Overseas Railroad

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Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges
Train on Overseas Railroad Long Key Viaduct.jpg
Florida East Coast Railway
Key West Extension
express train at sea
crossing Long Key Viaduct
Overseas Railroad is located in Florida
Overseas Railroad
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
Coordinates 24°42′42″N 81°7′23″W / 24.71167°N 81.12306°W / 24.71167; -81.12306Coordinates: 24°42′42″N 81°7′23″W / 24.71167°N 81.12306°W / 24.71167; -81.12306
Area 30.2 acres (12.2 ha)
Built 1905
Architect Florida East Coast Railway; Overseas Highway & Toll Bridge Comm.
Architectural style Arch, Girder & Truss Spans
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 79000684[1]
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 of almost 30,000 inhabitants[when?] located 128 miles (204.8 km) beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. Work on the line started in 1905[2] and it operated from 1912 to 1935.

Henry Flagler and the origin of the Florida East Coast Railway[edit]

Henry Morrison Flagler (1830–1913), was a principal in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler and later in 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.

Beginning with St. Augustine, he moved progressively south. Flagler helped develop Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Palm Beach, and became known as the Father of Miami, Florida.

Flagler's rail network became known as the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). By 1904, the FEC had reached Homestead, south of Miami.

Key West Extension: Eighth Wonder of the World[edit]

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."[citation needed]


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.[3]

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ Born GW (2003)Historic Florida Keys: an illustrated history of Key West & the Keys, HPN Books P47
  3. ^ "Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail". Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  • "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
  • Heppenheimer, T. A. (2004) "The Railroad That Went to Sea". American Heritage. Winter, 2004. Found at [1]
  • Parks, Pat. The Railroad That Died at Sea: The Florida East Coast's Key West Extension

External links[edit]