A Bit of Key West History
Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Key West is home to the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States; the island is about 90 miles (140 km) from Cuba.
Key West is politically within the limits of the city of Key West, Monroe County, Florida, United States. The city also occupies nearby islands and portions of nearby islands.
The island is about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and 2 miles (3.2 km) wide. In the late 1950s many of the large salt ponds on the eastern side were filled in, nearly doubling the original land mass of the island. The island measures 3,370 acres (13.6 km2) in area
Cayo Hueso (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkaʝo ˈweso]) is the original Spanish name for the island of Key West. Spanish-speaking people today also use the term Cayo Hueso when referring to Key West. It literally means "Bone Island" or "Bone Cay" (a low-lying island). It is said that the island was littered with the remains (bones) from a Native American battlefield or burial ground. The most widely accepted theory of how the name changed to Key West is that it is a false-friend anglicization of the word, on the ground that the word hueso [ˈweso]) sounds like "west" in English. Other theories of how the island was named are that the name indicated that it was the westernmost Key, or that the island was the westernmost Key with a reliable supply of water.
In 1763, when the Kingdom of Great Britain took control of Florida, the community of Spaniards and Native Americans were moved to Havana. Florida returned to Spanish control 20 years later, but there was no official resettlement of the island. Informally the island was used by fishermen from Cuba and from the British Bahamas, who were later joined by others from the United States after the latter nation's independence. While claimed by Spain, no nation exercised de facto control over the community there for some time.
Many of the residents of Key West were immigrants from the Bahamas, known as Conchs (pronounced 'conks'), who arrived in increasing numbers after 1830. Many were descendants of Loyalists who fled to the nearest Crown colony during the American Revolution. In the 20th century many residents of Key West started referring to themselves as "Conchs", and the term is now generally applied to all residents of Key West. Some residents use the term "Conch" to refer to a person born in Key West, while the term "Freshwater Conch" refers to a resident not born in Key West but who has lived in Key West for seven years or more. However, the true original meaning of Conch applies only to someone with European ancestry who immigrated from the Bahamas.
Major industries in Key West in the early 19th century included fishing, salt production, and salvage. In 1860 wrecking made Key West the largest and richest city in Florida and the wealthiest town per capita in the U.S. A number of the inhabitants worked salvaging shipwrecks from nearby Florida reefs, and the town was noted for the unusually high concentration of fine furniture and chandeliers that the locals used in their own homes after salvaging them from wrecks.