Explore the Oldest House Museum & Gardens, 322 Duval St., during this weekend’s Key West Home Tours, presented by Old Island Restoration Foundation. CONTRIBUTED

Come on in. See what we’ve done with the place.

Four historic Key West houses are on display for this weekend’s Home Tours presented by Old Island Restoration Foundation.

The homes are open for ticket holders from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18. Participants will receive the addresses when they buy their tickets and can visit the houses in any order on either day. 

The foundation operates the Oldest House Museum & Gardens, 322 Duval St., and works to preserve and protect Key West’s collection of historic wooden structures, thought to be the largest collection in the country. 

The Oldest House is always a featured stop on the Home Tours, and offers an immersive and authentic history lesson about life in Key West from 1820 to 1850.

Home Tour tickets cost $55 per person ($45 for OIRF members) when purchased in advance through or $60 at the door on tour days. For information, visit or call 305-294-9501. The self-guided tours run from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17 & 18.

Richard Currans, a ship’s carpenter, built the house as shipwrights did in 1829 without nails, which can cause the wood to split and crack. He then rented it to Capt. Francis and Emeline Watlington, who lived there with their eight daughters until the Civil War.

The house was occupied by the Watlingtons and their descendants from the 1830s through the 1970s, when it was purchased for historic preservation.

“Here at the Oldest House, we really want to tell the story, not just of the Watlington family, but of Key West from 1820 to 1850. The people who came here to live, often from New England, New York and Virginia, obviously had to come by boat, and Key West became a bustling city because of its deep-water port,” said curator Tom Greenwood. 

While the men, often shop owners and ship captains, engaged in the wrecking industry — rescuing people and cargo from ships that wrecked on the coral reef offshore — “the women were really civilizing Key West,” Greenwood said. “They were creating schools and churches and entertaining.”

Emeline Watlington was one of the founders of St. Paul’s Church, less than 100 yards from her home. 

The Oldest House is decorated with furniture and accessories that are authentic to the period of 1830-1850, with some original items that belonged to and were used by the Watlington family. The dark wooden sideboard in the dining room came from New York with Emeline Watlington on the ship that brought her to Key West.

The bed is made from hand-carved mahogany and the dining table is set with blue and white dishes bearing the china pattern used by the Watlingtons.

“We had archaeology students excavate the backyard, and they found numerous fragments of dishes, so we were able to match the pattern,” Greenwood said.

The home and museum also features an outdoor cookhouse that was typical of the time. It was kept separate from the main to reduce heat and the threat of fire.

The home also has a large cistern underneath it, which collected rainwater and provided the only fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Now cherished by Old Island Restoration Foundation, “the house has survived fires, floods, hurricanes and repeated economic hardships. It serves as a physical chronicle of the history of Key West and its people from the earliest days to the present,” states the OIRF website.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.