June, 2012

June, 2012
Northwest Florida
Fort Walton Beach – Fifth Annual Latin Salsa Festival

The Northwest Florida Boricuas Ausentes, Inc. (NWFBA) presents the fifth annual Latin Salsa Festival on Saturday June 23 at Landing Park in downtown Fort Walton Beach. From 10am until 7pm, this family-friendly, alcohol-free event offers Caribbean and international food, great music and Folkloric dancers. This is a way to cruise the Caribbean for free…and you don’t have to lug heavy bags.

NWFBA celebrates and shares Puerto Rican and Taino ethnic flavors. DJs and live bands will play Salsa, Plenas, Bombas, and Merengue genres for your dancing and listening pleasure. Children's games and entertainment continue throughout the day. Vendors will offer ethnic as well as popular American deli items.

There is free parking north of Hwy 98W within walking distance. For more information, go to http://www.boricuasausentes.org; call 850-240-4417 or email FWBoricuas@yahoo.com.

Panhandle Watermelon Festival in Chipley

On June 22, from 6-9 p.m. at Pals Park in Chipley, Chad Street performs at 6 p.m. and Mark Chestnutt at 8 p.m. There will be a huge water slide for the kids. The event is free. Just bring a blanket or lawn chair.

On June 23, head to the Agricultural Center on Highway 90. Big Bend Bluegrass entertains from 10:30-11:15 a.m. and from 11:30-12:15 with the Festival Queens introduced at 11:15 a.m. At 12:30-1:45, the big watermelon auction will be held, followed by a concert at 2pm by Marty Rayborn. Other events will include: a Big Watermelon Contest, surprise guests, a 5000 Meter Run, a Car & Truck Show, contests for kids, tournament horseshoe pitching and plenty of entertainment.

For more information, contact the Washington County Agricultural Center at 850-638-6180 or go to www.panhandlewatermelonfestival.com.

Northeast Florida

19th Wellborn Blueberry Festival
Travel to the fairgrounds for the 19th Annual Wellborn Blueberry Festival on June 1 (from 2-8pm) and 2 (from 7am-5pm). Blueberries are good and good for you. These juicy fruits are rich in Vitamin C, a good source of fiber and manganese, and also contain antioxidant properties.

The Festival will have arts, crafts and food vendors. The Country Store will feature blueberry pies, cobblers, jam, jelly, syrup, candy and country items. Enjoy the floats, equestrians, classic cars, and some of the amusements, like Power Jump, and Water Walking. Or join the blueberry bake-off and tasting party, blueberry pancake breakfast, parade, talent contest, and kids' games and crafts.

The Third Pancake Station is at the Wellborn Baptist Church (the pink one on US90) and you can use the free shuttle from there to the fairgrounds for easy parking.

Don’t forget to bring a chair or blanket so you can relax as Willow Creek Band performs.This event is free and family friendly, with no alcohol served. For directions, schedule and information, go to www.wellborncommunityassociation.com or call 386-963-1157 or email wendellsnowden@prodigy.net.

Night Swan Intracoastal Bed and Breakfast
     in New Smyrna Beach

Night Swan, incidentally, is the Swiss translation of this bed and breakfast owner’s surname.  It’s a fitting identity—nestled near the water and summoning visions of refinement, grace, pleasure, and eloquence.

You can arrive by car or boat at the Night Swan Bed and Breakfast in New Smyrna Beach—a town reminiscent of a bygone era with no-rush southern hospitality.

Their 2-story dock extends 160-feet into the Indian River Lagoon section of the Intracoastal Waterway. This estuary is claimed to be North America’s most biologically diverse with manatee, dolphin, wading birds, and native plants. It’s a perfect spot to watch sailboats, wildlife, and daydream—or you may want to lie back in the hammock and take it all in from the shaded lawn next to the house.

The main house of the complex is typical of large winter homes built by the wealthy early in the last century. Modern amenities that were lacking have been retrofitted and the porch veranda, a common feature of the day, is filled with chairs that rock, and an old-fashioned suspended swing. If you haven’t swayed to and fro on one of these mostly forgotten dream machines, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Inside, autographed photos of astronauts and space launches are a reminder that Innkeepers Martha and Chuck Nighswonger retired from the nearby Kennedy Space Center. Since 1990 they have lovingly renovated these five romantic turn-of-the-century homes forming a sheltered enclave amidst magnolias, tall palms and gnarled live oaks.

