Front Street curves with the far western contours of Key West. Past the Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, and bustling shops and restaurants, it travels south into a quiet neighborhood where there’s a white clapboard building surrounded by a spacious lawn.
Although the building is large, it doesn’t seem to possess the honorable standing that it has as the Harry S. Truman Little White House and host to five other U.S. Presidents.
Built in 1890 as naval officer housing, it served as the naval station’s command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. It was in 1946 that it first served as the winter White House of President Truman.
My guide was a knowledgeable woman who brought to life the time when President Truman stayed in the house — the evening card games and all. As she described his visits here it was easy to imagine the 33rd President handling business, relaxing and contemplating the impending issues of the day between 1946 and 1952. It continued to be used by later Presidents — Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. William Howard Taft also visited in 1912. Occasionally, the Little White House is still used for government functions.
In 1974 the Key West Submarine Base closed and the Little White House was all but forgotten until, in 1987, the property was transferred to the state of Florida for permanent protection. The next year, with privately raised funds, it was restored to the time when President Truman used it as his retreat. This is the state’s only presidential site.
The tour includes the dining room, living room and bedrooms. Many of the furnishings are original to the time when President Truman stayed here.
At the end of the tour are a small presidential museum and an excellent gift shop.
The museum is located at 111 Front Street. Tours are offered 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.