Sunday, March 25, 2012


Marathon, FL 24º42.366N | 81º5.669W

Some people really know how to leave a mark. In Florida his name is Flagler. I wrote about him when we were in St. Augustine, but all along the state Henry Flagler's name keeps coming up. Pretty amazing for a guy who died almost 100 years ago.

One of his last undertakings was a fanciful one: constructing a railway to Key West.

The Keys: That strip of islands sprouting off the southern tip of Florida.
The Keys, a coral archipelago, or a string of unconnected islands, are 127 miles long, and Flagler decided to build railroad bridges across open ocean between the islands, the longest one seven miles. Even today that sounds like a bad idea. Skeptics dubbed it Flagler's Folly, but he did it, making the first run himself in 1912.

That longest stretch, now known as Seven Mile Bridge, has been replaced by a modern expanse, but most of Flagler's version still stands. Part of it has been removed to allow people like us to pass through on sailboats.

And 2.2 miles of it, from the western edge of Boot Key to Pigeon Key is open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, so Chip, Karen (Jessie Marie) and I rode our bikes out over the ocean to have a look.

Pigeon Key where railroad workers were housed.
Their metal rusted too, but 100 years? Not bad.
Looking east toward Boot Key.
The railroad to Key West was never financially viable but ran until 1935 when a hurricane came barreling through, like they do, and took part of it down near Islamorada, east of Boot Key. Many of the bridges and their underpinnings were used to build the Overseas Highway, opened in 1938, that allows you to drive your car to Key West.


  1. Flagler (along with being one of the original partners in Standard Oil) was actually a Hotel magnate and his main purpose for bringing the railroad to the Keys (and Florida in general) was so that more people could easily access his hotels. An interesting point about the overseas highway was that completely new construction techniques had to be developed to complete that tasks. Techniques that didn't even exist when the project was started. Flagler was quite the visionary. One of my heroes.

    1. I was touring his hotel, now Flagler College, when I first wrote about him in St. Augustine. He is certainly remarkable, whether you like his contribution to how Florida has developed or not.

      I do wonder if the Overseas Highway would exist today if it weren't for Flagler and his railroad.

  2. I wish I could "like" photos on the blog. Well, no -- I mean I *do* "like" photos on the blog, I just --

    never mind.