Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flagler's Folly in FL

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Went on a ranger walk this morning -- theme of the railroad built from miami to key west in the early 1900's. The relatively new ranger laughed about portraying an Irish conductor -- with his spanish looks and accent.

Notice -- that the group seemed to drift away from the ranger and program...and settled by the fence overlooking the water, after a few participants sighted two rollicking dolphins.

Yes, it was a folly...and Flagler was one of those interesting man I'm glad never to make acquaintance of...another resourceful, arrogant yet fanciful entrepreneur who probably would undermine any of my observations because I am female (where does this historical projection come from? Maybe I've been reading too many historically-reconstructed novels). But I love his bridge. The broken bridge. The pilings are more secure than that of the newer bridges on the Keys. It is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and the break in the bridge is a wonderful focal point for photographs. (I like the one in a previous entry with the framing of the full moon).

After the United States announced in 1905 the construction of the Panama Canal, Flagler became particularly interested in linking Key West to the mainland. Key West, the United States' closest deep-water port to the Canal, could not only take advantage of Cuban and Latin America trade, but the opening of the Canal would allow significant trade possibilities with the west.

Initially called "Flagler's Folly", the construction of the overseas railroad required many engineering innovations as well as vast amounts of labor and monetary resources. At one time during construction, four thousand men were employed. During the seven year construction, five hurricanes threatened to halt the project. Costs were estimated at between $20 million and $40 million.

Despite the hardships, the final link of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. In that year, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first train into Key West aboard his private railcar "Rambler", marking the completion of the railroad's overseas connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida. It was widely known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

my note -- good timing on his part; he died not more than six months later after falling down a marble staircase

Much of the Overseas Railroad in the Middle Keys was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, a Category 5 hurricane which is often called "The Storm of the Century". The September 2, 1935 storm killed between 400 and 700 people and devastated Long Key and adjacent areas. The FEC's Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, as was a FEC rescue train which became swamped at Islamorada.

Already bankrupt, the Florida East Coast Railway was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections. The roadbed and remaining bridges were sold to the State of Florida, which built the Overseas Highway to Key West, using much of the remaining railway infrastructure. Many of the original bridges were replaced during the 1980s. The Overseas Highway (U.S. 1, which runs from Key West to Fort Kent, Maine) continues to provide a highway link to Key West. Many old concrete bridges of the Overseas Railroad remain in use as fishing piers and pedestrian paths.

2 comments: said...

Wow...I passed right by your group when I was hiking around Bahia Honda. I noticed yall's group b/c of the "conductor" tour guide. My wife and I came down the stairs under the bridge just before your group approached the Rambler.

We hiked up to the bridge for some nice pictures. I'll have them on SouthernHiker in a week or so. This is such a great state park, and thanks for the history on it. I didn't get that much history from the signs in the park.

Barbara said...

We have enjoyed a couple of the morning ranger beach walks while here -- check them out if you are going to be around.

I took more sunset photos on the bridge -- and may post after I load them onto computer. Another lovey but windy evening.