“I Didn’t Mean to Stay”

“I Didn’t Mean to Stay”

You know the quintessential story about coming to Key West for vacation and never leaving…

That, coupled with an opportunity to recreate oneself, can be applied to a large part of our community.

Some of our ancestors were delivered to our shores in a much less desirable fashion, but none the less, came to the same decision to stay that so many fresh water Conchs have come to throughout our history.

Take a moment to stroll through the Wall Warehouse, currently the site of Maison de Pepe, and view historic photographs as well as dioramas of the islands rich Cuban American heritage based on the paintings of famous Key West folk artist Mario Sanchez.

William Wall was shipwrecked in Key West in 1824. Although the island had less than 600 inhabitants, he chose to make it home until his death. Not only did he end up with a street named for him, he single handedly pioneered Key West’s cigar industry in 1831. He built Key West’s first cigar factory and located the wood structure in the Malory Square area.

Through his entrepreneurial vision and hard work, he amassed a substantial fortune during his 42 years in paradise.

The red brick warehouse facing Wall Street was constructed by his descendants in 1879. The structure is an excellent example of late 19th century commercial architecture. A marble plaque above the front entry door reads “ERECTED A.D. 1879 Wall & Co.”

Asa Tift was the first owner of the building including the surrounding docks and “coal pockets.” The “pockets” were large coal storage bins used to supply the massive steam powered motors of the shipping lines connecting Key West to the world.

During the late 1880s and 90s, Key West’s thriving cigar trade needed coal to service shipping lines connecting Key West to Havana, New York, Tampa and Galveston. The United States Navy also recognized the need to have “coaling stations” across the world so its ships would always have a reliable source of coal to maintain supremacy of the seas. Due to the building’s strategic location for shipping, the warehouse was acquired by the United States Navy and converted into Naval Station #2.

The Navy dredged Key West’s harbor from 1888 through 1897 to allow the naval fleet access to the waterfront. The fleet included the Battleship Maine prior to its fatal voyage to Havana.

Mallory Square hosts hundreds of spectators daily during each evening sunset celebration.

The tragic sinking of the Maine was the final flashpoint between the U.S. and Spain. With the battle cry of “Remember the Maine” the United States declared war against Spain in 1898. During the Spanish American War, Naval Station #2 served as a vital link for supplies and a lifeline for soldiers.

Following the war, a surge in economic development of Cuba, fueled by the United States, made Key West the destination point for businessmen and entrepreneurs on their way to Cuba.

The waterfront behind the Warehouse is no longer the industrial, military and fishing harbor it once was. The coal storage is gone along with the storage tanks and many of the original docks. The area now known as Mallory Square was turned over to the city of Key West and is the home of daily sunset celebrations.

 

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