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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Sarah Addison House - 916 Center Street, Key West

I have written about the wondrous creations of Key West folk artist Ronny Bailey on several occasions over the past few years. His work is so simple and pure that others think they can do the same thing. According to Ronny, several former builders such as himself have told Ronny they tried to create similar properties only to give up in utter frustration over how long and tedious the task.
Ronny is a Conch born and bred in Key West. He was a builder by trade until he hung up his tool belt a few years back. He started to fiddle with some old Dade County Pine and created his first piece. When his wife saw what he had created, she exclaimed "I didn't know you could do that!" He replied "Neither did I."  And so began his new career as an artist as older man - a man who pays homage to his native hometown re-creating miniature visions of the small homes and businesses that make Key West such a treasured place. The Sarah Addison house at 916 Center Street is one of his latest creations.
Ronny Bailey told me he reclaimed Dade County Pine from the restoration currently underway at the former Pilot Houses guest house at 414 Simonton Street. (That property will appear in an upcoming blog.) Ronny cut and stripped the pine into a variety of shapes and sizes which he then used to replicate Sarah's house and all the pieces that make this little place a piece of art. Even the the roof is reclaimed Dade County Pine refashioned into a different form.
Ronny shared a written history of the home researched and retold by Sharon Wells. 916 Center Street was the home of Sarah Addison. Monroe County records show that the lot at 916 Center Street was purchased on July 13, 1874 by Sarah Addison a Florida born black woman "with roots in the Bahamas". She paid $175 for the lot. The 1884 "birds eye view" map of Key West shows a 1 1/2 story house located near Division Street (previously known as Rocky Road and now known as Truman Avenue.) The 1885 tax assessment valued the improved lot at $300. On March 18, 1889 Sarah married Joseph Pain (Payne).  The 1887 Bensel Directory noted Jospeh Payne to be a butcher and  "c" for colored. Payne resided in this house until his death in 1912 at age 51. According to Sharon Wells, Sarah Addison Payne lived at 916 Center Street until her death in 1923. Sarah had six children, worked as a cook, and never remarried.   
Sarah, the black cat, the cocky rooster, the rocker, the tea kettle and the coal stove upon which it sits, the ice box and even the kitchen sink were carved or fashioned out of Dade County Pine. You will quickly note that instead of being all bright and looking freshly painted, this house and the personal property and animals show the wear of time and grime.
Ronny removed the back panel so that I could photograph the interior. Ronny took the time to make the inside as perfect as he did the outside. Note the ripped down version of the Dade County Pine interior walls and the simple interior trim.You can click any photo to make it larger. If you click the photo of the icebox, coal stove, and sink you'll see the words PEACE, LOVE, and JOY on shelve over the sink. These are the watchwords of Ronny Bailey's life. You'll find these words on some part of each piece he creates.
I found a photo of 916 Center Street taken in 1965 which was about 70 years after the house was built. I took a photo of the place this morning. Today the house is but a part of a vacation rental conglomerate that services this part of Old Town. Alas, Rocky Road and the stuff of yore is no more. But thanks to Ronny Bailey the little houses and businesses of our past can live long into our futures.
If your are thinking about buying a home or business in Key West, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or send me an email at I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Key West.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gary - Thanks for continuing to do the features on Ronnie Bailey’s creations. It’s nice to learn a little history of Key West as well as enjoy the work of a very talented (and patient) local artist.

Terry R


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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.