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The Samuel O. Johnson

CIRCA 1886

Historic Marker # 68 is located at 511 Eaton Street between Duval and Simonton Streets.Built by Samuel Otis Johnson in 1886, this structure began its life as a grocery and butcher shop. Mr. Johnson's architectural tastes were in step with the grand homes and mansions being built along the Duval corridor during the late 1800's. The building is a three story Victorian mansion designed in the classical Greek revival style.Mr. Johnson built a small shop to the right of the house. It was moved to the rear of the property in the early 1900's and served as a carriage house. With the advent of the automobile the horses were put out to pasture and the structure became a garage.The next owners were a prominent surgeon and general practitioner, Dr. William Richard Warren, and his wife Genevieve. The couple purchased the house in 1913. Dr. Warren was a Conch or native of Key West. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and became a medical practitioner.Dr. Warren's medical practice was located in the house. The front porch served as a waiting room for patients. The ground floor rooms were used for physical examinations and minor surgeries. Warren's practice served a very diverse multi-cultural community including practitioners of the oldest profession.An unusual feature of the house is its enclosed three-story cistern. Fresh water on the island was hard to come by in the 1800's. Most homes collected rainwater from their roofs and stored it in large ground level holding tanks called cisterns. The main advantage of a slender vertical cistern was water pressure. Water released from the holding tank could be collected on the first and second floors without using a hand pump or dragging a bucket from ground level cisterns.The history of the house would be incomplete without noting that Dr. Warren's wife Genevieve, who was also known as Miss Gen, was an avid gardener who created one of the first ornamental gardens in Key West. Her impressive orchid collection wound along the brick pathways and the circular planting areas.Miss Gen had topsoil brought in from Florida's panhandle for her garden. This was an impressive feat considering every commodity arriving in the island was transported on sailing ships.An interesting Florida Keys story about dirt, in which Miss Gen had no part, involves a retired policeman and a scheme for fast profits. There were three Indian mounds in the Keys, the largest of which was located in Big Pine Key. The policeman made it known that he had access to the best and largest quantity of black topsoil in the area. He claimed that it came from the Everglades and was readily available.As it turned out, the unscrupulous salesman was removing part of the sacred soil from the Big Pine Indian burial ground and selling it as freshly found Everglades soil. He wasn't in business very long before his endeavors were discovered and he was arrested for his deeds.Miss Gen's garden, which consists of a fishpond fountain, rare palms that are more than a century old, a Brazilian jacaranda tree with blue bell-shaped flowers, and two tamarind trees native to India, continues to thrive in Key West.