Key West Lighthouse Museum

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Florida Guide > Other Florida

Key West Lighthouse Museum

Located across the street from the Hemingway house is the Key West Lighthouse Museum.

Climb the 88-step circular iron stairway leading to the top of the lighthouse and you can view a 360 panoramic view of historic Key West and the nearby ocean. Numerous key buildings and points of interest are pointed out for you by the photographic display. Not open to the public are the 10 additional steps which led to the actual light.

As this is a very old lighthouse and not too tall, the stairway is very compact. There is really only room for one person at a time to climb the stairs and luckily, there are two small landings where you can pass someone coming down the stairs.

Built in 1847 to aid to ships navigating the reefs off the lower Keys, the Key West Lighthouse is one of the tallest buildings in Key West. The tower and nearby Keeper' s Quarters have been beautifully restored and maintained as they were before the lighthouse was deactivated. Most houses in Key West are made of wood and the lighthouse keepers’ home is no exception. What does stand out is the amount of garden space around the house. The original keeper' s house was replaced in 1886 and replaced with the present building.

Just as intriguing as the lighthouse and other buildings are the lives of the keepers who climbed the steps each day to clean and fuel the lamps, especially that of Barbara Mabrity, who took over after her husband died in 1832. She tended the lamps for 32 years until at age 82 she was fired for making statements against the Union, which controlled Key West and the lighthouse during the Civil War. A story we were told whilst at the lighthouse is that she used to stand on the top walkway waving a confederate flag and every time the union soldiers came to arrest her, they couldn’t find the flag. In those long gone days, a gentleman officer would not dare ask a lady to lift her skirt to check if she was hiding something! The flag was found many years later in a hollowed out spindle in a wooden stairway.

When a hurricane destroyed the light station in 1846, Barbara Mabrity survived but six of her children were killed after the family sought shelter in the tower.

If you would like to learn the “International Maritime Signal Flags” code, each flag and corresponding letter is shown around one of the walls inside the lighthouse keepers house.

As usual, there is a small gift shop on the premises. Entrance was $10 per adult.

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