Discovering History in the The Key West Sponge Market Shop
In the center of Mallory Square you can visit the Sponge Market Shop, which doubles as a museum that depicts the history of the sponging industry in Key West.
In the early 19th century the Key West fishermen found sponges washed up on the beaches after storms. This discovery led to the sponging business in Key West. The sponges were collected from the shallow waters near the shore with a pronged rake. The sponges were then sorted and dried for the local market.
Until 1849, these sponges were used and sold locally. That year spongers sent a sample of Key West's fine sponges to New York. By the late 19th century the New York market was huge, and Key West held a great monopoly of the sponge trade in the U.S. At one point, there were as many as 250 boats in the Key West sponge fleet. More then 1400 people were employed in the sponge trade.
Around 1905, the Key West sponge beds were fairly depleted and the trade was taken over by the Tarpon Springs, Florida spongers.
The Key West Sponge Market Shop carries many different sizes and colors of sponges, for great prices. There are also many other souvenirs available.
I dawdled in this museum/shop for about an hour, as I was very interested in the pictures and history of this fascinating industry. The sponges I bought as gifts were very appreciated.
If you like history and high quality goods, this is the place for you.