By Jerry Wilkinson
(At the end of this page are four links that will take you pages of specific photos of work and equipment being in use building the Key West Extension - JW)
An article dated February 10, 1907 stated: "The first train crossed from the mainland to Key Largo (last Friday) with Henry Flagler and a party of friends aboard." It appears that the Jewfish Bridge and the Lake Surprise causeway were finally operable.
A month later we are further advised by the following March 12, 1907 article: “The greatest center of activity is centered at Long Key and the lower end of Upper Matecumbe Key, though there is building and construction at other points with trains now running to Tavernier and Snake Creek. . ..” Remember, they started from Homestead in May, 1905, so this has taken about two years.
Work was proceeding more or less on schedule but for a few exceptions like Lake Surprise and the 1906 hurricane. Tavernier Creek was almost filled except for a short bridge. Snake Creek also had just a short bridge, and Wilson's Key Channel (Whale Harbor) was completely filled across. The original plan was to build a causeway with ramparts all the way to Key West, but the federal government did not allow a complete dam between the ocean and the gulf.
Going back in time, by October 1906, work was in progress to construct the Long Key bridge. This was actually a viaduct, as it is completely interconnected, 2.15 miles long and required 180 fifty-foot and 42 thirty-five-foot arches. European portland cement was used in all the underwater concrete work when building the arches for all the viaducts. A wooden cofferdam was set in place, the mud pumped out and 24 wood pilings driven into the coral rock. The European Alsen portland cement mixed with sand and gravel was pumped in up to the low tide level. The pilings were sawed off and another level poured in up to the high tide line. The remainder of the arch was built on this base using U.S. portland cement.
A large work camp was built on Long Key almost from the beginning, as this bridge was known to be a massive task. After the railroad was finished, this camp was turned into the Long Key Fishing Club, with author Zane Grey as its first president, in 1917. This was also where the crews encountered their first hurricane. It wrought great destruction to everything in its path.
On the evening of October 17, 1906, the weather started to close in. By
morning the railroad had suffered a staggering setback, but young
straightened his shoulders and said, "No man has any business connected
with this work who can't stand grief." One hundred and thirty men were
known to have perished. On houseboat number four, which broke
moorings, only 83 of the 161 survived. The St. Lucie with
went aground neat Elliott Key and a reported 26 more were drowned. In
about 130 F.E.C. related personnel lost their lives in the 1906
The Flagler team learned to respect the hurricane season and not be
off guard again. There were no hurricanes in 1907 and 1908, however
A major setback was experience in July 1907 when the War Department
operating from instructions of the Navy at Key West shut down all
dredging for the proposed 174 acre rail terminal at Key West. Flagler
owned preciously little Key West land was to add an attached
acres known as Trumbo Island. Flagler curtailed Key West construction and by October
total F.E.C. work force was scaled back to
about 2,500 workers. The rest of 1907 and all of 1908
were lost for Key
West Construction. Much of the work force taken from the Lower Keys
were put to work speeding up the completion of Knight's Key Dock.
Rail Service to the Upper and Middle Keys
The first train to reach Knight's Key Dock (Marathon) by rail did so on January 20, 1908 at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. By February 5, 1908, official twice-a-day daily schedule was in effect. The following day travelers boarded a Flagler Peninsular & Occidental steamship bound for Havana. A seaport city had been built south of Knight's Key, complete with a railroad station capable of handling two complete trains, docks for two small steam ships, hotel boat, customs and post office (April 13, 1907). Therefore, the Upper Keys had daily scheduled train service in early 1908. Flagler had support for his steamship lines and all appeared well.
What was to be known as Marathon became the general headquarters for the remaining construction. It was supplied by rail, as it was located at the beginning of the remaining construction to Key West. The starting point was the Seven Mile Bridge. This did not detract from the construction of the huge terminal at Key West. There, crews were busy reclaiming 134 acres from the ocean and preparing to build a 1,700-foot pier, 134 feet wide. Track and bridgework was being performed north across Stock Island to Bahia Honda whose depth required another difficult bridge.
