My home town of Key West is a lot like every other American town of 30,000 population. The differences begin with the palm trees, the unusual abundance of flowers, and the tropical weather. But the biggest difference is the boundry line that forms a circle around the outskirts of our city. Most Americans can hop in their cars and drive into the country, but the ocean surrounds Key West, and the town takes up all the land area. Only a thin string of sandbars and mangrove islands connect it to the mainland 160 miles away.
Before Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad to Key West in 1912, the only way to get to the island was by boat. So the history of Key West is the history of people who had a strong connection to the ocean. Books on Key West's history talk about the wreckers, the spongers, the pirates, the Navy, the shrimpers and the boatbuilders. Many of the first residents were ship's carpenters who built their homes with highly elevated vantage points call "widow's walks" which gave them an unobstructed view of the ocean. In their travels they brought back exotic tropical plant life from all parts of the world - flowering trees, orchids, coconut palms, mahogany, Queen's umbrella trees, and flowers that bloomed all year long like Hibiscus and Bougainvilla.
Key West is located beside a natural coral reef that breaks the ocean's waves six miles out, giving Key Westers calm beaches and crystal-clear water at the shoreline.