If you have been following the column recently, you probably notice the Curry family name surfaces periodically. The mansion on the South West corner of Duval and Caroline Streets was originally built as a two-story house in 1839. It is believed that the structure had not been completed when the 1846 Havana Hurricane struck the island.
Shortly after, The Porter family acquired the property. Joseph Porter was born in the house in 1847. As a young man, he studied medicine in Philadelphia and started his career as an Army doctor at Fort Jefferson.
By 1870, Dr. Porter had married Louisa Curry, one of William Curry’s eight children. You know… the Curry children that built seven of the grandest homes in Key West. Louisa was not one to be outdone by her siblings, so the Porter’s transformed the original two story structure with the addition of a third floor featuring a mansard roof and gable dormers. The mansion has a wonderful mix of Bahamian, New England and French architectural elements. Notice the elaborate ornamentation of porch posts and hand wrought iron balconies.
Yellow fever was considered the scourge of Florida from before the Civil War well into the early 1900s. The disease is found in Africa and was probably introduced to the Caribbean and South America through the slave trade in the 16th century. Yellow fever usually lasts a few days but can lead to painful complications including liver damage and eventual death.
No one knew the source of the disease and many ill-founded beliefs and remedies were practiced to rid communities of the infectious disease. Two of the most common methods were burning the belongings of a patient and the use of quarantines. Often ships would be quarantined in port and whole communities would be restricted from traveling to neighboring towns.
Dr. Porter was known for establishing hospitals, from Key West to Miami, during the yellow fever epidemics and for his use of quarantines. He became Florida’s first Public Health Officer.
His medical research was on the forefront of the discovery that female mosquito’s carried the disease and played a major role in the eradication of yellow fever in Florida.
After a lifetime of professional accomplishments and 80 years in his beloved home, Joseph Porter died in the same room where he was born.