Work was intentionally delayed on the Seven-Mile Bridge following a decision by the U.S. Navy to stop Flagler from dredging the needed 174 acres for the rail terminal at Key West. Many F.E.C. offices were closed, workers transferred to work north of Key West and much of the floating construction equipment was taken to storage in the Miami River. Very little work was done in the Lower Keys in 1808, and when the objection to the dredging was resolved serious construction started on the Seven-Mile-Bridge in early 1909. It required three years to complete.
What we call the Seven Mile Bridge was actually composed of the Knight's Key, Pigeon Key, Moser Channel, Pacet Channel bridges. The total length was 35,815 feet long and consisted of 335 steel girder 80-foot spans, 9,000 feet of concrete arch viaduct, and a 253-foot swing truss drawbridge span. The steel truss bridge portion rested on 546 concrete piers set securely into bedrock, and was installed by the Terry and Tench Company of New York. The Pigeon Key portion was originally scheduled to be a filled causeway. This was canceled. The Pacet Channel portion was of the concrete arch viaduct type, as the water was shallower. The overall bridge was sometimes referred to as the Flagler Viaduct. At that time it was not known as the Seven Mile Bridge, a name coined later.
Many bridges remained to be built. However, the major bridge was the Bahia Honda that can still be seen on the oceanside of U.S. 1. It was 5,055 feet in length and consisted of 27 through-truss spans and 9 deck plate girder spans. Thirteen spans were 128 feet, 13 spans were 186 feet and one was 247 feet. The deepest water at any point along the Key West Extension was encountered here -24 feet and even deeper- and had to be penetrated to anchor the piers. It is the only camelback-type bridge used in the project. Later, when modified for vehicle traffic, the roadway was welded to the top of the camelback spans and a curb and guardrail were provided. The modification is still in evidence today.
The spring of 1909 dealt another serious blow with the death of Joseph Meredith on April 20, 1909. Flagler was fortunate in having William Krome available and willing to respond. Krome was semi-retired at his home and grove in Homestead and taking a much needed rest.
A train that had departed Miami on Monday morning waited out the hurricane at the Quarry Station (Windley Key), but was stranded for three days because of a washout between the Jewfish and Everglades stations. The crew and passengers returned to Miami a little tired, but none the worse, thanks to a Pullman car well stocked with food.
The following Miami News-Record article appeared March 31, 1910: "The Key West Citizen of Monday in reporting a Key Largo fire says, 'The fire started the latter part of the last week from an engine, number 11, of the F.E.C. Everything being dry, the flames spread quickly and are now out of control. Practically all of the fruit trees and crops between Jewfish Creek and Newport are either burned or in danger of being destroyed. It is reported that the farm of Allen E. Curry is completely burned off, the building included. Captain Watkins of the schooner New Venice, stated that there is no possible way to control the flames which seem to have spread to nearly all points in the northern section of the island and are working to the north as well as to the south.'" This incident paved the way for the replacement of coal by oil as fuel for locomotives used in the Keys. Engine number 11 is thought to be one of the original 1892 coal burners, as were numbers 10 and 12. These engines were limited to construction use.
On June 27, 1910, engine numbers 10 and 12 were barged to and unloaded on Stock Island for construction use. Later on September 16, numbers 10 and 12 steamed into Key West and were the first locomotives ever to enter from the outside. (During the construction of Fort Taylor in Key West, a small railroad had been built to service the two Martello towers.)
Yet Another Hurricane
Work continued all along the remaining project and train service to Knight's Key dock performed well. Mr. Flagler, however, was getting old, and his associates wanted him to realize his dream to ride his private rail car to Key West. Early in 1911, they asked Krome if he could complete the track by the Boss's next birthday, January 2, 1912. Krome replied that, without any storms, or large, unforeseen delays, he could get the job done.
Flagler Take His Train to Key West
An example of the rail service was an ad in the Key Largo Breeze
newspaper dated December 15, 1926 listed the following railroad time
A year ahead of schedule, the uncompleted Key West terminal was not ready to accept the freight/car ferries for service to Havana. It was 1915 before the train car-ferry operation began scheduled trips to and from Havana. Also, in the Upper Keys the Channel 2 and 5 bridges were still wooden trestle bridges which had to be built of concrete while daily trains passed in the shadows of the concrete workers. The Key West Extension was not fully completed until 1916.
