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.
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.
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).
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).
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:
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