Volume 41

The Building of History II: Greene Street Cigar Company

Key West's Finest Cuban Cigars


  • Cortez

Key West, Florida is exactly 106 Miles from Havana, the birthplace of our cigar culture. Before Miami, before Hav-a-Tampa, and before Ybor City there was Key West.

In 1868, Vicente Martinez Ybor a Spainiard escaped Cuba after being accused for funding Cuban rebels during the Ten Years War. While working in Cuba he had learned of the cigar industry. He settled in nearby Key West, and opened a factory and started producing his Principe de Gales brand. By the early 1800’s, Key West had become the cigar capital of the world, producing tens of millions of cigars.


Spain, which still had control of Cuba until 1898, demanded little taxes for raw leaf material compared to, finished cigars. Therefore the product “Clear Havanas” was born. Clear meant free of Spanish tax, the tobacco was imported from Cuba, and rolled by Cubans in Key West. This is where the story of The Cortez Cigar Company begins.


Walter Sayers Lightbourn was born in 1861, in Key West, Florida. His family moved from the Turks Island. He grew up in the rich cigar culture of Key West, which employed 80% of the island at the time. He started learning the craft of blending and rolling tobacco. In 1881, Mr. Lightbourn had successfully started The Cortez Cigar Company, in which he employed over 300 rollers. Under the direction of Mr. Lightbourn, The Cortez Cigar Company rolled a million cigars.

At the height of production the Labor Strike of 1885, slowly diminished The Cortez Cigar Company. As soon as the labor strike had ended the infamous fire of 1886, wiped out the island and all of its cigar manufacturers including Cortez Cigars. Within three years, Mr. Lightbourn rebuilt the factory and started up production for Cortez Cigars. For the next decade, Mr. Lightbourn would go back and forth between newly independent Cuba and Key West.

As Cuba gained independence, he sought after the opportunity to purchase plantations, as he would eventually oversee and control the entire operation. On August 10th, 1906, Mr. Walter Sayers Lightbourn died at his plantation in Batabano, Cuba. After the death of Mr. Lightbourn, the factory was robbed and set on fire by the infamous Florida Keys gangster Dutchy Melville and his gang. Dutchy was famous for robbing cigar factories and torching them to hide the evidence. He was found guilty and sentenced on May 14th, 1908. A series of hurricanes devastated the island, and wiped away the last of the cigar manufacturers in Key West.

For over 107 years, Cortez Cigars Key West remained dormant until Ms. Marlene Carbonell, the great-granddaughter of Mr. Walter Lightbourn, appeared at the door to our store on Greene Street with treasures of a culture lost. She had an old cigar band from 1884 and an original Cortez Key West cigar box. On the inside cover of the cigar box the lithography depicted an erect Conquistador Hernán Cortés with the Aztec pyramids in the background.

Coincidentally, we had befriended a cigar maker the previous year, with the boxes and the cigar bands we went off to the Dominican Republic to recreate Cortez Cigars Key West. As of today, we have the cigar bands identical to the original and are currently finishing the cigar boxes.

We created two unique blends. The “Conquistador” which is a very mild-medium cigar is made up of a Connecticut shade wrapper, and Dominican binder and filler. Making for a very light smoke with hints of nut and wood.

With 2014 already here, we will be releasing the second blend called the “Marquis” which is a very medium bodied cigar made up of an Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper, a Dominican binder and Nicaraguan fillers. The cigar itself will be a very aromatic cigar with a rich oak flavor with hints of leather.

These cigars are available at our Greene Street Cigar location and coming in April will be available for sale on our website!! (www.greenestreetcigarcompany.com)


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