the calendar for 2017. For those of you who are planning on staying in our  vacation home in 2017 and beyond…welcome to Key West!

Our Key West Remodel: Starting to See Progress

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307 Truman Ave. circa 1965. This home first appears on the Sanborn Fire Maps in 1889, making it over 125 years old.

Having started this journey back in September of 2015, we can rest a bit easier now that we are seeing some signs of progress. Our remodel plans included adding a third sawtooth addition to the rear of the home, remodeling the kitchen & master bath, replacing both the front porch and the backyard deck, replacing the decaying fences that surround our property, and even a complete overhaul of the existing foundation. Considering that roughly 70% of our home is well over 100 years old, we really haven’t run into any snags or hiccups since we started construction 15 weeks ago. We’re finally at the point where we can begin to share some before & after photos. Let us know what you think!

The kitchen lies in the rear of the house and faces the back yard. It’s the main entrance to the rear deck and pool, and also the focal point of the interior space. It was an addition to the historic main part of the house that was probably constructed sometime between 1940 and 1960. The irony of this “new addition” is that it was the most poorly constructed part of the house. In the original part of the house, the round pegs can still be seen holding the original mortise and tenon joinery together. Although the original studs and joists have been reinforced many times over the last 100+ years, the quality of the original woodwork is still visible. Unlike this historic carpentry, the kitchen addition was built with sloping floors, uneven walls, and a general feeling that the builders didn’t have quite the same skill-set as their forefathers.

The Kitchen: The goal was to add a third sawtooth roof to the rear of the house. The peak of this third roofline would be half inside and half outside, drastically increasing the ceiling height both inside the kitchen, and outside over our new deck. We raised the ceiling about 7 feet and added a transom window above the door. We also added the collar ties that can be seen extending through the wall above the new transom window. We leveled the sloping wood floor and added a subfloor and new tile. Here’s both the before and after photo:

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Before:  The original kitchen addition was probably added somewhere around 1950, but updated within the last 10 years. Through the window, you can see the blue awning that used to cover the back yard deck.
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After:  Here’s the entire updated kitchen space. The top of the image is distorted slightly due to the panorama shot.
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Cabinets & appliance removed. The new windows and door will be impact rated in order to better protect against severe storm damage. You could see daylight where the floor meets the wall (behind the plumbing). There was a large gap due to the uneven floor.
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Removing the existing floors and installing the engineered lam beams for badly needed structural support.
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For several weeks, this was the path to our only bathroom.
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Extending the height of the new kitchen wall. You can see the framing for the new transom window. We’ll get much-needed insulation, which didn’t exist in the walls before.
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Subfloor has been added and new walls are close to completion.
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New kitchen tile is done. Cabinets are starting to go back.
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Drywall and electrical are almost done.
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The completed kitchen. The new collar ties extend through the wall to the outside, above the new transom window. We were able to keep our original cabinets and appliances. A new countertop and new tile floors were also added.
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All done except for the ceiling fan.

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The final product.

Next Time: Before & After Photos of the New Covered Deck

The Mystery of the Coral Piers

If you didn’t get a chance to read my last post about our slightly unusual foundation piers, you can check it out here. But to summarize briefly – our old Key West home has been resting on these stone foundation piers for over 100 years (see the photo below). The only thing keeping our house sitting on these piers is gravity – the house is not connected to them whatsoever. We’ve been told by a handful of Key West locals that these stone piers are actually made of coral, and are quite common in Key West. But I was having a difficult time finding information about them. I was trying to find out where they came from, how long they were used this way, and what they’re actually made of.

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Two of the foundation piers supporting our home.

Last year I went to the Key West Public Library to research the age of our home. It was there that I was introduced to Tom Hambright, the local expert who works in their History Collection. Since I was having trouble finding info online, I went back to the library to pick Tom’s brain about our foundation piers.

I showed Tom a photo (see below) and he was quick to suggest that they probably aren’t coral, but something called Miami oolite, a variety of limestone. According to Tom, stone like this was mined in a quarry somewhere in the Upper Keys a long time ago. He also thought that this type of stone was mined in quarries on the mainland, and could have been shipped down to the Lower Keys from somewhere around the Miami area.

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Foundation piers after they were removed from under the house.

I had never heard of Miami oolite, so upon returning home I did quick online search and hit the jackpot. Many thanks to Mr. Hambright for pointing me in the right direction. As I read about Miami oolite and its history in the Keys, many of the missing pieces started to come together.

