The first settlers in Key West were from the Bahamas and began arriving after Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. John Bartlum a ship’s captain at only 18 years of age was a descendant of a European loyalist family. His Bahama House, at 730 Eaton Street is one of the two Bahamian-built houses in town. The 3-story 3000-square-foot home was built in the early 1800’s in the Bahamian town of Green Turtle Cay. The house was dismantled piece-by-piece in 1847 and shipped to Key West and reconstructed on the current site.
Why would anyone build a home in another country then tear it down and ship it to Key West? Here’s why! Because Key West was an important shipwrecking town like Green Turtle Cay many people were prompted to go there. In 1846 a strong hurricane damaged many homes in Key West causing a critical building materials shortage. Undaunted by the news John Bartlum a prominent Green Turtle resident dismantled his new home board-by-board and brought them over to Key West for re-assembly. The Bartlum home “Bahama House” still stands today providing an excellent example of a Bahamian built home. Green Turtle Cay lost one of its most prominent shipbuilders in John Bartlum, however, he did not break all ties with the Bahamas continuing trade with Nassau. This unique structure, if you look closely has two roofs that form a valley between both helping to collect rainwater in a time when there were no water towers. Captain John Bartlum lived from 1814 – 1871 and is buried in the historic Key West Cemetery.
His home today is a Bed & Breakfast welcoming unsuspecting tourists year round to its prior history and lure. Located only one block from “pedestrian central” Duval Street, this treasured relic sits proudly among a handful of homes distinguished as Key West’s best! I bet my mother, who played here as a child, never once pondered the historical significance as she and her girlfriends played hide-and-seek in the house and attic! 🙂