Saturday, October 27, 2007

Key West Citizen reports

Western Union's new life is great news for island

The recent announcement that the Western Union has been donated to a new nonprofit and will stay on the island is great news indeed.

Of all the "tall ships" — large wooden sailboats — that offer sunset sails and other tours from Key West's waterfront, this is the one with the strongest claim by far to our island's history.

The Western Union was the last schooner built on the island, made in 1939 as a cable tender to maintain the communication between Key West and Cuba. The age of sail had passed by then but her British-born captain, who oversaw her building, was old school and wanted to be able to sail if the engines failed.

The result, built from Cayman mahogany and Florida pine, was a stout workhorse of a ship that was skippered by two generations of Steadmans. For years it carried them and their crews as they fished up and repaired cables from the depths of the Florida Straits.

The ship served until 1974 and then went out of use, serving a second life as the New Way, owned by a nonprofit that helped troubled youth. In 1997, Key West business owners Ed Swift and Paul and Evalena Worthington brought the ship back to Key West Bight and restored it. The state of Florida named it the official flagship of Key West.

The Western Union has not been a success as a tourist venture, but it deserves every chance and community support as a nonprofit venture. The purpose of buying the Key West Bight was to preserve some remnant of the island's working waterfront.

The Western Union, which was originally owned by Thompson Enterprises, is a perfect physical embodiment of this legacy, as well as a graceful presence at the docks increasingly occupied by big-money pleasure craft.

We congratulate Historic Tours of America for making this donation and keeping the Western Union as part of the community and we wish fair winds and following seas to the historic and civic minded group that has taken on the Western Union's latest mission: keeping the island's waterfront heritage alive.

— The Citizen

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