On an evening in 1973, Edith and Al Amsterdam docked their yacht in Key West’s harbor and took a stroll along Caroline Street. It was there Edith spied a wedding-cake white mansion aglow with the light of its crystal chandeliers. It was a most fortuitous day for the Amsterdam’s and the future of Key West, as a “For Sale” sign was hanging in the yard.
Over a century earlier a penniless youth sailed from the Bahamas to Key West. It was 1837, and the island was occupied mostly by fishermen and wreckers. He found work as a clerk and after what can only be called a phenomenally successful career that spanned more than forty years, he had created an empire that encompassed merchandising, wrecking and shipbuilding. William Curry had arrived. He is considered to be the first self-made millionaire in the State of Florida. William built his home in 1869, on the site the family had homesteaded since 1855. In 1901, his son Milton, a partner in the William Curry and Sons Company, purchased the home from the heirs and demolished almost all but the cook house to construct the elaborate Georgian Revival mansion that stands on the property today. All that remains are the brick chimney and tiled hearth that once contained the wood-burning stove. Most accounts agree it was in this kitchen that the heretofore unidentified “Aunt Sally” created the Key West Pie. We now have reason to believe that she was Sarah Jane Lowe, wife of William’s oldest son Charles.
In 1920, the house passed from the Curry family. It was owned by two other families before the Amsterdam’s rescued it in 1973. The once beautiful structure with its carved Birdseye maple throughout the interior had fallen on hard times and the years of neglect had taken its toll.
The saving grace was that the house had been constructed of Dade County Pine. This slow-growing variety with a high content of resinous heart wood made the species rigid and strong, accounting for its inherent resistance to rot and insects.
Fully intending it as their private home, the Amsterdam’s began the arduous task of rehabilitation and restoration, but reality and skyrocketing real estate taxes forced them to look at other options. The home was turned into bed and breakfast in 1988 and has been operating continuously since. The venture has proved to be as successful as William Curry’s extraordinary career.
The kindness and geniality of William Curry remained alive and thriving under the guidance of Edith Amsterdam, who expertly restored and lovingly maintained one of Key West’s most important buildings. Her love and care of the historic landmark has given Key West and its visitors from around the globe the opportunity to experience a rare look into the past.