The Night Swan has 15 guest rooms. Hardwood floors, antique-filled interiors, personal touches, and sweeping sunny porches provide a romantic ambiance. But it is also an ideal place for relaxing with a book, a tall drink, or staying in touch with friends on the complimentary-provided wireless internet. There are plush oversize towels and robes for your comfort, and many rooms have an oversize whirlpool (Jacuzzi) tub and shower.

The pampering continues with their full breakfast: whether steaming hot coffee and freshly baked breads, or their house specialty of delicious low-cholesterol hot entrees served upon china and antique silver in the dining room or veranda. Or a continental breakfast can be delivered to your room or the dock.

The Night Swan is a great setting for a wedding, a catered event or even a casual meeting with a friend where you can sip on cappuccinos, espressos, coffee and teas, or enjoy a great selection of homemade appetizers and desserts like ginger scones, biscotti, or key lime pie—all  served with southern grace from any of the various vantage points.

Although New Smyrna Beach is low-key and quaint, there’s a lot to explore: golf, world-class fishing, bird watching, kayaking, or a river cruise. Or you can enjoy the sandy, pristine beaches of this National Seashore. The northern tip has a 2-mile boardwalk (Smyrna Dunes Park) with panoramic views of the river, dunes, ocean and surfers.
There’s a 5-block stretch--Flagler Avenue—the main drag, from ocean to river with preserved historic buildings containing shops, art galleries, restaurants, and not a single parking meter. The Nighswongers could have settled anywhere along the coast, and when asked why they chose New Smyrna Beach, Martha said, “it is quiet…peaceful…and will never be Daytona.” Once you’ve visited, you’ll probably feel the same.

The Night Swan Intracoastal Bed and Breakfast is located at 512 South Riverside Drive in New Smyrna Beach. It’s a romantic getaway. Arrive by boat or car. The 125th anniversary of New Smyrna Beach is June 8-10. For details, see www.nsbwaterfrontloop.com. For information on the Bed and Breakfast, call 386-423-4940 or 800-465-4261 or go to www.nightswan.com

  The New Smyrna Museum of History

New Smyrna Beach is different than most Florida coastal towns.  Driving for the first time into the downtown area, something seems askew. At first it’s hard to put your finger on it, but then you realize that it’s an absence of the typical beach bustle of cars and pedestrians in vacation regalia swarming streets lined with sculptured pastel stucco.

It’s kind of quiet actually—a lot of old-style white clapboard buildings and narrow streets lined with ordinary-looking shops and restaurants with not a parking meter is sight—a clearly defined reflection of the past. Fast food and big box stores have encroached on the outskirts, and route A1A that edges the water is a little more contemporary, but the heart of the town is a throwback to the 1950’s—and as we discovered—that’s the way New Smyrnans want to keep it. It’s quaint. Some outsiders will find it a little dowdy, others will find it inspiring, and everyone will find it to be one of the most tranquil, yet exhilarating beach towns with a history matched by few.

Just a block off the main street is the New Smyrna Museum of History housed in the old two-story post office building. It’s free to all who enter because they want to make known the uniqueness of their little town.  

After 250 years of controlling Florida, the Spanish in 1763 decided to cede the province of East Florida to the British under the Treaty of Paris—a swap for their treasured city of Havana, Cuba. The British were anxious to colonize and Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician with a couple of partners, secured land grants of over 100,000 acres in exchange for agricultural production needed by the British. Turnbull persuaded a few Greeks and Italians, but mostly Minorcans to come to the new world. Turnbull would name it “Smyrnea” after Smyrna, Asia Minor. The Mediterraneans, he thought would do well in the similar Florida climate.

In August of 1768 after a four-month voyage, 1,255 of the original 1,400 servants indentured to the crown disembarked where preparation had been made for only 500. Despite the appalling miscalculation, there were bountiful natural assets of wild game, oysters, fish and timberlands for building. In addition they had the advantage of a monstrous orange grove a half-mile wide and stretching 40 miles all the way to the Tomoka River—but the British wanted hemp and indigo—and no one knew that oranges would have prevented scurvy that killed so many on those long voyages.

