Backstory and Context
Thomas Edison oversaw this historic mansion's electrical design, which later served as a speakeasy, nightclub, and private residence that collectively hosted numerous well-known celebrities, dignitaries, and five U.S. Presidents. In 1897, Judge Vinning Harris built the unique, one-bedroom estate referred to today as "Southernmost House." Harris married Florida Curry, whose father William enjoyed the distinction as Florida's first millionaire; the Curry family built eight mansions in today's Key West Historic District.
This grand Queen Anne Victorian style house only consisted of one bedroom when constructed in 1897. However, the home offered residents and guests electricity, a rarity in the 1890s (provided by Thomas Edison's oversight). The elegant home allowed people to gaze upon its spectacular ocean views, step onto large open-air balconies, and benefit from sizable stained glass windows, which opened to channel ocean breezes into the home.
Judge Harris and Florida Harris, much like the Curry family (Florida's family), were highly prominent Key West residents. They regularly entertained Henry Flagler, who spearheaded the Overseas Railroad project, an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway that connected Key West to the Florida mainland. The Harris couple also invested in the project. During Prohibition, the mansion served as a "speakeasy" with the first floor functioning as a restaurant, the second floor a casino, and the third floor a social club. Everyone from well-known celebrities to gangsters visited during Prohibition, often on their way to Havana. Following Prohibition, the house converted into a nightclub called Café Cayo Hueso, which existed among many clubs, casinos, and social clubs on Duvel street during the 1940s. Besides sailors, vacationers, and residents, countless celebrities patronized the club, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Gloria Swanson, Louis Armstrong, and Charles Lindbergh.
Renovations in 1949 returned the mansion to a private residence frequented by several dignitaries, including Spain's King Juan Carlos and five U.S. Presidents: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Today, the historical landmark operates as a bed-and-breakfast hotel, demonstrating the way that Key West's economy has transitioned over the years from naval operations and businesses like cigar-making to tourism. The home as originally designed in 1897 consisted of only one bedroom, but to support its new role as a bed and breakfast, the home now has eighteen bedrooms. Despite these obvious changes to the design of the home, it continues to host guests who visit the island.
Barnett, William C., and William C. Barnet. "Inventing the Conch Republic: The Creation of Key West as an Escape from Modern America." The Florida Historical Quarterly 88, no. 2 (2009): 139-72. Accessed March 25, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20700280.
"The Southernmost House." Key West Historic Marker Tour. Accessed March 25, 2021. http://www.keywesthistoricmarkertour.org/marker/8.
Ogle, Maureen. Key West: History of an Island of Dreams. Gainseville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
By Averette at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15562025
By Averette - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7788556