The small fishing village of Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast is in many ways an icon of Old Florida charm. Wood frame houses line the sandy streets of downtown, and the restaurants serve up fresh Florida seafood, much of which was brought in from right offshore. Golf carts are a favored mode of transportation, and why not? There’s not even enough automobile traffic on the island to require the use of a single traffic signal.
Few landmarks in Cedar Key capture the essence of the place so well as the Thomas Guest House, a small wooden cottage built on pilings over the shallow Gulf waters right off 1st Street. Originally built in 1959 by the Thomases of Gainesville, the house was for many years an ideal escape from the press of everyday business for the family and their friends. A small boardwalk was all that connected the house with the mainland. Out front, visitors were treated to a panoramic view of the sparkling Gulf and the other islands of the Cedar Key archipelago.
The location of the house was excellent, but it came at a price. Cedar Key is highly exposed to the fury of occasional hurricanes and other strong storms, and one such event in 1985 nearly destroyed the Thomas Guest House entirely. Hurricane Elena, a storm packing winds over 100 miles per hour and a dramatic storm surge, stalled about fifty miles offshore from the island, inflicting considerable damage. After Elena moved off to the west and the waters receded, numerous homes and businesses were destroyed, at an estimated cost of over two million dollars. The Thomas Guest House, one of the most dangerously exposed structures in the area, was badly damaged.
Ironically, although the house was no longer habitable as a home, it only increased in popularity in the ensuing years. Playfully nicknamed the “Honeymoon Cottage,” the crumbling house has doubtless been photographed, drawn, and painted more than any other single structure on the island. For many artists, its drooping frame and battered features only heighten its allure as a symbol of an older Florida, the kind of place Cedar Key still manages to be even in the twenty-first century.
Every year, a little more of the Thomas Guest House falls into the Gulf waters below, and locals fear the structure is only one good storm away from total destruction. Even if the famed “Honeymoon Cottage” does take a dive in the next squall that passes through, its memory will live on in the many paintings, drawings, and photographs that depict it. One such painting by artist Tony Krysinsky was selected as the logo for the Old Florida Festival of the Arts held this past April in Cedar Key. Its vibrant colors give the old house an energetic vibe that reconnects it with its former life, as a typical coastal Florida space for relaxation and enjoyment.
What landmarks come to mind when you think of the Florida Gulf coast in years gone by? Let us know by commenting on this post. Also, search the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory to find more images of curious treasures like the Thomas Guest House.