The Banyan Resort and Guesthouse which is located at 323 Whitehead Street in Key West is known by most visitors and locals for its immense namesake Banyan Trees and is said to be haunted with the ghost of Captain Phillip L. Cosgrove who still haunts the home and gardens. The Banyan Resort originally consisted of six homes that were constructed as private residences during the mid-1800's. The individual owners of these properties decided to combine their interests in the early 1980's and convert them into "The Banyan Resort and Guesthouse".
Visitors have reported seeing and hearing the presence of Captain Cosgrove as he seems to be attached to the house which he loved so dearly. Another mysterious occurrence has been blamed on "the chocolate ghost". Guests and housekeepers have had the chocolates left on pillows in locked rooms turn up missing. A little girl's spirit is believed to be responsible for the missing chocolates.
The original six homes which make up the resort are:
Named after William Saunders whose family was one of the original pioneers of Key West. In 1873, he owned the entire plot of undeveloped land where the Saunders, Abernathy and Locke Houses currently stand. The Saunders house was the first to be built on this plot in the 1890's and is a classic two-story Victorian style home with wrap around porches.
Named after James William Locke who served as a member of the Florida State Senate between 1870 and 1872. Locke was then nominated to the Federal Judicial Service by Ulysses Grant on January 15, 1872 where he remained in place until his retirement. At that time Key West was the largest city, per capita, in the state Florida and was the original location of its Federal offices. The two-story Locke House sits on the corner of the property and was first used as a drug store prior to becoming a part of the Banyan Resort.
Named after Wyatt Thomas Abernathy who was a prominent merchant that originated from Tennessee. He relocated with his family to Key West in the late 1890's to take advantage of the prospering economy. Abernathy purchased the house from the Locke family who built the home. Though the Abernathy House was built a few years after the Locke House, and not in the typical Victorian style, the family added the trim in the Locke family tradition.
This stately home sits on part of the land which John Whitehead sold in 1829 to P.C. Greene, one of the four original proprietors of Key West. The house was built in 1850 and was a prime location with its proximity to the deep-water port in what was then the center of the city. It changed hands a few times before it was purchased by Captain Phillip L. Cosgrove for the price of $1,600.00 in 1871. Cosgrove was a veteran of the Coast Guard and became a bit of a local celebrity in 1898 when he was the first person to arrive at the scene of the sinking U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor: an event which began the Spanish-American War. The house and its history though are literally over shadowed by a landscaping decision Myrtle Cosgrove, the Captain’s wife, made over a century ago. In the 1800’s Key West was not the lush green island you see today. Due to the lack of fresh water, cisterns were built to catch rainfall from roofs, and the precious water supply used to nurture a tree was usually reserved for a tropical fruit tree which would also supply a bounty of fruit. Mrs. Cosgrove’s planting decision was influenced by the need to find shade to escape the unrelenting subtropical summer heat. Banyans are fig trees characterized by their massive roots that grow mainly above ground, then dropping down to eventually form supporting trunks for the tree to spread. The enormous roots cascading down from the tree, create an eerie appearance and are a favorite photo location for most tourists. The property was passed to Cosgrove's son then onto his granddaughter who remained in the Cosgrove family home until 1947.
The Delaney House
The Delaney House was named after William L. Delaney, who erected this majestic residence in 1898. Mr. Delaney was a collector for US Customs and served as first vice-president on the Key West Board of Trade, which was the first commercial body organized in Key West on November 30, 1885. This house is constructed of Dade County pine and was built by ship carpenters. The gingerbread trim and carved ornamental detail uses basic simplicity of the Queen Anne design, and is often dubbed the Princess Anne style. The Delaney House was selected as one of 38 most significant Key West structures by the Milo Smith Survey of Historic Buildings.
The Sawyer-Thorpe Homes
The Sawyer-Thorpe Homes were named after Benjamin Sawyer, a wrecker and a fisherman in the early 1840's and Daniel Thorpe, also a wrecker, who married Benjamin's daughter, Emma. Benjamin Sawyer constructed his family's residence of stone on the present site of the Delaney House. William Delaney demolished the Sawyer home upon purchasing it in 1898 and proceeded to build the home which stands here today. These two structures are nestled in the gardens behind the largest Banyan Tree on the property and were erected in the late-1980's to meet the growing demands of the timeshare sales. Painstaking measures were taken to integrate the new construction with the existing historic homes including decorative balustrade.
Later additions to the Banyan Resort and Guesthouse are:
The Cigar Factory
The cigar industry of Key West dates back to 1831 when the first cigar factory was established by an Englishman, Mr. William H. Wall, who boasted "the very best Tobacco from Havana." With the Cuban Independence War of 1868, the population of Key West and the cigar manufacturing industry boomed. In 1890, the cigar industry of Key West reached its pinnacle when 64 factories were in operation and over one hundred million cigars were made, earning the island the title "Cigar Capital of the World". Jacob & Ramon Cortalar rolled the finest cigars at this factory which had scuttles which were rooftop openings popular in cigar factories which were utilized to provide increased air circulation.
The Townhouse is one of the more recent additions to the property. The magnificent arched windows originated from the old Flagler Hotel commissioned in 1910 by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler and his Florida East Coast Hotel Company. The townhouse has cathedral ceilings and a large loft upstairs which is accessible via a spiral staircase.