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Key West

Key West, city (1990 pop. 24,832), seat of Monroe co., S Fla., on an island at the southwestern extremity of the Florida Keys; inc. 1828. About 150 mi (240 km) from Miami (but only 90 mi/145 km from Cuba), it is the southernmost city of the continental United States. It is a port of entry and a cruise-ship stop, a popular resort with a tropical climate, a shrimping and fishing center, and an artists' colony. Tropical fruits are harvested, but tourism is central to the economy.

Early Spanish sailors called the site Cayo Hueso (Bone Island), because of the human bones they found there. A railroad (completed 1912) linked the Keys with the mainland. It was abandoned after being damaged by a hurricane in 1935 and was replaced by the 123-mi (198-km) Overseas Highway (completed in 1938). After a severe economic decline, the federal government took over (1934) the bankrupt city.

Places of interest include a sponge pier, an aquarium, a lighthouse (1846; replacing one built in 1825), Mallory Square (a daily sunset-viewing point), and two Civil War forts. John James Audubon and Winslow Homer painted in Key West, and the city was used as a setting in the works of Ernest Hemingway, who once lived there. His home (built 1851) was made a museum, as was the Little White House, President Harry S. Truman's personal retreat.

See C. Cox, A Key West Companion (1983).

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Florida Keys

Florida Keys, chain of coral and limestone islands and reefs, c.150 mi (240 km) long, extending from Virginia Key, S of Miami Beach, to Key West, and forming the southern extremity of Florida. Between the Keys and the mainland lies Florida Bay; they are separated from Cuba by the Straits of Florida. Many of the islands, the best known of which are Key Largo and Key West, have resort developments. The Keys are also noted for their commercial fisheries, diving zones, subtropical vegetation, and variety of wildlife. In the 1990s concern over population growth, increased traffic, and degradation of reefs and local water grew. The first U.S. undersea park, at Key Largo, has noted coral formations. Most of the islands are linked to the mainland by the Overseas Highway (completed 1938), which has 42 bridges.

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Key Largo

Key Largo, narrow island, c.30 mi (48 km) long, off S Fla., largest of the Florida Keys. Along with other Florida Keys, especially Key West, it has become an increasingly popular tourist spot, noted for its scuba diving, nightlife, and beachside resorts. Housing developments and shopping complexes have been recently constructed. A major attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater park in the United States, containing c.78 sq mi (202 sq km) of living coral and hundreds of varieties of marine life. Also offshore is the Aquarius habitat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's permanent undersea laboratory.

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