It was in this house that he did some of his best work, including the final draft to "A Farewell to Arms," and the short story classics "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
The house stands at an elevation of 16 feet above sea level, but is still the second-highest site on the island. It was originally built by Asa Tift, a marine architect and salvage wrecker, in 1851 in colonial southern mansion style, out of limestone quarried from the site. As testament to its construction and location, it survived many hurricanes, and the deep basement remained, and remains, dry. The house was one of the first on the island to be fitted with indoor plumbing, and the first on the island to have an upstairs bathroom with running water, fed from a roof rain cistern. Also notable are a built-in fireplace, and the first swimming pool in Key West, and the only pool within 100 miles in the late 30's. Hemingway's second wife, Pauline, spent $20,000 to have the deep well-fed pool built for her husband while he was away as a Spanish Civil War correspondent in 1938. When Hemingway returned, he was reportedly unpleasantly surprised by the cost, and exclaimed: "Well, you might as well have my last cent." This penny is embedded in concrete today near the pool. In the "Tropic" article, Patrick Hemingway referred to this story, and others told by uncertified guides at the house, as "apocryphal".
In 1935, when the visitor bureau included the house in a tourist brochure, Hemingway hired his friend, driver, and handyman Toby Bruce to build the high brick wall that surrounds it today.
Another of Hemingway's loves was boxing. He set up a ring in his yard and paid local fighters to box with him as well as refereeing matches at Blue Heaven, then a saloon but now a restaurant, at 729 Thomas Street.
The grounds of the house are maintained as a garden, with many tropical plants installed after Hemingway moved to Cuba. In Hemingway's time, the grounds, like the island, were sparse and dry due to lack of water that only came later, with the Navy's installation of a water line from mainland.
The house was originally purchased by Hemingway for $8,000. It was sold after his death, empty, and without furniture or books. Although tour guides claim that certain items belonged to Hemingway, none of the furniture, books, or other items in the house, except for one chandelier, can be documented as having been owned by the author. His writer's studio, where he stayed briefly when visiting from his home in Cuba, once was connected by a second story walkway to the master bedroom. The walkway, shown in pictures from archives, has not been reconstructed. A garage on the property was built after Hemingway's departure.