Hemingway first visited Key West in 1929, and within his first few weeks there he finished writing A Farewell to Arms. After two years of vacations to the island, he and his wife Pauline decided to make Key West their home. They purchased this house on Whitehead Street in 1931.
The house was built in 1851 by Asa Tift, the owner of a large salvaging company whose underwater finds can be viewed in the Key West Shipwreck Historeum. The home is a 2-story Spanish Colonial, and was constructed of native limestone blocks that were hewn from the ground directly under the house.
Hemingway planned the building of a grand swimming pool on the property, which ended up being 60 feet long. When he went away to work as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, Pauline took over the building of the pool. When Hemingway returned and heard the final cost of the pool - $20,000 – he stated that he might as well give away his last penny, and placed one in the drying cement. You can still see the penny there today, embedded at the north end of the pool.
Hemingway entertained many good friends at his home, including Charles Thompson, Joe Russell (also known as Sloppy Joe), Captain Eddie "Bra" Saunders, as well as old friends from Paris who became known around town as “The Mob." The Mob would go fishing together for days or weeks at a time, in the Dry Tortugas, Bimini, and Cuba. Hemingway’s nickname in The Mob was “Papa.”
Hemingway and Pauline divorced in 1940, and he went on to live in Cuba. However, Pauline and their 2 sons stayed in the home until Pauline’s death in 1951. Hemingway made frequent trips to Key West from then until his death in 1961, and during these visits he stayed in the home along with his 4th wife, Mary.
After Hemingway died, his sons sold the house to a local businesswoman, Bernice Dickson. She opened the home up as a museum in 1964, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968. The extravagant swimming pool was the first residential pool built in Key West, and is still the longest pool on the island. And the estate is still the single largest residential property on the island.
Visiting the Home and Gardens
The home and museum are open every day, including holidays, from 9 am to 5 pm. Thirty-minute guided tours are offered every 15 minutes or so. Tour guides will tell you about Hemingway’s life in Key West, and point out the furniture, art, and household items of his that still remain in the home.
The living room contains many pieces that Pauline collected while living in Paris, including her chandelier collection, and a 17th century Spanish chest that she used as a writing desk. Hemingway was an avid collector of Spanish furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries, and you’ll see several examples from his collection. He also collected art, and some of his pieces are still present including a painting of St. Paul's Church by Eugene Otto, and a lithograph of his shipmate and friend Gregorio Fuentes.
Hemingway’s studio still looks much like it did when he lived there. You’ll see his typewriter, chair, and personal knick-knacks. It was in this studio that he worked on such novels as Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, To Have And Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, plus a number of short stories including "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
The home also features some trophy mounts and animal skins that Hemingway displayed from his safaris in Africa and hunting trips out west. You’ll also meet the many cats that roam the property (more than 60 of them), including a number of 6-toed cats that descend from Hemingway’s own pet cat, Snowball.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum Details
- Address: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West
- Phone: 305-294-1575
- Web Site: http://www.hemingwayhome.com