It was the largest number of settlers ever sponsored by the British government, but it didn’t last. Central planning was no more successful then than it is presently. When both cash crops and food crops failed, the colonists weren’t permitted the individual liberty to pursue different options. The weather, insects, illness and overwork had taken their toll. Turnbull, unable to find new investors admitted the colony had failed. In may of 1777 the men who were left walked all the way to St. Augustine requesting the governor to release them from their indentures, and abandoned New Smyrna forever.

The museum features a perimeter gallery chronologically reviewing eleven distinct periods of the area’s history beginning with St. Johns period pottery through tapestries by local seamstresses employed by the Depression-phase WPA. Other notable objects include a dugout canoe, turn-of-the-century printing press, and Civil War artifacts.  It was the war--in its perverse way--that reactivated the town that languished for nearly a century after the failed colonization.

The outstanding feature of the museum, however, is the gallery of black and white photos from the late 1800’s through modern times—dozens of them.  It’s a photographic history that tells a story better than anyone could put in words. A long-time resident said that until the 1940’s this area was the best hunting and fishing grounds in the country—evidenced by photos of black bears and 500-pound groupers—literally bigger than a grown man.

In the North Room exhibits are rotated every three months. Presently showing are original posters by Norman Rockwell designed to encourage the citizenry to buy war bonds—a period many of us have forgotten, but shouldn’t.

Upstairs the Sheldon Research Library contains documents, books periodicals, maps, and even more historic photographs. It’s a fascinating place—an all-volunteer operation—sort of a microcosm of the town, as the town seems to be a microcosm in the history of the state.

For a special celebration, head to New Smyrna Beach for their 125th anniversary on June 8, 9, and 10. There will be historical tours, an $8 Minorca pilau dinner served at the Masonic lodge, family games and activities, a street dance, music, and fireworks over the river.

The New Smyrna Museum of History is located at 120 Sams Avenue in New Smyrna Beach. It is open Tue-Sat from 10-4, and admission is free. Call 386-478-0052 or go to www.nsbhistory.org.

 Central Florida
The Appleton Museum of Art - Ocala

The Appleton Museum of Art is a two-story masterpiece in Italian travertine marble commanding a small rise fronted by a reflecting pool and fountain, and surrounded by 11.3 wooded and landscaped acres. It is  the focal point of the Appleton Cultural Center, a complex east of downtown Ocala which also includes the Ocala Civic Theatre and the Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala, Inc.

Founded in 1982, the Museum was a gift from Arthur I. Appleton and his wife who’d bought land during the mid ‘70s and established Bridlewood Farm, a thoroughbred breeding and training facility. The City of Ocala donated the 44-acre site for the home of the museum, construction began in 1984 and the museum opened to the public in 1987. Originally built to display and preserve Mr. Appleton’s extensive art collection, the Appleton Museum today is one of the South’s premier art museums and the leading cultural institution in Marion County. Since 2004, governance of the museum has been through the College of Central Florida and the CF Foundation.

The 20,000-square-foot Edith-Marie Appleton Wing (added by Arthur Appleton’s sister) opened in 1996 and houses 4,000 square feet of exhibition space, three classrooms, an interactive video classroom, an art library containing more than 2,000 art reference books and videos, an art workshop, offices and storage space. A 2,662-square-foot collections storage facility was added in 2009, expanding the museum’s current overall size to a total of 81,610 square feet.

The museum’s permanent collections (30,000 square feet) of approximately 18,000 objects include European, American, Asian, African, Islamic, Contemporary and pre-Columbian art and artifacts, and a series of temporary traveling exhibitions are presented throughout the year. The museum is also building a collection of works of Florida artists which relates directly to the history and cultural heritage of this Central Florida community.
Current Exhibitions
Art and the Animal-through June 17 (45 works from the flagship exhibition of The Society of Animal Artists.) Art and the Animal features works of animals created by some of today's best classically trained international artists.

A Kind of Alchemy: Persian Medieval Ceramics – This ongoing exhibition features 59 rarely-viewed examples of Islamic ceramic art crafted by artists between the 10th and 14th centuries in Persia (today's Iran).

Ocala Art Group's On The Balcony-through June 17: More than 30 of the best recent works created by current members of this local art club.