Work continued on completing the railway system to its final form, only
to have to be modified by innovations. Henry Flagler had realized his
and slipped quietly from this world at his ocean cottage 'Nautalis' on
20, 1913, in Palm Beach, Florida. His body was sent to St. Augustine on
May 23 where he was laid to rest along side of his his first wife Mary
Harkness in the Memorial Presbyterian Church mausoleum built for his
Jennie Louise. His pallbearers were mostly his Florida associates. John
D. Rockefeller did not attend the funeral.
Flagler had invested about one third of Florida's total evaluation. In total his hotel chain housed about 40,000 guests. The entire Atlantic sea coast of Florida was opened by Henry Morrison Flagler.
Surviving spouse, Mary Lily, married Robert Bingham on November 16, 1916 who had signed a prenuptial agreement disavowing himself of his new wife's estate. Mary Lily added Bingham to her will with a handwritten change on June 17, 1917 giving him $5 million. Mary Lily died suddenly on following July 27 of an "acute heart disturbance" less than a year after the marriage. Her family had her body exhumed for an autopsy however the results were never made known.
Robert Bingham received his $5 million but Mary Lily left most of her estate to her brother, William, and her sisters, Jessie and Sarah, with a sizable portion including the houses to her niece, Louise Wise. The F.E.C. Railway was willed to the brother and sisters who kept ownership until bankruptcy in the 1930s. Ed Ball of Dupont estate slowly gained the controlling interest.
After the 1920 Florida Land Boom, Carl Fisher, the developer of Miami
Beach, in the 1930s constructed a 110-foot memorial in Biscayne Bay
between Venetian and MacArthur causeways to honor Florida's pioneer
Henry Morrison Flagler. Miami-Dade county voters recently approved $1M
to restore the monument and landscaping.
Flagler biographers estimate that he spent a total of $50 million on all of his Florida developments. This would equate to about one third of the total Florida evaluation. Two-fifths of his expenditures were for the Key West Extension. It is estimated that it would cost $640 million to build the Railroad That Went to Sea today, 2002.
The railroad served the Keys well, but without Flagler at its helm it declared bankruptcy in 1932. In 1935, a sudden change of the predicted path of an approaching hurricane threatened hundreds of WW-I veterans in three work camps in the Upper Keys. A veteran's work program had sent them to build bridges across two highway water gaps to replace the existing automobile ferries. They were told a train would be sent if evacuation was deemed necessary.
After their late lunch on September 2, 1935, Miami workmen began bringing locomotive number 447 up to full steam capacity. Other crews hustled about preparing train cars for the unplanned holiday weekend trip. Locomotive, Old 447, and 10 cars departed for the Keys at about 4:30 P.M. One had to be repaired. After various delays it arrived at the Islamorada depot just before a 17 to 19 foot tidal surge at about 8:20 P.M.
Only the locomotive and its oil tender were left standing. Hundreds of souls lost their lives and 40 miles of railroad were washed out; however, all the concrete and steel bridges stood firmly in place. All who were aboard the train survived. This is discussed in more detail in the web page on the Florida Keys Memorial (Hurricane Monument).
Bankrupt and now severely damaged, the railroad was washed up in the Keys, no pun intended. Its right-of-way was sold to the state for $640,000 to be modified as a vehicle highway. Construction of the first continuous overseas highway to Key West was completed in 1938. This is discussed in more detail in the web page on the Overseas Highway.
Unlike old generals, the old Flagler bridges do not appear to be fading away. The three principle bridges are the Long Key Bridge, the Knight's Key (Seven Mile) Bridge and the Bahia Honda Bridge. They are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Reportedly, Mr. Flagler told an associate that he believed that his fortune was given to him, "To help his fellow men to help themselves and that he wanted to see if a plain American could succeed there where the Spanish, French and English had not."
(For additional web pages CLICK HERE.)
(For a web pages for locomotives CLICK HERE.)
(For FECR depots in the Keys CLICK HERE.}
(For the Flagler Rail Ferries to Cuba CLICK HERE.)
(For detailed info of the Cape Sable Expedition CLICK HERE.)
(For a complation of the evoluton of the Key West Extension CLICK HERE)