120. William Kerr House

Historic Marker number 120 is located at 410 Simonton Street between Fleming and Southard Streets.

This exquisite building was the private residence of William Kerr a renowned Irish-American architect. Born in Ireland in 1836 and educated in Boston, Massachusetts, he moved to Key West in 1872, where he worked as an architect, contractor, and builder. He built his Carpenter Gothic style cottage at 410 Simonton Street, but his most recognizable works are the Convent of Mary Immaculate built in 1878, and the Old Post Office and Custom House (see Historic Marker #71).

Carpenter Gothic, is a North American architectural style known for its use of Gothic Revival architectural detailing applied to traditional light-frame construction. Often these buildings were built by house-carpenters. The abundance of North American timber and the carpenter-built wood vernacular architecture so prevalent in Key West's Historic District was a perfect backdrop for William Kerr's picturesque improvisation of traditional Gothic architecture on this house. The style freed house-carpenters to improvise and emphasize the charm and quaintness of what otherwise would have been a simple wooden building.

The invention of horse-powered scroll saws, and later improved steam powered saws, made mass-produced wood moldings readily available to builders adding gothic inspired embellishments to their projects. Carpenter Gothic architecture primarily became popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century for homes and small churches. Probably the best known example of Carpenter Gothic is the house that artist Grant Wood used for the background of his famous painting American Gothic.

An interesting artifact attributed to William Kerr's profession surfaced during a recent restoration of the house. Carpenters uncovered a small cardboard carrying case nestled in a cavity of the floor joists of the second floor. Upon closer examination, the case revealed an ink draftsman's pen. The pen is believed to have slipped out of Kerr's pocket and was inadvertently floored over during the 1875 construction of the house.