Walter's father came to Key West from Turks Island, of the Bahamas. Walter was reared in Key West and at 15 decided to learn the art of cigar making. He later established the Cortez Cigar Company, which employed more than 300 cigar makers and rolled over a million cigars.
The infamous Key West fire of 1886 wiped out the island and all of its cigar manufacturers including Cortez Cigars. For the next decade, Mr. Lightbourn would go back and forth between newly independent Cuba and Key West. As Cuba gained independence, he sought after the opportunity to purchase plantations, as he would eventually oversee and control the entire tabacco growing operation. Walter died at his plantation in Batabano, Cuba but he was buried in the Key West Cemetery.
After the death of Mr. Lightbourn, the factory was robbed and set on fire by the infamous Florida Keys gangster Dutchy Melville and his gang. Dutchy was famous for robbing cigar factories and torching them to hide the evidence. He was found guilty and sentenced on May 14th, 1908. After calling in several favors with family members, Melville could no longer avoid prosecution and was found guilty of grand theft and arson of the Cortez Cigar factory. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison but quickly escaped and fled to the Everglades.
Melville ended up going to work for Edgar Watson. What Melville didn’t know was that Watson was a serial killer and none of his help ever left the farm. Melville met the same fate and was killed by 2 of Watson’s groundskeepers.
I stayed in Walter's House on my trip. His original house is now called La Pensione Inn, located at 809 Truman Ave, Key West, FL 33040. I didn't know it was his. I picked the house because the cemetery was 2 blocks away. After checking in, I read about the history of the house in a little card in the room and was happily surprised.