The Homes That Wrecking Built
Shipwreck salvagers built some of Key West's most magnificent homes.
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In the 1800s, the misfortunes of mariners off the Florida Keys led to fortunes being made by the "ship wreckers" of Key West. These salvage operators would rescue the crews and cargo of ships run aground on the reefs and sell the cargo at auction. The proceeds were divided between the ship owner and the salvager. By the mid-19th century, wrecking had turned Key West into the wealthiest community per-capita in the United States.
A ship wrecker used his fortune to buy what was the finest house in Key West at the time. Sea captain and salvager Francis Watlington's New England Bahama house features many maritime details including a ship's hatch in the roof.
William Curry started as a wrecker and expanded his business empire until he became the richest man in Key West and Florida's first self-made millionaire.
When he died in 1896 his son used his inheritance to build a grand three-story Victorian mansion resembling a giant wedding cake. The home features a lavish dining room and a reception room furnished with treasures from around the world, including sliding doors incorporating Tiffany glass. Today the home welcomes tourists as the Curry Mansion Inn.