A Rich History,
Steeped in Tradition
Key West, the Duval House, & cigar manufacturing in the United States go together like the groups of friends, families, and lovers on a stroll during a warm winters night. We look forward to sharing our house and its rich history with you during your next stay!
The history of the cigar manufacturing industry in the United States, Key West, and The Duval House are as intertwined as our crystal-clear water, coral reef, and the bountiful sea life that they nurture. At the Duval House, we know of at least two cigar manufacturers that operated on our grounds at various points in history: John S. Valdes Cigar Factory and S & F Fleitas Cigar Company.
Cigar manufacturing in Key West saw explosive growth shortly after Samuel Sidenberg, a New York-based cigar manufacturer, established the first “clear Cuban” cigar factory in Key West in 1867. Sidenberg used Cuban laborers to roll Cuban tobacco, thus pioneering the manufacture of authentic Cuban cigars here in America while avoiding the high tariffs imposed by the Spanish government against products manufactured in Havana.
Around 1892 the John S. Valdes Cigar Factory operated at 811 Duval St. 811 Duval St no longer exists, but the lot where it once stood is now encompassed in the land of our northern most building 813 Duval St, which was built around 1906.
Francisco’s expertise and access to premium Cuban leaf was likely a direct result of his early political affiliations. From his obituary published in the Monday, August 17, 1931 edition of The Key West Citizen we learned the following about Francisco Fleitas:
From 1878, when the “Luz de Yara” club was formed in Key West, Mr. Fleitas identified himself with the efforts towards freeing Cuba from Spanish oppression…. From 1892 until Cuban freedom was won he was one of 46 Cuban patriots who constituted the Cuban Revolutionary Party in Key West… the activities of the Revolutionary Party in Key West brought results that led Cuba to regard Key West ever after as the cradle of Cuban liberty…
With regards to the operations of S & F Fleitas Cigar Company, we know that it’s premiere brand “Homerica” was sold across the country and was represented in such markets as Philadelphia, New England, and the Pacific states. An S & F Fleitas Factory that stood at 510 Petronia St was lost in the 1909 hurricane and, according to an article published on July 2, 1910 in the United States Tobacco Journal, “S & F Fleitas commenced this morning moving into their new and admirably appointed factory, which replaced the structure destroyed by the storm of October.” That factory was built on the same exact footprint of the old factory, located at 510 Petronia St. Finally, in January of 1916 we know that Francisco took on sole proprietorship of S & F Fleitas Cigar Company when his partners Secundino and Angel retired.
We know much more about the S & F Fleitas Cigar Company, whose factory was located at 510 Petronia St. The rear portion of the lot where the S & F Fleitas Cigar Company once operated is now part of the Duval House grounds. In an article published in the April 24, 1909 edition of the United States Tobacco Journal, Francisco Fleitas, a partner in S & F Fleitas, was claimed to be, “one of our (Key West) best experts on Cuban tobacco.”
Jose Marti speaking from the house at 1125 Duval Street. Photo from the Monroe County Library Collection. Date Unknown.
There are numerous entries in the United States Tobacco Journal that tell of Francisco’s regular trips to and from Cuba for acquiring premium Cuban leaf. We know from an article published in the United States Tobacco Journal on January 1, 1910 that Francisco was elected the President of the Key West Cigar Manufacturers’ Association. Clearly Francisco’s peers recognized that his skill and connections, likely a result of his political affiliations earlier in life, were valuable assets to Key West’s cigar manufacturing industry as a whole.