February 11

Cayo Hueso y Cuba


Cayo Hueso & Cuban Independence.

Key West, Florida, and Cuba have a long and intertwined history that dates back to the colonial period. Key West (called Cayo Hueso by Cubans) was a significant port city in the 19th century and was a popular stopping point for ships traveling between the United States and Cuba. As a result, many Cuban exiles and immigrants made their way to Key West, and the city became a hub for Cuban culture and politics. 

Jose Marti - San Carlos

Jose Marti  Statue at Club San Carlos

Key West Cuban Cigars

Cubans brought to Key West their passion for Cuban independence, love for their homeland, and many trades. The city's location made it a natural hub for trade with Cuba, which was then one of the largest producers of cigars in the world. As a result, many Cuban cigar makers and traders made their way to Key West, and the city became a significant center of cigar production and trade.

During the rolling of the cigars, it was common to find a Cigar Factory Lector; workers would form a committee and select a "Lector," whose whole job was to read the workers the news, novels, and even classical works of literature. All the workers will contribute money and pay the lectors. A tradition that was first devised in Havana, Cuba, in the mid-1800s and is still being carried out today in Cuban cigar factories. 

Eduardo's Gato Cigar Factory. (Photo courtesy of SwampysFlorida)

Club San Carlos

The San Carlos Institute was founded by Cuban immigrants in Key West in 1871; this was the most important gathering place for Cubans leaders and the whole community to support Cuba's independence from Spain. Initially, it consisted of a small wooden building supported by substantial donations from cigar factory workers. 

After visiting Tampa, Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero, visited Key West on December 25, 1891, and January 5, 1892. Cubans in Key West were the most significant and wealthiest community; however, many political divisions existed. Marti came to Key West and created the bases for what later will become the "Partido Revolucionario Cubano" (Cuban Revolutionary party), unifying Cubans from Tampa, Key west, and New york.

After a hurricane damaged the building beyond repair, the Cuban republic invested 80,000 dollars in reconstructing the building. On October 10, 1924, the new Club San Carlos was inaugurated. The building was designed by Francisco Centurion, one of the most renowned Cuban architects of the time. 

San Carlos Institute - Key West a photograph by Frank J Benz.

San Carlos Theater

San Carlos Institute Library

Throughout the 20th century, Key West and Cuba continued to be connected by political, economic, and cultural ties. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 led to a significant influx of Cuban immigrants to Key West, and the city remains a hub of Cuban-American culture today. Despite Cuba's political and economic turmoil, the connection between Key West and the island remains strong. Many Cuban Americans in Key West maintain close ties with their families and communities in Cuba.

To learn more, visit:
Instituto San Carlos
Key West Historial Society



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