Early Spanish sailors called the site Cayo Hueso (Bone Island), because of the human bones they found there. A railroad (completed 1912) linked the Keys with the mainland. It was abandoned after being damaged by a hurricane in 1935 and was replaced by the 123-mi (198-km) Overseas Highway (completed in 1938). After a severe economic decline, the federal government took over (1934) the bankrupt city.
Places of interest include a sponge pier, an aquarium, a lighthouse (1846; replacing one built in 1825), Mallory Square (a daily sunset-viewing point), and two Civil War forts. John James Audubon and Winslow Homer painted in Key West, and the city was used as a setting in the works of Ernest Hemingway, who once lived there. His home (built 1851) was made a museum, as was the Little White House, President Harry S. Truman's personal retreat.
See C. Cox, A Key West Companion (1983).
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