Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges
|Location||Bridges on U.S. 1 between Long and Conch Key, Knight and Little Duck Key, and Bahia Honda and Spanish Key, Florida Keys, Florida|
|Area||30.2 acres (12.2 ha)|
|Architect||Florida East Coast Railway; Overseas Highway & Toll Bridge Comm.|
|Architectural style||Arch, Girder & Truss Spans|
|NRHP Reference #||79000684|
|Added to NRHP||August 13, 1979|
The Overseas Railroad (also known as Florida Overseas Railroad and the Overseas Extension) was an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West, a city located 128 miles (204.8 km) beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. Work on the line started in 1905 and it operated from 1912 to 1935, when part was destroyed by a hurricane.
Henry Flagler and the origin of the Florida East Coast Railway
Henry Flagler (1830–1913) was a principal in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler and later a founder of Standard Oil during the Gilded Age in the United States. The wealthy man took interest in Florida while seeking a warmer climate for his ailing first wife in the late 1870s. Returning to Florida in 1881, he became the builder and developer of resort hotels and railroads along the east coast of Florida.
Key West Extension: Eighth Wonder of the World
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 oversea 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, three hurricanes—one in 1906, 1909, and 1910—threatened to halt the project. The project cost was more than $50 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, marking the completion of the railroad's oversea 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."
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 more than 400 people and devastated Long Key and adjacent areas. The FEC's Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, as was an FEC rescue train which, with the exception of steam locomotive 447, was overturned by the storm surge 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 called the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges.
- Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway. Bramson, Seth H. Boston Mills Press, Erin, ONT. 2002
- Standiford, Les (2002). Last train to Paradise. Crown Publishers, New York, NY. ISBN 0-609-60748-0.
- Bethel, Rodman J. Flagler's Folly: The Railroad That Went to Sea and Was Blown Away. 1987. Slumbering Giant Pub Co. ISBN 0961470224; ISBN 978-0961470227
- Heppenheimer, T. A. (2004) "The Railroad That Went to Sea". American Heritage. Winter, 2004. Found at 
- Parks, Pat and Corcoran, Tom. The Railroad That Died at Sea: The Florida East Coast's Key West Extension, Revised Edition. 2010. Ketch & Yawl LLC. ISBN 0978894995; ISBN 978-0978894993
- Overseas Railroad at railfan.net
- Florida East Coast Railway Website
- Early Florida East Coast Railway Information
- Flagler Museum - History of the Florida East Coast Railway
- Florida East Coast Railway Society
- Florida Photographic Collection has many photos
- Overseas Railroad at KeysHistory.org
- A Railroad Over the Ocean Surf, by Joe Mitchell Chapple, National Magazine, January 1906
- "History and Background: Construction of the Old Bridge," by Dan Gallagher, Ph.D.
- History of the Key West Extension