A Brief History Of The Ernest Hemingway House In Key West

The Hemingway House, Key West, Florida | Sam Howzit/Flickr
The Hemingway House, Key West, Florida | Sam Howzit/Flickr
Photo of Laurence Kidd
22 August 2016

It often seems as though you could travel anywhere in the world and still find a bibliophile who has read one or several of Ernest Hemingway’s novels or short stories. Having been both an ambulance driver and a war correspondent in Italy during the First World War, Hemingway witnessed a devastating loss of life that would prompt him to write a semi-autobiographical novel, Farewell To Arms. After the war, Hemingway was convinced by a friend to cross the Atlantic and head to Key West, Florida. After a brief yet influential stay in Havana, Cuba, Ernest and his wife Pauline wound up in Key West in 1928, where he would finish writing his timeless classic. Ernest and Pauline Hemingway fell in love with the Florida Keys, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here, a brief history of the famous Hemingway House.

The Entrance to the Hemingway House | Roger W/Flickr

The house was actually a gift to the newlywed couple from Pauline’s rich uncle, Gus, who purchased the estate in 1931. The home was in disrepair when the Hemingways took ownership, but both Ernest and Pauline could see beyond the rubble and ruin and appreciated the grand architecture and stateliness of the home. Constructed from native rock, the house was built in the Spanish Colonial style in 1851. The massive restoration and remodeling they undertook in the early 1930s turned the home into the National Historical Landmark that thousands of tourists visit and enjoy today.

Hemingway lived in this house from 1931 to 1939, years during which he wrote some of his greatest novels as well as short stories and poems. Among the most famous works that Hemingway completed in the Key West estate include were Death in The Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and To Have and Have Not.

The Hemingway House was originally built in 1851 | Pixabay

One of the most intriguing features of the Hemingway estate is its pool. Not an inexpensive project, its construction cost a whopping $20,000 (roughly equivalent to $340,000 today). At the time, it was the first in-ground pool to be built in Key West and was the only pool of its kind within a 100-mile radius.

The Hemingway Pool | Hein Muck/Wikipedia Commons

There is certainly an element of vintage appeal throughout the house. The paintings, chandeliers, and other architectural details, which have been immaculately preserved over the years, foster a sense that time has magically stood still at the Hemingway house.

Visitors often revel in the small details of the old house, whose best features are often not obvious and require some close attention in order to enjoy their true antiquated beauty. Hemingway was in fact an avid collector of furniture from Spain from the 17th and 18th centuries, and his 18th-century Walnut Secretary, complete with hidden compartments, remains one of the home’s most popular displays.

Hemingway's writing desk | Wikipedia Commons

Finally, a history of the Hemingway house isn’t complete without mentioning the cats. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately 40-50 polydactyl cats, most of whose ancestry can be traced back to Snow White, the cat that Ernest Hemingway was given by a ship’s captain at some point during his stay on the island. The cats have provided amusement for the visitors of the Hemingway house for decades. Cats with extra toes.. isn’t that reason enough to visit?!

Hemingway cat and house. From the Dale McDonald Collection | Florida Keys Public Library/Flickr

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