Appleton Biennial 2012: Florida Installation Art – from June 30-August 12. Showcased in this juried show are some of the most unique and thought-provoking works created by Florida's finest installation artists.

During this 25th anniversary year, the museum also offers children’s art camps, educational and art films, workshops and lectures.

The Appleton Museum of Art is located at 4333 East Silver Springs Blvd. in Ocala. It is open Tue-Sat from 10am-5pm and Sunday from noon-5pm; closed Monday. Admission: Adults-$6; Seniors (55+), educators, university students, and AAA members-$4; Youth (10-18)-$3; FREE for children under age 9, CF students, active military and families, members and reciprocal members. Call 352-291-4455 or go to www.Appletonmuseum.org.

The Yuengling Brewery Tour - Tampa

Floridians love their beer. We drink a river of it. Maybe it’s due to all the retirees who enjoy an enhancement to lolling back—or maybe it’s just the climate. Whatever the origin, it’s agreed that there’s little more satisfying than an ice-cold swig of beer on a hot humid day.

And of course, there’s the brewery in Tampa with the funny name that helps to keep that unquenchable thirst at bay. Yuengling is the Americanized version of Jungling, the surname of the brewer who started it all back in Pennsylvania. Translated from German, it means “young man.” The decoding means little except for implying the source, but what formula for a beer could be better than one coming from Germany?

Yuengling isn’t the biggest brewery, or the best known, but it is the oldest. Started in Pottsville, Pennsylvania in 1829 by a Yuengling ancestor from Wurttemberg, Germany it has remained as a family enterprise in the nearly two centuries since—an extraordinary accomplishment for any business in this age.

It was first named the Eagle Brewery with the trademark American Bald Eagle clutching a keg in its talon—a symbol that has also remained intact. Yuengling takes pride in being American-owned and family-operated, and company history emphasizes their struggle to remain afloat through troubled periods when many breweries were forced out of business by prohibition, or more recently, swallowed up by larger enterprises.

Frankly, it’s a saga, the details of which few beer drinkers care anything about—only that the company did survive and continues to provide their preferred elixir. During the acquisition wars in the early nineties the Stroh Brewery Company closed its operation in Tampa and Yuengling saw the opportunity to purchased the 90-acre site, and bring its brand to the southeast.

Beers are like every product from cars to shoes. There are brand names that individuals swear by, or at least believe better suit their taste. In this case taste is literal rather than just a fashion sense—and in the last couple of decades Yuengling has found a loyal following in the Sunshine State. There’s a distinct taste for every palate: traditional or light lager, their original black and tan, dark-brewed porter, Lord Chesterfield ale, and their premium or light beer.

To learn more about Yuengling, or breweries in general, you can take a guided tour through the brewery, experiencing all the sights, sounds, and smells incorporated into the final blend obtained from retailers’ shelves and draught spigots. You’ll see the gigantic stainless steel cooking kettles, and go through the laboratory where every batch is not only tested, but also tasted, and an amiable microbiologist answers questions.

Along the way, a gallery of black and white photos are attractive to historic sensibilities, but most mesmerizing to spectators seems to be the final step of bottling and canning. The volume of containers going down the conveyors is mind-boggling. It’s difficult to imagine how much is shipped out of this one brewery in a single day—or that we consume that much, but we do.

After about an hour of educational touring you’ll not qualify as a brewmeister, but you will be able to appreciate a little more of what goes into that favorite beer—and of course there is a treat afterward of any of the several brews that Yuengling produces.  Although I’m not a connoisseur of beers, it was an interesting and informative visit—and yeah, that final cool-down stop at the museum bar was a welcome refresher.

Yuengling Beer Company is located at 11111 North 30th Street in Tampa. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9am-3pm. Tours are offered at 10am, 11:30am, and 1 pm. (Closed-toe shoes only) Free beer served AFTER the tour. Call 813-972-8529 or go to www.yuengling.com.

The Progress Energy Center for the Arts
Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Located in the heart of historic downtown St. Petersburg, the Progress Energy Center for the Arts--Mahaffey Theater is a 2,031 seat cultural gem featuring elegant ballroom space, spectacular waterfront views, and European box-style seating. The Mahaffey hosts top-quality national and international artists and performances: Broadway, classical, pop, rock, comedy, dance, family, and the renowned Florida Orchestra.  

