The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, located at 205 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida, features 28 first-edition works of the famous ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas in 1832. By the time he left, he had sighted and drawn 18 new birds for his “Birds of America” folio, many of which were probably conceived in the garden. The property’s brick-pathed gardens display orchids, bromeliads, and other tropical foliage, as well as an herb garden and an 1840-style nursery. The house, meanwhile, displays many antique furnishings purchased from European estate sales and auctions. In addition, the Audubon House Gallery, separate from the main house, features a unique collection of 19th century original Audubon art and a comprehensive selection of his images.
The home was originally built in the American Classic Revival style by Captain John Huling Geiger, Key West’s first harbor pilot. It was the home’s beautiful tropical plants, planted by Capt. Geiger, which drew Audubon to it. He even took cuttings from the plants and used them as backgrounds in many of his works, including the White-crowned Pigeon, which has the so-called “Geiger Tree” in the background.
Slated for demolition in 1958, the house was saved by the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation, a nonprofit educational institution, which in 1960 established The Audubon House Museum & Tropical Gardens here, becoming the first restoration project in Key West. With an investment of $250,000, they hired celebrated architect and developer Alfred Milton Evans, who restored the Audubon house using special building techniques of his father Sidney Evans, a known large-ship builder. One such technique was employed for the gradually bending of the wood to be used for the house’s circular archways and stairways. In fact, most of Key West’s landmark homes were built by the Evans family, who lived just a few doors down from Ernest Hemingway. His home, now the Hemingway Museum, is where he wrote “Old Man in the Sea”, which was inspired by his experiences in Key West, including with the Evans family.
- Visited: 2007 (Audubon House Gallery)