16. Cosgrove

Historic Marker 16 is located at 323 Whitehead Street between Eaton and Caroline Streets.

Four visionary businessmen originally purchased Key West from Spain. They were John Whitehead, John Simonton, P.C. Greene and John Flemming. Whitehead, Simonton, Green and Fleming Streets still bear their names.

John Whitehead was the original owner of this property, which was considered prime land due to its proximity to the deep-water port. In 1829, Whitehead sold the property to P.C. Greene. In 1850, the main house was built. It changed ownership a few times until Captain Phillip L. Cosgrove purchased it in 1871.

The stately house and its history are literally overshadowed by a landscaping decision Myrtle Cosgrove, the Captain's wife, made a century ago.

In the 1800's Key West was not the lush green island you see today. The lack of fresh water had always been a concern and most of it was collected in cisterns that were built to catch rainfall from roofs. If you were going to plant a tree and use your precious water supply to nurture it, you would plant a tropical fruit tree that would give you a bountiful supply of fruit to eat.

Mrs. Cosgrove's planting decision was apparently influenced by another tropical concern-the quest to find shade to escape the unrelenting subtropic summer heat. With that in mind she planted a banyan tree.

Banyans are fig trees characterized by aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks that often become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using their prop roots to cover a wide area. Some banyan trees in the United States have grown to cover more than a quarter acre.

Myrtle Cosgrove may have accomplished her wish for shade but she should have had a larger yard for her choice.

Over the years, seven adjoining historic houses on Whitehead Street and Eaton Street have been joined to create the Banyan Resort.

The two-story Locke house on the corner was first used as a drugstore. It is named for William James Locke who was nominated to the Federal Judicial Services by Ulysses Grant in 1872.