95. The Sponge Warehouse

Historic Marker #95 located at 901 Fleming Street at the corner of Margaret and Fleming Streets.

This building has long been used as a place of economic activity. Even before it was erected in 1896, this site contained a small wooden structure that operated as a meat market. The stepped front parapet roof fa├žade was a typical building design in the 19th century and usually denotes a commercial building. The wide glass windows on the street side of the building are well suited to showcase any number of products.

A 1899 map assessing fire insurance costs from the Sanborn Insurance Company, listed the building as a dry goods store, which sold dry foods, clothing, textiles, and toiletries. By 1912 the building had transformed into a haberdashery. A haberdashery is a term used to describe a man's clothing store. The business also carried notions, which is a term for clothing related items like buttons, snaps, collar stays, and small sewing tools. In 1926, the Key West Directory listed the location as an office building.

In 1948, an ambitious local entrepreneur turned the building into a sponge warehouse. By then, the large commercial sponging business of the mid 1800s had ended due to over harvesting and a deadly fungus. However, he was able to hook enough to open a sponging business. He advertised as an "active sponger" who sold his wares wholesale and retail. His business mainly consisted of selling sponges to tourists (see marker #46 for additional information on the sponging industry).

In 1959, the building became the home of a wholesale furniture store. Since then it has been the home of numerous varied businesses and remains a vibrant historic commercial building serving the needs of the Key West community.