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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Flagler’s Folly, Purr-Purr Kitty

cruising destination pigeon point florida keys

Pigeon Point Museum – one of many attractive, well preserved
or rebuilt historical buildings on Pigeon Island.
They once called it “the eighth wonder of the world.”  Today, it’s but a footnote of history, created by Florida transformationalist robber-barron, Henry Flagler, “the brains of Standard Oil.”

What is, or rather, was it?

The Overseas Railroad -- an industrial era “silk road” of the West, connecting the flow of goods between the Caribbean and North America.

ferry station at overseas railroad pigeon island

Pigeon Key Ferry stop.
The most ambitious privately funded engineering venture ever, The Overseas Railroad, a 156-mile extension, filled in some key missing links in Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), terminating at deep water port, Key West Florida.

Derisively nicknamed "Flagler's Folly," it’s believed its total estimated construction cost exceeded $50 million ($1.3 billion in today’s dollars), all from Flagler’s personal fortune. It was the culmination of 7 years of monumental effort, marred by the death of over 100 railroad builders.

pigeon island florida keys tourist detination

Pigeon Key ferry schedule.
Greeted by cheering crowds, Flagler completed his long-awaited inaugural ride on January 22, 1912, at the ripe old age of 80.

Less than 18 months later, Flagler fell down a flight of stairs and died. 
pigeon key florida visitor center
Pigeon Key Visitor Center... really just a
gift shop in a  railroad car, though the
proceeds go to Pigeon Island
preservation efforts.

Twenty-three years later, the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane washed away 40 miles of the railroad.  The then-broke FEC determined it was too costly to fix. Later, it was partially repurposed as a portion of U.S. Highway 1, a section now known as The Overseas Highway.  The most significant remaining portions of The Overseas Railroad are preserved as National Register of Historic Places, particularly, Pigeon Island, a once railway work camp housing as many as 400 on its 5 acres.

pigeon key museum display
One of many well-crafted museum
displays depicting the engineering
challenges faced building
The Overseas Railroad.
Thus, we spent a lovely sunny day cycling from Marathon across the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, to Pigeon Island, accessible only on foot bicycle, or ferry.  It’s a pretty spot, with historic and environmental museums, picnic tables, and a swimming beach that day piled high with storm-torn seagrass. 

We didn’t expect to encounter a guide breaking away from the group he was leading to assertively ‘invite’ us to join his tour at $12 each.  “We planned to self-tour,” we explained.  “A donation is expected, still,” he countered, definitely in no hurry to move more than 18” away until we coughed up some cold, hard cash.  We did, though paying less than $24 for the pleasure of our brief self tour.  After all, while unexpected and pressured, we did feel genuinely compelled to contribute to Pigeon Island’s preservation.  You too can support a piece of Keys history via https://friendsofoldseven.org -- without anyone getting in your face to do so.
pigeon key island florida museum
Pigeon Island marine museum offered a welcoming open space, 
more for research than eduction for casual passerby.

We enjoyed a wander, the museums and probably most of all were tickled by a local resident kitty (we noticed his food and water bowl in the environmental museum).  We’re always a sucker for cute furballs that bonk us for attention, flop shamelessly on their backs, purring, utterly surrendering to pleasure, ‘happy feet’ paws furling and unfurling.

Probably not quite what Flagler envisioned.  Then again, well before The Overseas Railroad, his made his second fortune and a fiscal turnaround for this once impoverished state as a major hotelier. He was renowned for making Florida a tourist destination.  Thus, if he was open to something for everyone, “Meow” serves us just fine.

kitty at overseas railroad museum

Kitty, indifferent. 
“What’s in it for me?  Buzz off!”

cat at pigeon key florida
Kitty, in ecstasy.
“Purrrr. Purrrr.
This guy’s got magic fingers.”

pigeon island overseas railroad
Kitty, in afterglow.
“Ohhhhhh….  Ohhhhhh….  Ahhhhhhh….
You stopped?”
To learn more about the remarkable engineering required to build The Overseas Railroad, and its mastermind and “modern Florida” founder, Flagler, check out