Each time I drive across the Seven Mile Bridge on my way to or from Key West I wonder about tiny Pigeon Key, located off the west end of Marathon. The only access to this five-acre rock appears to be via a rusted old bridge that bisects the island. Speeding along the new modern bridge, I have often puzzled over the adjacent older roadway. If it was unsafe, why it was left standing? And if it is safe, why have two giant chunks been cut out of the span, ensuring that it is not used? This time, my curiosity got the better of me. It was time to find out.
Inside the silver Henry Flagler railroad car that now serves as the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and Gift Shop, I discovered that my $11 admission included a boat trip to the island, but instead I opted to walk 2.2 miles along the original Seven Mile Bridge. Under a blazing sun I strolled the narrow two-lane roadway that has been converted for golf cart, bicycle, and pedestrian use. Noticing that the handrails are actually old railroad steel rails, I was reminded that this bridge was originally a railroad trestle for the Florida East Coast Railway.
The railway was the idea of Henry Flagler, who had the good fortune to be a partner of John D. Rockefeller in the firm that eventually became Standard Oil. Long intrigued by Florida, Flagler began constructing luxury hotels on the east coast of the state. He soon realized that Florida’s development potential was hampered by lack of infrastructure and, in 1904, announced his intention to build a railroad from Miami to Key West. Engineers scoffed. Friends thought he had lost his mind. Undeterred, Flagler Continue reading