Key West's Heritage House, Robert Frost cottage closing
Historic home integral part of the WPA
By SEAN KINNEY
Posted - Saturday, January 30, 2010 11:26 AM EST
By SEAN KINNEY
The Key West Heritage House, purchased by Jessie Porter in 1934 and opened as a museum in 1995, is set to close in April after providing a unique glimpse into Key West's past for 15 years.
Also closing is the Robert Frost Cottage behind the building at 410 Caroline St. The famed poet accompanied his ailing wife Elinor to the Southernmost City several times in the 1930s and stayed and worked in the house.
The closing is planned for April 17. The museum operators are offering free admission on April 16 and 17 to anyone wishing to view the home and art collection. Until then, the Heritage House has guided tours daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $9 and self-guided tours for $6.
"It's too bad, but the museum is not supporting itself and the family for years has been putting money into the operation just to keep the doors open," museum board member Bridget McDonald told the Keynoter.
"We have really tried everything to keep the museum open. We just haven't been able to generate the kind of income it needs, including the number of visitors. It's just not a very profitable business."
The Porter family, multi-generational Conchs, played a pivotal role in shaping the tourism-based Key West familiar to vacationers worldwide. Joseph Porter, a physician, is largely credited with clearing the island of malaria during the 1800s; he lived on the same block as the Heritage House.
William Porter, a local banker when the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, helped persuade federal authorities to invest New Deal money into the isolated and largely impoverished island.
"That was the beginning of Key West as a tourist destination," McDonald said, "and part of that was the [Works Progress Administration] art project."
In 1934, then-Gov. Dave Sholtz assigned Julius Stone, then state administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, to come up with a plan. In no time, Stone, whose likeness can be see in the Key West Sculpture Garden near Mallory Square, realized that Key West needed to become a cultural tourist destination.
Relief officials brought in artists from all over the world to reinvent Key West by fashioning public art pieces, painting appealing postcards, setting up dramatic and choral groups, and even teaching art classes to community members.
One of those artists was Townsend Morgan, world renowned for his etchings. Morgan headed up teaching art classes in Key West under the WPA and some of his works are on display at the Heritage House, along with contemporary Alice Breedin and others in the ongoing exhibit "WPA: Inspired by the Depression."
For more information on the Heritage House, Robert Frost Cottage and the upcoming traveling writer workshop Feb. 19 to 22, check out www.heritagehousemuseum.org . For more on the 16th annual Robert Frost Poetry Festival on April 11, check out www.robertfrostpoetryfestival.com .