Key West (Sp. Cayo Hueso, Bone Key). I. An island forming part of Monroe co., Florida, one of the Florida Keys, 60 m. S. W. of Cape Sable, the S. point of the state; pop. in 1850, 2,367; in 1860, 2,832; in 1870, 5,016, of whom 989 were colored and 2,283 foreigners; in 1874, about 7,000. It is 7 m. long by from 1 to 2 m. wide, and is 11 ft. above the sea. On the S. W. point there is a lighthouse with a fixed light 72 ft. above the water, guiding vessels to the city, and another on the N. W. passage, showing a fixed light, 40 ft. above the water. The island is of coral formation, and has a shallow soil, consisting of disintegrated coral with a slight admixture of decayed vegetable matter. There are no springs, and the inhabitants are dependent on rain or distillation for water. Adjacent to the city is a salt pond, where the greater part of the salt used on the island is manufactured, and considerable quantities are shipped to neighboring keys and the mainland. The natural growth is a dense but stunted chaparral, in which various species of cactus are a prominent feature. Tropical fruits are cultivated to some extent, the chief varieties being cocoanuts, bananas, pineapples, guavas, sapo-dillas, and a few oranges. The air is pure and the climate healthy.
The thermometer seldom rises above 90°, and never falls to freezing point, rarely standing as low as 50°. The island has suffered repeatedly from violent hurricanes. Excepting the Cubans, a large proportion of the population of Key West consists of natives or descendants of natives of the Bahama islands.
They are a hardy and adventurous race, remarkable for their skill in diving. The language commonly spoken is Spanish or a patois of that tongue. II. A city, port of entry, and United States naval station, occupying about three eighths of the island, capital of Monroe co., Florida, and the southernmost town of the United States, 430 m. S. by E. of Tallahassee, and 110 m. N. by E. of Havana; lat. 24° 32' N, lon. 81° 48' W.; pop. about 5,000. The streets are broad, and for the most part are laid out at right angles with each other. The residences are shaded with tropical trees, and embowered in perennial flowers and shrubbery, giving the city a very picturesque appearance. The buildings, however, are mostly small, and are constructed of wood, except the Western Union telegraph office, those belonging to the United States government, and one other, which are of brick. The public buildings are the custom house, naval storehouse, marine hospital, county court house, county jail, a masonic hall, an opera house, and a hotel capable of accommodating from 50 to 75 guests. Another hotel, to accommodate 200, is about to be erected. The United States court house, the post office, and the city hall occupy leased buildings.
Near the naval storehouse is a monument of dark gray granite, erected in 1866 to the memory of the sailors and soldiers who died in the service on this station during the civil war. Key West has a fine harbor, accessible through several channels by vessels drawing 22 ft. of water. Being the key to the best entrance to the gulf of Mexico, it is strongly fortified. The principal work of defence is Fort Taylor, built on an artificial island within the main entrance to the harbor. It has 120 guns mounted and 40 more ready for mounting; but work upon the brick and stone batteries or forts that were projected has been suspended, and sand batteries are in process of construction. The barracks are large and commodious, and are garrisoned by 60 men. There is a United States dock, with cisterns to catch rain water, a condensing and distilling apparatus, and a machine shop and foundery. Key West is connected with New York and New Orleans by weekly lines of steamers, and with Baltimore by a semi-monthly line. The New Orleans line also connects the city with Cedar Keys, the gulf terminus of the Florida railroad, and with Havana. There are telegraph cables to Cuba and to the mainland.
The value of the imports from foreign countries for the year ending June 30, 1873, was $389,054; exports to foreign ports, $939,880; the number of vessels entered was 384, with an aggregate tonnage of 68,828; cleared, 383, of 58,661 tons. In the coastwise trade the entrances were 337, of 201,942 tons; clearances, 278, of 198,517 tons; belonging to the port, 103 vessels, with an aggregate tonnage of 3,374. Among the principal industries are turtling, sponging, and the catching of mullet and other fish for the Cuban market. The value of sponges annually obtained is about $100,000. About 30 vessels with an aggregate of 250 men are engaged in wrecking on the Florida reef. The manufacture of cigars employs about 775 hands, chiefly Cubans. About 25,000,000 cigars are manufactured annually. An establishment for canning pineapples is in successful operation. The value of real estate and improvements on the island in 1874 was $2,600,000. The city is governed by a mayor and a board of nine aldermen elected annually. The United States courts for the S. district of Florida are held here. There are two public schools for white children, with 500 pupils, and one for colored children, with 198 pupils.
The Catholic convent has a school connected with it, and there are eight private schools, containing in all 225 pupils. Two weekly newspapers (one Spanish) are published. The city has Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, and Ro-man Catholic churches. - Key West was settled about 1822, but it long remained a mere village. During the civil war the attention of the government was more particularly directed to it.