Key West’s Oldest House is a hidden charm
Stepping through the gate of The Oldest House, it’s always surprising to see the expansive lawn and tropical sanctuary just steps off bustling Duval Street. Amid the busiest part of Key West, the Oldest House has held a commanding presence, enduring hurricanes, fires, and wars, placing it at the center of Key West history. Built in 1829 on Whitehead Street by Captain Francis Watlington, it was moved to 322 Duval Street in 1836 where it has remained as both template and emblem of Key West architecture.
Recently, the Oldest House has had a facelift with new sod, new ADA-compliant bathrooms, a new roof and loads of new paint – all in all, $125,000 in repairs. The Old Island Restoration Foundation, which keeps the property, is bringing the Oldest House into the 21st century while maintaining the charm of the past. Looking to revitalize interest in the venue, the foundation is trying to get the word out again that what’s old can be new again.
“People forget to see us as a resource,” said Kathy Sage, assistant administrator. While the lawn is perfect for weddings and events, can host up to 300 people and is financially more economical than other locations, it has gotten lost in the sea of shiny new hotel venues. But the Oldest House is more than a setting; it is the keeper of our culture.
“We think long range about the community” said Teri Beard, administrator. “We are about getting involved.” The Oldest House garden welcomes such Key West annual events as the conch blowing contest, holiday gingerbread decorating, plein air painters and Key West Literary Seminar. Soon the facility will partner with The Key West Art and Historical Society for future events. In all, there are 300 people devoted to the Oldest House and the Foundation, and they are always seeking more.
“The mission is the same … wanting to preserve and maintain historic architecture of Key West,” said Beard. “We helped create a passion for preservation in Key West.”
Every year the foundation raises $25,000 in grants for conservancy of Key West, allowing homeowners and non-profit commercial buildings to apply for financial help with their own preservation. Also, funds generated through the annual House Tours create Take Stock in Children Scholarships.
The Oldest House has the unique job of maintaining and preserving Key West’s heritage while bolstering vital community events. Beard welcomes all visitors, saying, “We love to have everyone in the community involved, tourists and residents alike.”
More information is at www.oirf.org for more information.
One month can see visitors from 40 states and 20 countries at The Oldest House.” — Kathy Sage, of assistant administrator.