On an evening in 1975, 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 Amsterdams 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 1899, his son Milton, a partner in the William Curry and Sons Company, demolished almost all but the cook house to construct the grand Victorian-style mansion that stands on the property today. All that remains are the brick chimney and tiled hearth that once contained the wood-burning stove. According to local lore it is where the Curry’s cook “Aunt Sally” created the celebrated Key Lime Pie.
In 1920, the house passed from the Curry family to a cousin George Allen. The Allen’s were known for their parties and entertained extensively on the third floor. Billiards was a favorite as well as home-made ice cream. Inheriting the house in the 1940’s, were Lilah and Sam Goldsmith who in turn sold it to Dr. Brooks Talton, who lived in the mansion until moving to Charlottesville in 1971. Talton began restoration mid-century and the home was shown on the house tours during the Old Island Days annual celebration in the early 1960’s.
The 22-room mansion sat empty for four years until the Amsterdams rescued it in 1975. 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. The deck and keel of America’s most iconic warship, the USS Constitution, were constructed from this sturdy tree and it is still afloat in Boston Harbor today. The virgin forests are now largely extinct and most commercially available material comes from companies specializing in reclaimed wood. The durable pine is a primary factor the Curry Mansion remains stalwart withstanding the unforgiving environment of the tropics and time for more than 140 years.
Fully intending it as their private home, the Amsterdams began the arduous task of rehabilitation and restoration, but reality and skyrocketing real estate taxes forced them to look at other options. Turning the money pit into a bed and breakfast was the brainchild of their son Bruce Amsterdam. The venture proved to be as successful as William Curry’s extraordinary career.
The kindness and geniality of William Curry is alive and thriving under the guidance of Edith Amsterdam, who has expertly restored and lovingly maintains 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.