Florida Keys or Bust! A History of Tourism

The Florida Keys have historically been an alluring travel destination for travelers around the world.  With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, tourism in Key West was the lynchpin in warding off bankruptcy.   This exhibit will explore the history of tourism in the Florida Keys from the 1860s until the 1980s while focusing specifically on transportation, accommodation, travel brochures and postcards

Florida Keys or Bust!

As America became more interconnected via railroads in the late 19th century and cars in the early 20th century, the Florida Keys remained relatively isolated.  The railroad would not reach Key West until 1912 and a continuous road from the mainland not until 1938.  For the decades after the American Civil War, Key West was in many senses closer to Cuba and the Caribbean than to the mainland United States, both in terms of miles and also its economy.  Many who visited the islands in the post-Civil War 19th century and the early decades of the 20th praised the Florida Keys, describing them as different, exotic and unique.  Their weather, ambiance, flora, isolation, diverse population and relative tolerance contrasted with most other communities in the United States.

This exhibition focuses on the development of the Florida Keys and Key West as tourist destinations.  It takes you through the islands’ history to discover why the Keys maintain their allure for travelers.  Why did tourists want to come to the Florida Keys and how did they get here?  Once they were here, where did they stay and what activities were available for them?  And just who were these tourists?  Were they people in search of the perfect climate to recuperate from health concerns or were they members of the gay community coming to Key West to enjoy its ‘come as you are’ attitude?

No matter who they were or why they came here, the Florida Keys soon emerged as one of the most celebrated tourist destinations in the world.  The islands continually evolve in order to meet the demands of a burgeoning tourism economy.

Journey through the history of tourism and find out what makes the Florida Keys such an unsurpassed location to visit.