Key West is packed with history to explore. At Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum the Florida island’s seaside history is saluted. When visiting Key West Lighthouse you learn about the crucial function it has played over the years and enjoy the best views on the island.
Disclosure: This guide contains carefully selected affiliate links through which we may earn commission when you make a purchase. Learn more ›
The history of Key West Lighthouse
The first lighthouse in Key West was brought down by a hurricane in 1846. In 1848 the new and current lighthouse was ready to serve. When you visit Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum you accompanied by the magnificent views get the chance to indulge in some fascinating Key West history.
The first Key West Lighthouse
Key West’s first lighthouse guarded safe arrivals of ships in Key West from 1825. Its first lighthouse keeper was a man named Michael Mabrity. He made sure that ships could travel safely in the Key West waters. But under unfortunate circumstances he died in 1832, leaving his position vacant.
Michael’s wife Barbara decided to step forward and she became the new head keeper of the Key West Lighthouse. She successfully served as lighthouse keeper for many years.
However, the 65 feet (20 m) tall structure couldn’t handle the Great Havana Hurricane of 1846. The hurricane was too much to handle for the structure and Key West’s first lighthouse was brought down by the strong winds.
The second Key West Lighthouse
A need for a new lighthouse was evident and soon the plans for a second Key West Lighthouse took form. It was decided to make the new Key West Lighthouse slightly less tall, and to place it further inland than its original position.
The new Key West Lighthouse was given a humble height of 50 feet (15 m). But the new position, the same spot as the Key West Lighthouse stands on today, is at 15 feet (5 m) above sea level. That’s significantly higher above the sea level than the original location, which therefore compensated for the lower height. The new Key West Lighthouse was ready to serve in 1848.
Since the second Key West Lighthouse was completed in 1848 it has continued to help sailors navigate the Key West waters. Barbara Mabrity continued as a keeper until 1864. Later, descendants to her have followed in her footsteps and served as lighthouse keepers for Key West Lighthouse.
Giving the lighthouse a new lantern in 1874 increased the height of the tower with a few feet. But as Key West grew so did its buildings and trees. Therefore, the Key West Lighthouse tower structure was improved and raised with another 20 feet (6 m) in 1894.
The improvements in 1894 gives us the Key West Lighthouse in the dimensions that we find it today on Whitehead Street. With its strategic position on one of the highest spots in Key West and the improvements in 1894 it reaches to a height of about 90 feet (27 m) above sea level.
After filling an important function for many years the Key West Lighthouse was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1969. Due to technological advancements its original function wasn’t needed any longer. Nevertheless, it today stands as a proud dedication to the maritime heritage of Key West.
What to expect when visiting Key West Lighthouse
A visit to Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum is for anyone who enjoys beautiful views or want to indulge in the proud maritime history of Key West.
To reach the top of the Key West Lighthouse you climb 88 steps up on a spiral staircase to the crown. From there you have unbeatable panoramic views out over Key West.
Many people come mostly for the amazing bird-eye perspective that you get from the top of Key West Lighthouse. But the Keeper’s Quarters Museum is what brings more depth to a visit.
The Keeper’s Quarters Museum that is located just next to the lighthouse presents information about the important role that the lighthouse has played for the island.
When the lighthouse was built the times in Key West were very different compared to today. Imagine more ships, fewer houses and a rather lonely lighthouse. How was it to be a lighthouse keeper and why was the role so crucial for the area? That and much more you find out when you visit the Keeper’s Quarters Museum.
In the Quarters Museum you can explore photos and possessions from the lighthouse keepers who served in a now very distant time. Also, among the artifacts on display in the Key West Keeper’s Quarters Museum a fresnel lens from Sombrero Key Lighthouse especially stands out.
Tips for visiting Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum
A few tips can make your visit to the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum even better.
- Go a clear day. The views are always amazing from the top of Key West Lighthouse. But if you’re in town for more than one day it’s a good idea to plan to visit the clearest day. The clearer the day, the more you see from the top.
- Wear closed-toed shoes. It’s certainly not impossible to climb the rather narrow 88 steps to the top of Key West Lighthouse with flip flops. However, it’s much easier and more comfortable to take on the spiral staircase with closed-toed shoes.
- Combine with Hemingway’s Home. Another great Key West place to visit is Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. And it’s located straight across from the lighthouse. As the story goes Ernest Hemingway needed the light from the Key West Lighthouse to get back to his house after his wet nights out.
More things to do near Key West Lighthouse
Key West Lighthouse is just one of many Key West attractions. Just across the street from the lighthouse you find Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.
Other popular places to visit in Key West are Southernmost Point, Mile Marker 0, Sloppy Joe’s, Fort Zachary Taylor and Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.
From Key West Lighthouse
- Ernest Hemingway Home: Across the street
- Southernmost Point: 0.3 mi / 0.5 km
- Key West Butterfly Garden: 0.4 mi / 0.6 km
- Mile Marker 0: 0.4 mi / 0.6 km
- Sloppy Joe’s: 0.7 mi / 1.1 km
- Mallory Square: 0.9 mi / 1.4 km
- Fort Zachary Taylor: 1.1 mi / 1.8 km
Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum FAQ
Key West Lighthouse is located at 938 Whitehead Street on the island of Key West in Florida. Across the street, you find Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.
Visitors often spend up to one hour exploring the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum.
Make the most of every trip with our newsletter delivered to your inbox.