61. Cypress House

Historic Marker number 61 is located at 601 Caroline Street between Simonton and Elizabeth Streets.

The stately building before you is the second structure to stand on this lot since Key West became a frontier territory of the United States. In 1845, the Samuel Kemp family purchased a quarter of this city block to construct their family home.

The Kemp family was some of the original settlers, originating in the Bahamas' Islands, who migrated to Key West shortly after the island was settled.

Their first home was lost in the Great Fire of 1886. Richard Kemp rebuilt the current house in 1888 and it remained in the family for 72 years.

The structure was built by John Sawyer, a skilled ship carpenter. The design of the house reflects simplified classic revival island architecture. It is considered to be one of the best examples of Key West-Bahamas style architecture in the Historic District and is recorded in the Library of Congress.

While its elegant and simplified architectural lines are a sharp contrast to its Victorian counterparts, it harkens back to large homes that were designed to impress from the street.

The height and width of the structure required wooden beams of great length. It was a costly venture since all building materials had to be shipped by sailing ships and in some cases obtained by demolition of existing structures around town.

The Kemps were an interesting family that changed the finances and notoriety of Key West. Richard Kemp had a thriving furniture store at a time when the population of Key West doubled within a 10 year period. By 1890 the island was the largest city in Florida with the wealthiest citizens per capita in the nation.

Like most successful citizens of the day, Richard was in touch with the unique environment that surrounded his world. He was responsible for properly identifying the Ridley turtle as an unnamed species. The turtle was officially named Kemp's Turtle by scientists at Harvard University.

The Kemp's greatest financial accomplishment was taking some sponge samples from the fledgling local sponge industry to New York in an attempt to find a market for the products. His first attempt met with little interest but his second try a year later brought great success.

One of Richard Kemps daughters married a man named Arapian, the first sponge merchant of Florida, who greatly influenced the development of the sponge industry for the next 50 years. At the height of the industry there were 350 sponge boats catching 200 tons of sponges per year and supplying 80% of sponges purchased nationally. For additional sponging history, visit Historic Marker # 46.