Old Town Key West contains several micro neighborhoods. One of the nicest of these is called The Meadows. (Map here). The Meadows is entirely residential and is criss-crossed with narrow, tree shaded streets named Olivia, Georgia, Petronia and Pearl. Most homes in The Meadows date to the first decades of the 1900’s. Simple yet remarkably solid structures, they sit shoulder to shoulder, have weathered windstorm and fire and offer personality personified. But - what’s with the name - The Meadows?
Was The Meadows grass land for a dairy?
Modern folklore says The Meadows was open terrain for a successful dairy c. 1900 named Cold's Dairy. Maps dating from the mid 1880's show a prominent house, still standing, recently and beautifully restored, alone on White St. near the intersection of Olivia St. This was the Cold's family house and it stood virtually solo in The Meadows. The award winning restoration of the house and grounds in 2006 - 2008 revealed numerous dairy artifacts and scores of bones of dairy cows.
So indeed there was a dairy in The Meadows. Key West records show there were half a dozen dairies in Key West around the same period and continuing into the 1940's. These dairies were small, family owned businesses where home delivery meant if you couldn't get to the dairy, the cow was walked to your door!
But - was The Meadows anything resembling a meadow?
In the beginning
This original survey from 1847 by William Whitehead shows "The Meadows" area to the right side of the map, below the Military Barracks and identified as Section 7. At that time a detailed survey went only to the Old Town streets named Passover Lane and Angela St., streets just to the west and north of the cemetery, because hardly anyone lived outside of that area. Also notice, behind the Military Barracks is shoreline and bay water. That entire area is now land dredged up during construction of the railroad.
In fact, the cemetery had just been bought by the city to replace the original cemetery destroyed by an October 1846 hurricane.
But does this mean the undeveloped Meadows region of the mid to late 1800's was a grassland for the Cold's dairy?
All these maps showing Key West from 1889 to 1912 are from www.ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00074185
By all records The Meadows was outlands in the late 1800's, sparsely populated except for the military barracks and docks for the loading and unloading of military related goods and services.
By 1892 there existed a large cigar factory at the corner of Newton St. and White St. (Bottom left in the photo). The factory had been there for a dozen years and as you can see, in the area were many homes for workers, a restaurant and a bakery. This area, across from it on White St. and east along Newton St. towards the harbor grew in populace and prosperity as cigars brought wealth and notoriety to Key West.
The cigar boom in Key West died away by the mid 1920's. Cigar manufacturers moved to Marti (outside Ocala, FL) and Ybor City, Tampa plus cigarettes became more fashionable. The factory and all the surrounding buildings, 43 homes in all, on Newton, Angela, Ashe and White Sts. burned to the ground on March 20,1923. At that time, the factory had been abandoned and no cause for the fire was determined.
Here comes the Railroad
The Florida East Coast Railway brought enormous changes to The Meadows. The Meadows was the closest undeveloped land to the railroad work areas and homes went up in a hurry. New ground dredged from bay bottom, Hilton Haven and Trumbo Pt. (Named for Howard Trumbo who owned the dredging company), were kept for the railroad so The Meadows was the natural site for residential development.
Workers and families built their homes of Dade County Pine, using the time honored techniques of architect-sailors, that being mortise and tenon to provide a firm yet flexible structure.
A few well-heeled also built in The Meadows, Key West native Judge Jefferson Browne and hard hittin' newspaper editor Charles B. Pendleton among them. More recently, Sloppy Joe Russell and Sally Rand have owned and lived in The Meadows.
But what of Cold's Dairy?
Cold's Farm house stood alone on White St., dominating the dirt road that was the eastern boundary of Key West. Not another house shared the area. In the 1880's and 1890's and early 1900's, block after block of The Meadows were uninhabited.
By 1899 there appears a property line on the eastern side of Cold's Farm house. Whether this indicates merely a survey line on the chart or that property had been bought or sold on the block is unknown.
The interior of The Meadows remained completely undeveloped but with the railroad "comin' to town" it could be that property lines were in the process of being formalized.
Now 1912 and Cold's Farm house has a new neighbor to its south and many homes have been built on the block going east towards Georgia St. Every block in The Meadows has several new homes, single and in compounds. The dairy gives way to the housing boom brought on by the railroad. Whether the dairy was bought out and merged with another or expired completely I could not determine. Remarkably, every home in this picture is still there - over 100 years!
Of note, my house is directly across the street from Cold's Farm house, 3rd in from the Olivia St. intersection. It looks like a fat upside down "T" with a cistern colored blue.
Today, The Meadows is a charming place to live. It's narrow streets are colored by poinciana, frangiapani and bouganvilla and are very bicycle friendly. Neighbors walk their dogs while enjoying a morning cup of coffee.
Homes of cigar makers and railroad workers have been remade into hideaways for writers, artists and snow birds. Larger homes or up/down apt. bldgs have been restyled into single family treasures. All the modern comforts of renovation blend with the rough hewn lumber and 11' pitched roofs of the 1920s. Pocket gardens. Dip pools. Street parking. All in all, charming homes.
And so The Meadows - a home for last century's dairy, then hard laboring entrepreneurs and now homesteaders and hideaways. Come as you are, behave well and enjoy the ride.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me here.
Thank you and Good luck.