Definition of a "Buoy" - "an anchored FLOAT serving as a navigational mark, to indicate reefs or other hazards or for mooring". The southernmost buoy's claim to fame is being one of the most photographed and visited attractions in the United States. The buoy is an impressive 12' tall, 7' wide and made out of approximately 4 tons of solid concrete!
The current marker actually didn't exist until 1983 when it was commissioned and installed by the City of Key West and painted by local artist Danny Acosta.
The earliest known marker at this location was a wooden sign that simply said "The Southernmost Point, of the Southernmost City, Key West Fla". Throughout the years what as been painted on the sign and buoy has from time to time changed. In 1982 the sign was changed to say 'The Southernmost Point, in USA, Key West Fla", with the actual buoy to be installed the following year. By 2011 it was changed again to its current form, quoting; "The Conch Republic. 90 Miles to Cuba, Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A., Key West, FL, Home of the Sunset".
All the references to "southernmost point" does require some clarification. It's denoted to be in reference to the Continental United States. Because as far as the southern most state, that would actually go to Hawaii. But, if you account for all US territories, then American Samoa, in the Polynesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean actually takes the crown.
Even the notation of the exact location being in the continental US is slightly off base. The southernmost point of the island of Key West actually lies just around the corner, to the south. But, since that lies on the U.S. Navy's Truman Annex property and isn't publicly accessible, the city chose the current spot. THEN, to get really technical the actual southernmost continental point lies about 10 miles south and west from Key West on Ballast Key. Another location not accessible unless for those that are traveling about by boat, which wouldn't have made for a great tourist attraction.
Photo Credit: Florida Memory, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Onto the phrase "90 Miles to Cuba". There is a bit of contention and possible rounding of numbers, here. At Key West's closest point, it is actually about 94 statute miles (81 nautical miles) away. Others have stated it to be from the approximate center of Key West, being about 90 nautical miles from that point. At any rate, we're certain that will remain a point of debate for years to come and it's easier to say "90 miles" than anything else.
In visiting the buoy, you might notice a small, non-descript concrete building off to the side. In 1921 there was a telephone cable that ran from Key West to Havana, and this is where the cable exited Key West, on its way across the Florida Straits.
If you're ready to embark on your own personal journey to the southernmost island, then the Key West Express is your ticket to Paradise. Sailing year-round from the SW Florida coast, to the land of Pirates, Presidents, Poets & Pirates and NOW buoys.
Hero Image Photo Credit: By Isles Yacht Club - CC BY 2.0