I quickly found a series of articles online titled History and Architecture of Old Key West. One article was written by Mr. Hambright himself. In another, titled Architecture of Key West, author George Born describes how Miami oolite came to be used as foundation piers under Key West homes. According to Mr. Born, The region’s natural resources offered limited building materials. South Florida slash pine — Dade County pine — proved to be hard and resistant to decay, but lumbering eventually depleted supply. Soon, builders employed other Southern woods, such as yellow pine, cypress, and cedar. Miami oolite, the bedrock of the Lower Keys, saw use mainly as foundation piers — and only rarely as building stone for whole structures.

I was pleased to stumble across Michael Conchscooter’s blog, Key West Diary. In 2010 he wrote about the Oolite Highway, and begins his blog by stating that Oolite is found in certain parts of the world and the Lower Keys is one of those places. His wasn’t the first site I came across that suggested that oolite is only found in the Lower Keys. Tom Hambright suggested that oolite like this was quarried on the mainland, but the more I’ve read, it seems pretty likely that the oolite supporting my house probably came from the Lower Keys. The piers that were removed from under my house are extremely heavy and it takes at least two people to lift a single block. Considering their weight, it seems likely that the original home builders wouldn’t have wanted to transport these very far, especially 150 years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if these stones came from Key West somewhere.

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A corner pier, visible once the siding and lattice skirting was removed.

My continued research brought me to the NOAA’s website about the Florida Keys where they state that, During the last ice age [the] sea level dropped, exposing the ancient coral reefs and sand bars which became fossilized over time to form the rock that makes up the [Florida Keys] today. The two dominate rock formations in the Keys are Key Largo Limestone and Miami Oolite.

So what exactly is Miami oolite? Is it coral, as I’ve been told my numerous people? Based on what I’ve read (and please correct me if I’m wrong), it’s my understanding that the term coral is a general term used to describe the fossilized rock that forms the present-day Keys. Put simply, the oolite stones that were used as foundation piers under my house are a form of fossilized coral.

Whether you call them coral or oolite, it’s fascinating that these fossilized rocks has been the foundation of my home for almost 150 years. Based on what I’ve read online, it seems clear that the oolite under my house was mostly found in the Lower Keys. It’s probable that it was mined in Key West, and may have even been dug from the ground right where we live.

Starting Construction on Our 127 Year Old Key West House

 

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Street View – Photo Taken in November, 2015

If you strolled by our home on your way to the Key West Lighthouse, you’d never guess that there was a mystery lurking behind that white picket fence. If it weren’t for the construction project we started back in April, we never would have pursued it further, and ultimately, never would have bothered to find out more about those strange stone blocks that were supporting our historic house in Old Town. But more on that later…

Thanks to Heather and her amazing ability (her words) to see the potential that our historic home had to offer, we decided to bite the bullet and make some renovations to our Key West home. This photo (below) was taken around 1965 and shows the clean roof lines of two metal gable roofs. The is most-likely the original structure and it dates all the way back to 1889 on the Sanborn Fire Maps. Considering that 1889 is as far back as the maps go, it’s likely that this house was built prior to that, meaning part of our home could be anywhere from 127 – 150 years old…or more.

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Street View – Photo Taken Circa 1965

A non-historic rear roof addition (not seen in this photo) was added much later in this home’s life. Typical to the architecture of the time, this later addition failed to capture the scale and historic character of the original home. With a sloped shed roof and worn blue canvas awning, both the rear of the home and the backyard deck felt dark and slightly claustrophobic. Our first thought was to remove the blue awning and build a taller, permanent shade structure in its place. This new structure would be taller than the roofline, provide us with better protection from the rain, and include electricity so we could install outdoor ceiling fans and lighting.

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Undated Rear Addition: Sloped Roof & Canvas Awning Over the Back Deck – Photo Taken in November, 2015

But this original idea had its flaws – while being an enormous upgrade to the simple canvas awning, it looked out of place on paper and still didn’t fit well with the historic character of the property. Fortunately, Heather is a brilliant architect (my words) with an engineering background and she decided to use her skills to come up with a creative, more historically appropriate design (see the before/after renderings below).

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Rendering of Our Home in its Current State – Roof Addition and Awning Over Rear Deck
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Rendering of the Final Design – The awning and rear sloped roof are replaced with a third gable roof

In an attempt to be consistent with the historic fabric of the house, she decided to replace the existing non-historic shed roof & awning with a full, matching gable roof that offers us higher ceilings, more headroom, and a permanent outdoor shade structure. This new shade structure will be complete with outdoor lighting & ceiling fans and it replaces the low-hung awning with almost six more feet of ceiling height. The end result is a true triple-sawtooth that is a much more appropriate design than what the house currently exhibits, and is also much more typical of Key West’s architectural style.