Additionally, the theater supports the highly successful Class Acts program, which enables school children to experience the performing arts through in-theater performances as well as in-school outreach and extension programs.

In 2005, The Mahaffey underwent a $20-million renovation which more than doubled its lobby size and added a dramatic three-story glass wall and a glass-enclosed atrium (great as an “after hours” meeting place for talking and dancing to the DJ.)

Mahaffey’s state-of-the-art acoustical system makes it a perfect setting for musical and stage performances. And their most recent performance featuring The Florida Orchestra under the baton of Sarah Hicks was Postcards from Paris. It was a celebration of the City of Lights with romantic French melodies, Edith Piaf classics, Josephine Baker hits, Parisian café music, Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz, high-kicking can-cans, and soaring film scores by Michel Legrand and more.  The guest conductor was Sarah Hicks who represents the new wave of young female conductors displaying versatile and vibrant musicianship. Vocalist Kersten Rodau and tenor Robb Asklof sang their romantic way into the audiences’ hearts, while young accordionist Patrick Harison and guitarist Gil Gutierrez  added yet another level of delight to the evening.
2012-2013 Season Performances
Bobby Collins-6/2; Ledisi with Eric Benet-8/4; Brian Culbertson and David Sanborn: the Dream Tour-8/16; Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition-10/6; Tap Dogs: The Hottest Show on Legs–11/8; Jack Hanna-12/30; Mavis Staples-1/19; China National Symphony-1/23; The Boston Pops Presents the Streisand Songbook –3/6; Canadian Brass-3/15.

The Progress Energy Center for the Arts - Mahaffey Theater is located at 400 1st St SE in St Petersburg $5 parking garage. Call 727-892-5798 or go to www.themahaffey.com.

Southwest Florida
The Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art

The striking 20-foot-tall bronze and steel front gates crafted by artist Albert Paley greet you as you begin your artistic experience at The Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art. This impressive 30,000-square foot museum opened in 2000 and is part of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts Complex. The museum houses permanent and temporary collections in 15 galleries where a variety of styles of paintings, sculptures and drawings emphasize modernism. All of the important movements in American art during the first half of the 20th century  are represented, including Marsden Hartley, Oscar Bluemner, Arthur Dove, Jackson Pollock, etc.

The bisected glass dome and huge sculptures at the entrance is indicative of the art cache inside. And the ensuing discovery will thrill both the developing art aficionado and connoisseur.

An attention grabber in the Philharmonic Center for the Arts’ Friends of Art and John E. Kohan galleries is a twisted-glass chandelier in shades of tangerine by artist Dale Chihuly. His additional unique pieces are highlighted on pedestals throughout. And on the third floor of the museum  is Chihuly’s Persian Ceiling 2001 (50 feet long and 6 feet wide), where a kaleidoscope of  light shines through more than 600 transluscent glass pieces shaped like sea shells, flowers, jelly fish tentacles, etc.

An impressive part of the permanent collection is The Modern Mexican Masters –which shows a blend of mythology, history, ritual and folklore in a variety of styles and techniques. The great Mexican muralists José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera are represented. There are also works by Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Zuñiga, Miguel Covarrubias, as well as 19 ex-voto panels.
Exhibitions on display through June 30:
Louise Nevelson’s Dawn Forest (Figge Conservatory)—This is her largest and most complex sculptural environment, and her last major work.  

Walking Sticks: The Ruth Gordon Collection (2nd floor) Her donation of  approximately 80 walking sticks include the 37 on view, featuring carved ivory handles and cloisonné from China, pinchbeck gold from London, Japanese cloisonné, mother of pearl, cinnabar canes made from the sap of the cinnabar tree, porcelain handles from Germany, French enamel, two niello Russian canes, and silver from England, Germany and France.  A rare Victorian-era Romanian handle of old partridge woods is completely covered with garnets and turquoise. The lid of a rare Chinese cloissoné handle opens to a French enamel compartment containing a watch with a second hand that remains in working condition.

