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The lesser known residents of the Hemingway House

August 19, 2015

If you go to Key West, the Hemingway House is one of the top, if not the top, attractions on the island.  He lived here for ten years, during which he wrote several of his famous works – including “…”The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” plus his novel To Have And Have Not, and the non-fiction work, Green Hills of Africa.”(1)  However, the original owner of the home has an interesting history that is overshadowed by Hemingway’s presence in the home.


Nikon D90, 18-200 lens; edited in LR

The home was built by Asa Tift in 1851 (2) on the second-highest elevation in Key West (at the amazing height of 16 feet).   The elevation allowed the limestone to be excavated for a basement without hitting the shallow water table typical in the area.

Key West became wealthy through the business of marine salvage – the reef around the Keys caused a large number of shipwrecks. The rules of the time awarded the cargo to whomever got to the wreck first, and Tift got rich doing this.


The second floor was Hemingway’s Studio Nikon D90, 18-200 lens, edited in LR

During the Civil War, Tift’s brother Nelson proposed a different way to build ironclad warships for the South.  He enlisted his brother, who had relationship with Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory. The approved plans resulted in the construction of the CSS Mississippi. The ship was meant to be used on the Mississippi around New Orleans, but was never completed. When the Union Navy advanced on New Orleans, the ship was hastily launched so she could escape and be completed, but the attempt failed and she was burned to prevent capture (3). Tift built a fountain on his property to replicate the design of the ironclad:

Nikon D90, 18-200 lens Edited in LR

Nikon D90, 18-200 lens
Edited in LR

Tift died in 1899, outliving his wife and children.  Hemingway occupied the home from 1931-1940, after the house was  in what seems to be a version of probate after Tift’s death.  He lived there with his second wife (Pauline Pfeiffer), who spent considerable more time there than he did (with him being away on assignments related to the Spanish Civil War). Pauline remained in the home until her death in 1951. Her contributions to the home include the swimming pool shown above (Hemingway had a boxing ring there, which she hated).

I found the house to be as much a story of Asa Tift and Pauline Pfeiffer as it is of Hemingway.

  1. Wikipedia:
  3. Wikipedia:

From → Photography

One Comment
  1. Would love to visit this interesting home.


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