However, in order for all this work to begin, we first had to undertake Phase I of the renovation: updating the existing foundation of our house. And this leads me back to those mysterious stone blocks that have been supporting our old house for the last 100+ years (see photo below).

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Two of the Foundation Piers Supporting Our Home

As you can see in the above photo, we have these stone blocks supporting our house. There are about 25 of them in total. They are mostly found around the perimeter, but there are a few under the interior of the house as well.  Here’s a closeup:

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A Corner Pier Near the Front of the House

We were told that they are made of coral, and that the use of these coral foundation piers was quite common in the Florida Keys during the later part of the 19th century. However, after spending a few hours searching for more info about them online, I was stumped – I couldn’t find any information about them at all. A Google search for “historic coral piers” literally yields one single result – a blog about another home in Key West, not far from ours.

After spending a few hours searching online (and spinning my wheels), I figured that I was missing something. Fortunately, I knew where to start. I rode my bike over to the Key West Public Library to speak to a local expert in their History Collection. His name is Tom Hambright and I was certain that if anyone could point me in the right direction, he could. I wasn’t disappointed…

Next Time: The Mystery of the Coral Piers

Off-Duval: Some Bahama Village Favs

When friends & family come into town, the first thing they usually want to do is check out the beaches and Duval Street. But after bar-hopping and eating our way up and down this main drag, we look forward to taking them to some of our local favs that aren’t on Duval. We have a ton of off-Duval favs and the few I’m highlighting in today’s blog are just the tip of the iceberg. It also helps that they’re all within about 2 or 3 blocks from our house.

In the heart of Bahama Village and just two blocks off Duval, we’re within walking & biking distance of everything in Old Town. We are extremely fortunate to be just a few short blocks away from many of our favorite off-Duval restaurants like Blue Heaven, FireFly, Santiago’s Bodega, Six-Toed Cat, La Creperie, Andy’s Cabana Bar & Grill, and one of Bahama Village’s newest additions; Blue Macaw Island Eats & Bar. Here’s three of our favorites, and they’re all right next to each other.

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The entrance to Blue Heaven – 729 Thomas Street

Whether you’ve been to Key West or not, you’ve probably heard of Blue Heaven. But just to whet your appetite and entice you to come check it out (again), it’s one of Key West’s most famous restaurants. A recent blog written by kpodadventures sums up the Blue Heaven dining experience very nicely, calling it the perfect breakfast spot. I’m pretty sure we’d all agree with that assessment, especially after you try one of their Blue Heaven benedicts topped with lime hollandaise. But don’t just go for breakfast – dinners here are fantastic. I pretty much always order the yellowtail snapper entree when I’m here for dinner. Featuring live music most days, this outdoor dining institution is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is worth the wait (there’s always a wait!) at any time of day.

If you’re ever in Key West… grab brunch at Blue Heaven! It’s a local treasure a couple of blocks off of Duval Street. The pancakes are the fluffiest, the Bloody Goose is deliciously strong, and the outdoor seating area is full of cute critters (the good kind!). – kpodadventures

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La Creperie – 300 Petronia Street

Across the street from Blue Heaven’s entrance are two more local favs. At 300 Petronia Street you’ll find La Creperie French Cafe.  Describing themselves as a genuine French creperie nestled in the heart of Bahama Village, La Creperie doesn’t disappoint. In a delightful blog that does La Creperie more justice (and has better photos!) than anything I could write, Juliedible calls it a must visit and c’est magnifique! – and I couldn’t agree more.

Little did I know we would find the closest thing you can to a French street café, serving up the most amazing crepes you’ve ever had!          – juliedible

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Andy’s Cabana – 308 Petronia Street

Open Wednesday thru Sunday and next to La Creperie on Petronia Street is Andy’s Cabana. Most people stumble upon Andy’s by accident (usually because of the long wait at Blue Heaven!) and unless you’d been there before, you probably wouldn’t know it was even there. Known for their hippie tea and great food, simply order at the window and find a cozy seat or lounge in one of their hammocks while you enjoy their outdoor patio. When visitors envision the laid back atmosphere and outdoor charm of Bahama Village, they’re usually envisioning a place like Andy’s.

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The funky, relaxed patio at Andy’s.

Next time: Some Bahama Village Favs: Part II

 

Key West: Duval Street Favs – Part I

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Duval Street Sign – Courtesy of Sam H.

Centrally located in Key West’s famous Old Town district, Duval Street is just over a mile in length and runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Offering something for everyone, and frequently compared to New Orleans’ infamous Bourbon Street, Duval pulses with a lively, touristy, carnival-like atmosphere that draws vacationers from all over the world.

