History of the Oldest House

Richard Cussans is credited with building the Oldest House. He was born in the Bahamas in1806 and came to Key West by 1828. A builder and merchant, he constructed the one and a half story house by 1829. According to the 1829 plot map, the house was built on the site of what would become 322 Duval Street.

He rented the home to Francis and Emeline Watlington. They had nine daughters and Emeline eventually owned the house. Although primarily regarded as a sea captain engaged in the booming maritime enterprises of the period, Watlington also served as Harbor Master and as state legislator in 1859; he then joined the Confederate Navy in 1862 in Mobile, Alabama. After the war he resided in Alabama until returning to Key West by 1885, where he died in 1887. Emeline Watlington had died in 1881, leaving the house to her daughters.

Lilie Watlington, Francis and Emeline’s youngest daughter, never married and lived in the house until her death at age 80 in 1936. Earl Johnson, the great grandson of Francis and Emeline, resided in the house until his death in 1972. Thus, 322 Duval Street was occupied by the same family for 140 years.

In 1974 Mrs. Robert Austin, of Islamorada, purchased the house to preserve it and deeded the property to the Historic Key West Preservation Board (later renamed the Historic Florida Keys Foundation). In 1975 the Board negotiated a management contract with the Old Island Restoration Foundation to restore the house and keep it open to the public.

The house has survived fires, floods, hurricanes and repeated economic hardships. It serves as a physical chronicle of the history of Key West and its people from the earliest days to the present.

Links providing adddditional information on OIRF and the Oldest House: