When we visited Key West in 2012 we primarily focused on visiting the island’s famous (or infamous) bars and restaurants. On this visit we wanted to do more exploring and get to know more about Key West. To help us get an overview we decided to take a tour on the Old Town Trolley.
We boarded the trolley near the end of Duval Street and began our journey. The trolley weaves around the entire 2 mile by 4 mile island as the driver gives a narrative on the history of Key West and gives you details on what you’re seeing. It’s a hop-on/hop-off ride with 13 stops throughout the island but we stayed put for the entire ride because we wanted to see and hear it all.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of early Key West was its dependency upon ship wrecks. Key West is bounded on the south by a barrier reef and it has claimed hundreds of ships dating back to the early days of Spanish exploration. Towers were erected on the island to help spot the wrecks and when a wreck was spotted “Wreck Ashore” was shouted. Men would man their boats and head for the wreck. First man there became the “wreck master” and was in control of saving the wreck’s crew and then salvaging the goods from the ship. The goods were then auctioned off and the wrecking master got the largest share of the proceeds. Salvaging wrecks was big business for Key West and made the city one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.
The tour also takes you to the Southern Most Spot in the United States. Here you are 90 miles from Cuba and 160 miles from Miami. There is a huge buoy located here and there are lines of people waiting to get their picture taken.
We also got to learn about some of the architecture of Key West homes, many of which date back to the shipwreck salvaging days. My favorite was a sea captain’s home that had been originally built in the Bahamas. Since lumber was scarce in Key West it was cheaper to dismantle the house in the Bahamas, ship it to Key West and then rebuild it there. Amazing!
And on this trolley we finally learned about the free roaming chickens of Key West. Turns out that the chickens were originally brought over by Cuban immigrants with the intent of using them for cock fighting. Much to the Cubans surprise they found that cock fighting is illegal in the US so they let the birds go. The chickens are now protected so people can’t hurt them and since they have no natural predators on the island they are flourishing. These days the chickens go by a variety of names including “Gypsy Chickens”, “the national bird of Key West”, or just pests. Residents can trap any pesky chickens and take them to a local shelter. About 1500 chickens end up in the shelter each year, but there are still plenty of chickens around!
Learning about Key West on the trolley really gave us a much better understanding of the island and it gave us lots of ideas on places we wanted to explore further. But, by now we were hungry and we headed to our favorite Cuban restaurant for dinner and music….after first strolling Mallory Square. After the sunset the weather was perfect and the music was awesome. What a great way to end a day on Key West!
For more information on the trolley go here: Key West Old Town Trolleys
For more information on Key West go here: Fla Keys.com