96. Solares Hill

Historic Marker #96 located at 623 Angela Street between Simonton and Elizabeth Streets.

This historic site marks the highest point in Key West. It measures 18 feet above sea level. Its height became increasingly important as low level development fell prey to flooding from heavy storms and hurricanes.

In the early 1800s, Solares Hill was known as The Woods. It was a small timber forest standing at the outskirts of town. The hill and surrounding neighborhood was later named Solares Hill for Mr. Solares who had a grocery store on the hill in the late 1800s.

Locally, hurricanes are recognized as being wind or water events depending on the nature of destruction they bring. Key West's strongest and most devastating hurricane in history was the Havana Hurricane of 1846 (see Historic Marker # 40). The storm hit the island as a Category 4 hurricane bringing extensive wind driven flooding to the island. Torrents of seven foot waves ravaged the town as they washed over the island from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

It is recorded that many of the people that survived the storm crawled to Solares Hill and clung to trees and vegetation to ride out the storm. After the storm, only 8 buildings were habitable; the lighthouse had been washed out to sea drowning 14 people, the City Cemetery at Higgs Beach was unearthed, and a salt pond that ran through the center of the town was cut off from the harbor (for more on salt ponds and salt production, see historical marker #56).

In response to the hurricane's destruction, the city made a concerted effort to relocate the damaged areas closer to Solares Hill's high ground. The City Cemetery was relocated two blocks from the hill, and the lighthouse was reconstructed on high ground. The salt pond was filled in and became part of the land that downtown Key West is built on.

Historically, Key West's livelihood has depended on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf water that surrounds us. However, one must be equally cognizant of the dangers inherent in living on low, relatively flat land surrounded by water and subjected to the whims of Mother Nature.