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Key West bed and breakfast features 149 years of history and elegance

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For a $5 fee, guests gather in an elegant foyer to learn about the history of Curry Mansion Inn in Key West and its patriarch William Curry. Paneled in bird's-eye maple, with hand-wrought spindle accents and Tiffany glass sliding doors, a tour guide shares information about the home’s first inhabitants who homesteaded in 1855. The house is built of Dade County Pine which is resistant to termites.
William Curry’s descendants erected several Curry mansions in Key West, in addition to the bed and breakfast inn at 511 Caroline Street. While his home evolved into one of the most elaborate in town, it may have been eclipsed by his children’s homes. In fact, the Southernmost House near the Southernmost Point was built by daughter Florida Curry and her husband who was a surgeon during the Civil War.
The house on Caroline Street is renowned for the 360-degree view from its widow’s walk as well as for its kitchen, in which the first Key Lime pie was made by “Aunt Sally,” a cook who used a wood-burning stove. And, an electric chandelier from Prague, Frank Lloyd Wright American Handicraft light in the dining room and other light fixtures are original to the home.
William Curry, a Bahamian immigrant, came to Key West penniless in 1837 from Green Turtle Cay. He worked as a clerk and various other professions through the years including as a shipwreck salvager, which eventually gave him the status of Key West's and Florida’s first millionaire. He finished building the mansion in 1869, the year of his fiftieth anniversary with wife Euphemia Lowe.
According to the website, the home’s architectural details incorporated elements of many ports-of-call: the widow's walk of New England, the ornate trellises and balustrades of New Orleans and the columns and colonnades of the Deep South. Curry died in January 1896.
In 1899, Curry's son, Milton, demolished almost all but the stone kitchen, re-building and making the house grander by furnishing it with the 18th-century antiques and Victorian pieces gracing the parlor today. Three fireplaces warm the house, in a land with an overall average high temperature of 83 degrees and an average low of 73 degrees!
From the entryway, guests will tour the formal parlor, piano room, library and dining room staged with Haviland china and replicas of the Curry family's original solid 18-karat gold Tiffany flatware service for 24. Curry began purchasing the custom gold pieces in 1878 when gold was $20 an ounce.
On the second floor are four guest bedrooms, which are open for viewing when not occupied by bed and breakfast guests. On the third floor is a billiard room which offered a comfortable spot for entertaining, since its windows were above the treetops and open to the island’s breezes. The Allens, cousins to the Currys, owned the home in the 1920s, and billiards and homemade ice cream were offered often.
Fifty years later, the home sat abandoned and squatters moved in. But its visual appeal was not lost.
In 1975, Al Amsterdam docked his yacht in Key West's harbor and took a stroll with his wife, Edith, through downtown. The Amsterdams were the owners of Casa Blanca on Cherry Island in upstate New York's Alexandria Bay, and were especially fond of historic homes. Edith spied the “wedding-cake white mansion” aglow with the light of its crystal chandeliers. A for-sale sign hung in the yard. Fortunately for Key West visitors, the Amsterdams promptly bought what was to become the Curry Mansion Inn, and it has been their family’s winter home ever since.
They spent five years restoring the Curry Mansion, and none appreciated it more than the tax man, who raised the annual assessment from $800 to $22,000 in 1980. The Amsterdams then decided to make it a bed and breakfast inn, building a two-floor guest wing with 16 rooms in 1989, and six years later, acquiring the house across the street which added eight more elegant bedrooms with sitting rooms or balconies to the Curry Mansion Inn. Steps from Duval Street and several Key West attractions, the Curry Mansion Inn aims to be a luxurious home away from home.
Annually around Valentines Day, Edith Amsterdam hosts an elaborate block party which benefits the Wesley House for disadvantaged youth.
Room rates range from $205 to $360 depending on season and amenities. All include free parking, private bath, refrigerators, a full breakfast and a two-hour cocktail party each evening.
For more information, call 800-253-3466 or 305-294-5349 or visit www.currymansion.com.

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