Who is the ‘Mallory’ of Mallory Square? The answer is in the archive

A steamship at a sock with people on both decks of the ship and standing on the dock.
The New York to Texas line steamer Comal at Mallory docks, circa 1900.

In recent years, many Key Westers have questioned the name of city-owned Mallory Square on Key West Harbor. The waterfront is the site of the Sunset Celebration, one of the island’s most popular attractions. The city of Key West is currently preparing a major renovation to the area.

Some assumed it was named to honor Stephen Mallory, a prominent Key West resident in the 19th century. He became a U.S. Senator representing Florida and voted for secession from the Union – then became Secretary of the Confederate Navy. He was also an enslaver.

A man stands next to a table with his hand on a book resting on the table.

As many cities around the country have removed statues and other monuments to Confederate leaders, some in Key West have called for the city-owned property to be re-named. Key West in September 2020 re-named the Bayview Park pavilion that was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Stephen Mallory chapter, in 1924. It now bears the city’s official motto, One Human Family.

But Mallory Square, it turns out, is not named for Stephen Mallory. Dr. Corey Malcom, lead historian at the Florida Keys History Center of the Monroe County Public Library, recently confirmed that with a 1961 letter from the chairman of the Old Island Restoration Foundation, one of Key West’s first historic preservation groups. The letter is in the History Center’s collection.

The city of Key West purchased the “Clyde-Mallory Docks” in 1952, but a plan for the area was not realized until 1960, when the OIRF began pushing for a restoration that highlighted the history of the docks. Ultimately, the OIRF took the lead in the transformation to “Mallory Square,” which opened in 1961.

“We have by unanimous decision named the area ‘Old Mallory Square’ in honor of the family of the Clyde Mallory Steamship Line,” Reta Sawyer wrote.

The Mallory Steamship Co. was founded by Charles H. Mallory of Mystic, Connecticut. In 1873, Mallory steamers began passenger and freight service to Key West, with the island city serving as the mid-point link in a line that ran between New York City and Galveston. The Mallory company later merged with the Clyde Steamship company but continued to stop at Key West. In the 1930s, the Clyde-Mallory Dock was sold and changed hands multiple times over the next 20 years.

Sawyer went on to make a prescient observation: “Needless to say when the dock and fishing pier are finished it will certainly be an attraction to the tourists.”

Malcom said there had been “suggestive evidence” that the name of the site came from the steamship company, but that was not fully satisfactory.

“Finding the definitive answer buried in a 60-year-old letter changes everything,” Malcom said. “Many thanks to the earlier History Center historians who saw the OIRF records were an important part of our community’s story and archived them.”

The Florida Keys History Center at the Monroe County Public Library is the most comprehensive archive about the history of the island chain. The collection includes rare documents and images, including an online photo collection that has been viewed more than 40 million times. You can contact the center by visiting 700 Fleming St., calling 305-809-5261 or by emailing history@monroecounty-fl.gov. More information is available on the website: https://keyslibraries.org/florida-history/

All images from the Monroe County Public Library, Florida Keys History Center

The New York to Texas line steamer Comal at Mallory Docks, circa 1900. Gift City Electric Co.

Stephen R. Mallory

Sept. 26, 1961 letter from Old Island Restoration Foundation chairman Reta F. Sawyer.


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