Is Key West's Mallory Square named for a Confederate leader? A local historian found the answer
In Key West, Mallory Square is famous for its view of the sunset and the daily festival that celebrates it.
But where did the name "Mallory" come from?
For decades, people believed the waterfront spot was named for Stephen Mallory, a Florida senator who became secretary of the Confederate Navy. He was also a slave owner and spent a year in prison after the Civil War until granted a pardon by President Andrew Johnson.
Stephen Mallory isn't exactly a household name in Key West, but his last name strikes a chord for those well-versed in the island's history. He was from a prominent Key West family
Hi mother, moved to Key West in 1823, as one of the first female settlers, according to the State Archives of Florida. In some historical records, Mallory is called "the First Lady of Key West." And she is buried in the Key West Cemetery.
But the square was never meant to pay tribute to Mallory, according to Corey Malcom, the lead historian at the Florida Keys History Center at the Monroe County Public Library.
Instead, it was named after the Mallory Steamship Company that ran out of Key West for decades, Malcom told WLRN in an interview at the county library on Fleming Street, seated at a table beside a box of old local records.
"Where did they stop and dock? At Mallory Dock," he said.
Malcom said he already knew of the company's tie to the downtown dock that linked the journey between New York City and Galveston, TX.
The Mallory Steamship Co. was founded by Charles H. Mallory of Mystic, Connecticut.
The company eventually merged with the Clyde Steamship company, which kept coming to Key West. In the 1930s, the Clyde-Mallory Dock was sold and changed hands multiple times over the next 20 years.
He figured the square was named for the steamships, but he couldn't prove it until now.
Key West City Commissioner Sam Kaufman asked him last year to help settle the Mallory Square naming debate. So, Malcom took another dig.
In December, Malcom found a 1961 letter from the Old Island Restoration Foundation, which worked with the city to redevelop the decaying waterfront.
“We have by unanimous decision named the area 'Old Mallory Square' in honor of the family of the Clyde-Mallory Steamship Line,” wrote the foundation's chair Reta Sawyer in the letter found stored in a banker's cardboard box at the library.
The Mallory docks weren't much to look at before the foundation and the city teamed up on it.
“Needless to say, when the dock and fishing pier are finished it will certainly be an attraction to the tourists,” Sawyer added in the letter.
She was right. Today, Mallory Square is a treasured gathering spot, located off the 400 block of Wall Street. It's most famous for drawing crowds of tourists every day for Sunset Celebration, which has street performers and vendors who welcome people two hours before sunset.
Malcom said it was gratifying to help set the record straight.
"There were people that were upset in the community that we had this landmark named after this man who maybe wasn’t so great," Malcom said. "This helps resolve that."
The city is currently working on plans to renovate Mallory Square to make it more of a destination throughout the day, not just at dusk.