When we have guests visiting us (especially guests who haven’t been to Key West before), we tend to split our time: the beach during the day and Duval in the evening. While Duval certainly attracts (and often caters to) the tourists, that doesn’t mean you can’t find some genuinely good spots to grab a cocktail or eat dinner. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of bars and restaurants and revert to restaurants you know. So if you’re looking for alternatives to the Hard Rock Cafe and Margaritaville, then here’s just a few of our Duval Street favorites.

Duval pulses with a lively, touristy, carnival-like atmosphere that draws vacationers from all over the world.

At the southern end of Duval, sitting on the shore of the Atlantic, is the Southernmost Beach Cafe. Whether we have guests or not, we like to head to the Cafe Bar around happy hour for an app and a drink or two. This is an oceanfront bar on the beach with tropical drinks. Offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the restaurant is well worth a visit as well.

 

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The beach and bar at the Southernmost Beach Cafe

If you’re in the mood for a casual French bistro, then head just a few blocks north to the corner of Duval and Louisa for the Banana Cafe. Popular for breakfast, this spot also offers lunch and dinner in a casual setting with both indoor and outdoor dining available. Being somewhat new to Key West, we hadn’t been here until recently. Now it’s one of our local favs.

Another one of our French favorites is Le Petit Paris, at the corner of Duval and Olivia. Also offering indoor and covered outdoor seating, we enjoy heading over for a late breakfast and sharing their delicious pancakes, crepes, and fresh-squeezed juices while sitting outside.

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Duval Street – Courtesy of The Vintage Urbanite

If you’re in the mood for wood-fired pizza, then you’ll find Onlywood Pizzeria near the corner of Duval and Southard. It’s nestled down a short sidewalk, just steps away from the bustle of Duval. Aside from their pizzas, this Italian trattoria and pizzeria also offers a happy hour menu, apps & salads, Italian entrees, and an extensive wine list. Sit inside, outside, or at the bar. We mostly dine in when we’re here, but they deliver as well.

Also near the corner of Duval and Southard is the Old Town Mexican Cafe. This is one of my local favorites. If you’re in the mood for great Mexican food with open-air seating and a lively atmosphere, this worth a stop. The carne adovada is awesome – I get it every time.

At the complete opposite end of Duval, Sunset Pier is another of our oceanfront favorites. For spectacular sunset views, live music, drinks, and casual dining, the pier is a great place to relax and watch the sun go down after a long day at the beach.

If these restaurants aren’t enough to satisfy your quest for great food in Old Town, then go check out Our Key West Favorites, by Caribbean Sealife. This is a fantastic list of some of their (and my) local favs. Check back to Southernmost Points soon to enjoy some of my off-Duval-Street recommendations.

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Next Time – Off-Duval: Some Bahama Village Favs

 

Catch that Key West Sunset: Part I

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Sunset at the Pier – Courtesy of Heather K.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, if you’ve spent any time in Key West, then you probably have your favorite spot to catch that famous Key West sunset. Here’s two great places to kick-start your evening.

When family & friends make the journey down to Key West to visit us, we almost always take them to the northern end of Duval Street to watch the setting sun from Sunset Pier. Open to the public, but part of the Ocean Key Resort, this casual hot-spot offers incredible water and sunset views, drinks and cocktails, live music and waterfront dining. We like to get to the pier about an hour before sunset and (hopefully) snag a seat along the bar that runs the length of the pier. These seats not only offer unobstructed views of Key West’s famous sunset, but from this vantage point you can see the Key West Express ferrying visitors in from Fort Myers, the Yankee Freedom III bringing tourists back from a day-trip to the Dry Tortugas, and the various sunset sails and cruises taking tourists out on the water for hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and music.

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Colorful Seating at Sunset Pier – Courtesy of @travelflkeys

We like to get to the pier about an hour before sunset and (hopefully) snag a seat along the bar that runs the length of the pier.

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Mallory Square at Sunset – Courtesy of Joe P.

If you’re looking for a little more action as you watch the sun go down, then head to lively Mallory Square for the famous Key West Sunset Celebration. Entertaining locals and tourists from all over the world, this nightly celebration begins roughly two hours before the sun begins its decent. The Mallory Square Sunset Celebration offers something for everyone. Aside from the setting sun and scenic views of the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find food, artists, musicians, and a variety of entertainers that has attracted people to Mallory Square in the evenings for decades.

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Sunset Sail – Courtesy of @wonderfulkeywest

Looking for a place to call home during your next Key West vacation? Check out our licensed vacation rental in Old Town Key West at oldtowntruman.com.

Next Time – A Few Duval Street Favs: Part I