The Mouse House: Works from the Olga Hirshhorn Collection (2nd floor)—It’s installed in a room which roughly approximates in size to the footprint of her carriage house in Washington, DC—which she lovingly refers to as “The Mouse House.” This is a treasure trove of intimate-sized art from some of the giants of 20th century art: There are 6 Picassos, 6 de Koonings, 7 Calders, 4 Man Rays, 2 works by Louise Nevelson, 2 Niki de Saint-Phalle and single pieces by O’Keeffe and Dali. The English, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore are represented,  as well as the French—Jeane-Antoine Houdon, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle and Rodin and Niki de Sait-Phalle.  Albert Giacometti (Swiss), Arnaldo Pomodoro (Italian), Yaacov Agam (Israeli) and Picasso (Spanish). Together, there’s  a whole world of art and ideas encapsulated by each tiny work of art.

Juan Genoves—A Retrospective  (3rd floor) Genoves is one of Spain’s best-known contemporary artists who rose to prominence during Franco’s era. His style captured the mood of fear and repression and his provocative expressionist paintings explored issues of social and political realism. These  recent works deal with a theme of “the crowd,” so unusual in the aerial view looking down upon configurations of human bodies, some three dimensional--while investigating visual rhythms and static movement.

The  Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art is located at 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd. Hours are Tue-Sat from 10-4, and on Sun from noon til 4.  Guided tours are given at 11 and 2 on Tue-Sat, and 1 pm on Sun from October 1- June 30. Closed Mondays, specific holidays and July-September. Cost is $8; $4-students with ID; Increased admission for special exhibitions. It is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Free parking. The Museum Store (Admission ticket not required) offers artistic, whimsical, creative and educational gifts for everyone. The Garden Café is open Nov-April from  11-2. Phone 239-597-1900 or 800-597-1900 or go to www.ThePhil.org.

Southeast Florida
Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters Museum

Traveling Florida’s coasts you come across numerous old lighthouses—almost all of them tourist attractions. Some still operate, but electronic directional finding, superior maps and nautical tools of all kinds have long since reduced their importance as navigational aids.
Some are known for their overviews, some for longevity, and others for attributes such as exceptional height, but for intended purpose none was more significant than the Key West Lighthouse. Its beacon warned ships away from some of the most treacherous waters in the world—without question the most dangerous of the entire Florida coast.
Completed in 1848, some thought the lighthouse signaled the end of an era when scavengers confiscated payloads from ships that grounded almost as regularly as clockwork on the shoals around Key West. Yet, even with the beam flashing its caution, the sharp reefs were unrelenting, and “wreckers” continued to prosper from the misfortune of cargo ships well into the next century.
The 1942 movie, Reap the Wild Wind, starring John Wayne explored the adventures of Key West wreckers. It was dangerous work, but the almost constant flow of impounded valuables made them all exceedingly wealthy.
At 46 feet high, the lighthouse was only half the elevation of towers built by the wreckers who used them to scour the seas for calamities that the lighthouse was supposed to prevent. Therefore in 1894 forty additional feet of construction elevated the 15 oil lamps with 15-inch reflectors to a height more visible through storms and at greater distance. Still, wrecks persisted until navigational science largely replaced visual judgment.
Over the years there were several keepers of the light, but the most interesting was Barbara Mabrity who carried on after her husband died in 1832. In 1846 a hurricane destroyed the original lighthouse and took six of her children as well. But Barbara persevered, caring for the light in the present tower, built two years later, until the middle of the Civil War. At age 82 she still climbed the 88 steps daily to clean and fuel the lamps. She yielded not to age, but to the power of the state after being accused of seditious statements against the Union.
The lighthouse was deactivated in 1969, but the tower and keepers quarters have been fully restored and maintained as when in use. Historic elements remain including the pipes that carried acetylene gas that powered that light before electrification in 1927. The clapboard bungalow where the keepers and families lived while maintaining the beacon has been recreated displaying instruments, maps, lighthouse artifacts, and perhaps most interesting, a multifaceted “first order” Fresnel lens large enough to walk into. The dwelling is decorated in turn-of-the-century style with period furniture and photos that provide a sense of Key West life in those secluded but influential times.
After decommissioning, the lighthouse was acquired by Monroe County, and in 1972 was leased to the Key West Art and Historical Society, which opened it to the public in 1989, and a year later the renovated keepers quarters opened as a museum.
Atop the spiral iron staircase the deck offers an enthralling vista of most of the island and the nearby ocean—once the wrecking waters that briefly made Key West the wealthiest city in the nation.
The Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters Museum is located at 938 Whitehead Street. It is open daily from 9:30am to 4:30 pm (except Christmas). Admission: $10-adults; $9-seniors 62+; $5-children. Free for children under age 6 and students with ID. For more information call 305-2956-6616 or go to www.kwahs.com.

 Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum

One of the last islands in the chain curling off the southern tip of our peninsula could hardly be considered a shantytown, but neither does Key West live up to its one-time-ranking as the wealthiest city in the United States.

“You will naturally inquire how we live, and the reply is very simple,” quotes a denizen of the island in mid-19th century.  “By shipwrecks,” she exclaimed.  “Stop that and we cease to live.”  The summation was an obvious exaggeration, but the explanation of acquiring wealth certainly was not.

In the golden age of sailing ships more than 100 per day passed by Key West.  Bending the turn around the Florida Keys as short as possible was time saving, but also flirting with disaster, as the shallow waters hiding menacing reefs were among the most treacherous in the world.  On average, a ship per week ran afoul of the sharp rocks and coral that splintered the wooden hulls.  It was a salvager’s paradise.

“Wreckers,” as they were called, built observation towers (some over 90 feet high) from which they scoured the coasts day and night. Others patrolled the reefs in small boats anticipating the next catastrophe. When the inevitable occurred the cry of “Wreck Ashore” echoed over the island, and men scrambled to be the first to reach the distressed vessel.  Maritime law required the “Wreckers” to save the lives of the floundering vessels passengers and crew first, then save the vessel and cargo as best they could.  The first to reach the wreck became the “wrecking master,” who controlled the operation and got the largest share of the booty.  Many considered it piracy and claimed that the wreckers lured them onto the reef, or failed to warn them of unsuspecting navigational dangers.  

Shortly after Key West was declared a Port of Entry in 1825, the United States established a Federal Wrecking Court with Admiralty in Key West  to license the wreckers and govern the industry--allowing wreckers to keep as much as 50 percent of the profit.  The court would remain for nearly 100 years. But as navigational aids improved and the railroad became a more reliable mode of delivery into the Keys, the wrecking era came to an end.

Now you can relive that historical period at The Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum.  The museum displays two floors of shipwrecked artifacts, covering 400 years of salvage history in the Florida Keys and the surrounding waters.  Spanish Galleons of the 16th & 17th Century,  and the Wrecking Era of the 1850’s--all in a recreation of Master Wrecker Asa Tift’s warehouse.  

Part theater and part repository, the museum is a place where you can view films, artifacts and discover how Key West became the richest city per capita in the United States during the 1850’s.  Climb to the top of the 65-foot observatory to capture the feeling of wreckers scanning the reefs for the next mishap.

The main presentation by master wrecker Asa Tift relates the story of the Isaac Allerton, which smashed into a reef off of Key West in 1856.  The Isaac Allerton was a 594-ton ship stretching 137 feet that for nearly twenty years had sailed out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire carrying cargo throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic.  On the night of August 28 she was caught in a hurricane, ground over Washer Woman Shoals and was pushed by the winds to Hawks Channel before she sank under in five fathoms of water.

The following morning the wreckers rescued the crew. Normally ships that ground to a halt on the reefs were only partially sunk, or at least submerged in shallow water, but because the Isaac Allerton had sunk in such deep water they were unable to salvage all the cargo.  However, the goods they managed to save brought $50,000, making the Isaac Allerton the richest wreck in Key West history.

It was 130 years later when treasure hunters searching for Spanish Galleons rediscovered the Isaac Allerton.  The story and artifacts from the Isaac Allerton are just a few of the things you will witness at the museum. It's a presentation that allows you to relive one of the more glamorous, but somewhat disreputable epochs of American history that excites adventure and that bit of larceny in all of us—but without fear of the consequences.  

The Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum is located at 1 Whitehead Street in Key West. Hours of operation are: 9:30am – 5:00pm daily; Admission: Adults-$15.05; $12.90 for seniors, age 62+; $6.45 for ages 4-12. Discounts are available online. Phone 305-292-8990 or go to www.keywestshipwreck.com.