FLORIDA KEYS – Although the official Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad centennial celebration ends Jan. 23, throughout the year and even beyond Keys visitors can explore sites, events, exhibits and landmarks related to the railroad that was lauded upon its completion as the world’s most unique.
At the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, 281 Front St., a permanent exhibit titled “Flagler’s Speedway to Sunshine” showcases the railroad’s construction, heyday and demise.
Museum visitors can view a re-created Florida East Coast Railway car, a replica section of the Seven Mile Bridge, vintage footage of the journey from the Middle Keys to Key West, a film recounting Flagler’s story and the arrival of the first train as well as fascinating quotes from railroad workers, Key West townspeople and Flagler himself.
An expanded section of the exhibit takes museum visitors to the Prohibition era, the prosperous 1920s and turbulent 1930s, as well as detailing the 1935 hurricane that severely damaged parts of the Keys railroad.
A new Roaring Twenties section explores how Flagler’s railroad brought many affluent socialites to Key West. A reconstructed arched loggia of “the most perfect” of Flagler’s resort hotels, Key West’s Casa Marina, is complemented by archival photographs of the $2 million property and artifacts from 1920’s flapper-style New Year’s Eve ball that marked its opening.
“End of an Era” is a glimpse into the 1930s and Great Depression years, with photographic insights into one of Key West’s wealthiest citizens at the time, Ernest Hemingway. Attractions include photographs from Hemingway’s family albums and other memorabilia related to the author.
Impacts of the Labor Day 1935 hurricane are chronicled through oral history and pre- and post-storm photography in a section of the exhibit titled “The Day the Clocks Stopped.”
For details, visit www.kwahs.com or call 305-295-6616.
Through March 2012, historic re-enactments commemorating the completion of the Over-Sea Railroad are to be staged at Bahia Honda State Park, mile marker 36.8 in the Lower Keys. Park visitors can take a trip through time from 1912, on the Over-Sea Railroad’s inaugural journey, through 1938 when the Florida Keys Overseas Highway replaced the track.
Park rangers present the first-person interpretation programs once a month on a stage decorated like Flagler’s private train car. A portion of one of the original railroad bridges arches against the sky behind the stage.
Characters that appear in the performance include Henry Flagler’s third wife Mary Lily Kenan, Ernest Hemingway, Flagler’s brother-in-law Will Kenan and Flagler himself. Performances are free with general park admission.
For information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda/events.cfm or call 305-872-9807. Show dates are announced at the beginning of each month.
Pigeon Key, one of the Florida Keys’ hidden gems, lies nestled beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge and provides a window on life in the Keys a century ago. Just over two miles west of Marathon, Pigeon Key’s five acres housed more than 400 workers who built Henry Flagler’s railroad in the early 1900s.
The island was a base camp with a commissary and one-room school during the Seven Mile Bridge’s construction from 1908 to 1912. Following its completion, maintenance crews continued living on Pigeon Key.
Daily historical tours are offered of the island’s museum that chronicles the construction. Many of Pigeon Key’s original railroad buildings and houses dating to 1909 still stand.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Pigeon Key is accessible by ferry from a visitor center at Knight’s Key, located at mile marker 47, on the west end of Marathon.
For more information, visit www.pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
At the Historic Key West Seaport, the Flagler Station Over-Sea Railway Historeum takes guests back to the day in 1912 when the first train arrived in the island city.
Located at the corner of Caroline and Margaret Streets, the Historeum includes a reconstructed section of the Key West Terminus, the station’s mercantile store and dry goods, memorabilia and railroad-related souvenirs.
Film presentations provide rare footage of the building of the Over-Sea Railroad, also called the Key West Extension, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Historeum is a stop on the Old Town Trolley tour and one of three stops on the Conch Tour Train.
For information, visit www.flaglerstation.net or call 305-293-8716.
Travelers on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway can recall the railroad through a newly created outdoor art mural in Key Largo, covering the southwest exterior wall of the Atlantic Title building at 95360 U.S. Highway 1 near mile marker 95 bayside.
The hand-painted mural measures 60 feet long and 11.5 feet high, and depicts a train similar to a Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad passenger train steaming across an arched bridge reminiscent of the Long Key Viaduct. In the sky is a full moon adorned with the face of the railroad’s creator, Henry Flagler.
The mural was redesigned from an original 3-by-5-inch railroad postcard image, enlarged and detailed to fit the wall’s surface area, in a collaborative effort between the Art Guild of the Purple Isles and local high school art club students.
Over-Sea Railroad centennial information: www.FlaglerKeys100.com
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)