Old Island Restoration Foundation has designed new safety protocols that will allow the tradition of the Key West Home Tours to take place this season.
The two-day tours will run monthly from December through March; the number of visitors allowed inside each home will be limited, social distancing and masks will be required and hand sanitizer will be provided.
The tours are the foundation’s largest annual fundraising event.
Proceeds go toward awarding historic preservation grants and scholarships, providing educational programs and restoring and maintaining Key West’s Oldest House & Garden Museum at 322 Duval St.
In addition to the private homes on each tour, ticket holders will receive free admission to the Oldest House Museum during tour dates and appointed times.
“Of course, we aren’t expecting the large number of people as we’ve had in the past, but we will safely offer the tours for the 61st consecutive year,” said John C. Giuliano, executive director of Old Island Restoration Foundation. “In addition to taking the tours, there are many volunteer opportunities for locals to help keep this meaningful tradition alive for our neighbors and visitors alike.”
Old Island Restoration board president Nance Frank said, “Traditions such as this and the preservation of the island’s unique architecture and cultural heritage play a role as the Keys, the nation and the world strive to recover with increased love and empathy for our One Human Family.”
Richard Cussans is credited with building the Oldest House. He was born in the Bahamas in 1806 and came to Key West by 1828 and in 1829 the builder and merchant had constructed the one-and-a-half story house on the site of what would become 322 Duval St.
Cussans rented the home to Francis and Emeline Watlington, who had nine daughters. Emeline eventually owned the house. Although primarily regarded as a sea captain engaged in the booming maritime enterprises of the period, Watlington also served as harbor master and as a state legislator in 1859. He joined the Confederate Navy in 1862 in Mobile, Alabama, where he lived after the war, then returned in 1885 to Key West, where he died in 1887. Emeline Watlington had died in 1881 and left the house to her daughters.
Lilie Watlington, Francis and Emeline’s youngest daughter, never married and lived in the house until her death at age 80 in 1936. Earl Johnson, the great-grandson of Francis and Emeline, lived in the house until his death in 1972. Thus, 322 Duval St. was occupied by the same family for 140 years.
Tour dates and times are:
Dec. 29 & 30 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Jan. 15 & 16 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Feb. 12 & 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
March 12 & 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.