FLORIDA KEYS — A celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the completion of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad is to culminate Jan. 14-23, with Keyswide events marking the centennial of the first train’s journey from the Florida mainland through the island chain to Key West.
When the inaugural train steamed through the Keys Jan. 22, 1912, it connected the previously isolated islands with each other and the mainland for the first time and ushered in a new era for travelers and residents. Stretching more than 100 miles out over open water, the Over-Sea Railroad was lauded as the world’s most unique rail line.
Highlights of the centennial celebration include a 1900s-era costume ball and themed community parade, a one-man performance by a re-enactor portraying railroad founder Henry Flagler, a “family fun” day at the former railroad workers’ camp on the tiny island of Pigeon Key, museum and memorabilia exhibitions, hobbyist train displays and a re-enactment at Bahia Honda State Park.
History lovers can explore Pigeon Key, one of the Keys’ landmark railroad heritage sites, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, during a free-admission day of family fun. Nestled beneath the original Seven Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys, the 5-acre island features Flagler-era restored buildings and a unique railroad museum. The day’s other attractions include snorkeling, historic and contemporary foods, period games, live music and entertainment.
A hobbyist train exhibition is scheduled the following day at Crane Point, mile marker (MM) 50.5 bayside, featuring early 20th century musical entertainment.
The action shifts to the Lower Keys Friday, Jan. 20, when an 11 a.m. historic re-enactment is scheduled at Bahia Honda State Park, MM 36.8. Visitors can “meet” the visionary Flagler, his third wife Mary Lily Kenan, Ernest Hemingway and others during a performance on the park’s railcar stage decorated like Flagler’s private train car, the Rambler.
Key West is the site of weekend events during the centennial of the first train’s arrival there.
A gala period costume ball is set for 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the historic Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, 1500 Reynolds St. Built to accommodate the Over-Sea Railroad’s elite passengers, the oceanfront resort captures the elegance of the era. The ball is to feature a Flagler-inspired dinner menu, dancing to period music and other festivities celebrating the centennial.
On the following day, the 100th anniversary of the inaugural train’s arrival, a 1 p.m. community parade on Key West’s Duval Street is to commemorate the event that changed the face of the Keys forever. Bands, costumed re-enactors, marching groups, dignitaries and even passengers in a replica of Flagler’s Rambler are to parade through the streets of Key West’s historic district.
The parade route is to end at the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, 281 Front St., where participants and spectators are to be welcomed by “Henry Flagler.” They then can attend the debut of the museum’s expanded “Speedway to Sunshine” exhibit showcasing the remarkable railroad.
That same day, Marathon audiences can view a one-man show by noted Flagler re-enactor Paul Jellinek, telling the story of the visionary who conceived the railroad. Showtimes for the two-act play are 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Marathon Community Theatre, 5101 Overseas Highway.
The centennial’s final weekend also includes the scheduled Key West arrival of paddling enthusiasts concluding a 115-mile adventure throughout the Keys.
The celebration is to end Monday, Jan. 23, with a 6-7 p.m. presentation by acclaimed Florida East Coast Railway historian and author Seth Bramson at The Studios of Key West, 600 White St. Bramson also is to sign his latest book, “The Greatest (Railroad) Story Ever Told: Henry Flagler and the Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West Extension.”
Event information and ticketing: www.FlaglerKeys100.com
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)