The Key West Custom House opened in April of 1891. Key West’s harsh subtropical climate took an immediate toll on the building as the salty air eroded parts of it while the hurricanes of 1909, 1910, and 1919 caused considerable damage.
The new building, built in 1926, housed Key West’s Customs Offices, District Court, and Post Office. When it first opened, the building was occupied on the first floor by the postal and customs services, with the second floor containing the court room and court offices, while the lighthouse inspector and other government officials were housed on the third floor. During its prime, the Custom House heard thousands of cases and judgments ranging from rum runners to ship salvaging claims. The most significant proceedings dealt with the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor, which lead to the Spanish-American War.
Seward Johnson is an artist and his works can be regularly seen in front of the Custom House. The statues change often. The life-like sculptures are of everyday people in real clothing and then encased in bronze. Seward Johnson is the grandson of the Johnson & Johnson co-founder and often donates sculptures to the town, where his is a part-time resident, and his pieces can be found in several places around Key West as well as inside the museum.
WAITING TO CROSS
DANCE IN THE COUNTRY
The “Dance in the Country" statue was modeled after the Renoir painting below.
PONDERING THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
A LITTLE TO THE RIGHT