by Rita Hooper
As you’ve probably guessed after reading last week’s column, your writer has once again flown the coop. In a rash moment she made a reservation to fly south – it is unknown when she will return – but keep the news coming and she promises to get it to you!
Her first stop was to visit some Hannibal folks in Zephyrhills, Fla. and then to attend a hastily put together meeting of the Elderberries. Business was not discussed much except that I am to bring greetings back to Hannibal.
And I did get a few ideas for future history columns on some of Hannibal’s lesser known goings on! It’s hard to believe that history is now what my generation lived through!
After the meeting, I headed further south landing in the Keyes…the most southern most point of Florida and also the beginning or end of Route 1. It runs from Ft. Kent, Maine on the Canadian border to Key West, Fla. It is 2369 miles long and is generally the most easterly of the major north-south routes. It was formed in 1926 and connects most of the major east coast cities. At the turn of the century, travel to Key West was limited.
So just how did Route 1 come into being?
It seems there was this man named Henry Flagler, who happened to be a founder of Standard Oil along with John D. Rockefeller. He originally came to Florida as his doctor in New York City felt that the warm air of Florida would help his ailing wife. He soon realized the lack of services along the coast and began developing resorts, industries and communities along the shore. He worked his way south developing Jacksonville and Miami and a number of cities in-between.
When he got to Miami, he began to think of building a railroad out to the Keyes. Prior to that, only boats could bring the tourists. Key West is one of three, naturally deep seaports in Florida.
He saw the possibilities of developing the harbor there. Ships sailing to South and Central American needed to refuel in Key West and produce being shipped north had difficulty being kept fresh to get to northern markets.
And so the Florida East Coast Railroad was born with Henry Flagler as its Daddy! The railroad was completed in 1912 and by then ships were able to travel further without the need for refueling in Key West and refrigeration was developed for ships carrying the produce.
But the tourists began flocking to the Keyes once there was a way.
Building the railroad was no easy task as there was nothing to work with. Everything had to be bought to the Keyes.
Today, I took a small ferry from Marathon Key to Pigeon Key, the sight of one of the camps where the workers resided. It was able to house close to 500 workers at a time in tents. The cooks must have been busy 24 hours a day feeding them! The camp with several of its original buildings are still in use today for environmental schools and camps – the island itself isn’t any bigger than Fireman’s Field but it is an island surrounded by beautiful blue-green water!
There is even a house you can rent on it for about $1,500 a week – of course you would either have to have a boat or take a ferry or walk over the old railroad bridge to get there! Recently they installed their own solar panels so they now have electricity on the island and water is piped in along the old railroad bridge.
There is no water on any of the islands so it is all piped from the mainland – 120 miles away! As usual I digress!
To put this in time reference, Flagler was a contemporary of other great thinkers, planners and inventors like Edison and Ford. The Panama Canal was being built about the same time. Flagler invested about 30-40 million of his own money in this project. Special barges had to be built to navigate the low waters and carry the heavy – 19 ton bridge plates made in Pittsburgh as well as the derricks necessary to put them in place.
Cement that could be used under sea water had to be imported from Germany, the cement used above the water came from our own New York State. The railroad was completed in 1910 and it’s estimated that more than 20,000 men had worked on it.
It had only one rail bed but that was enough to do what needed to be done; a large water pipe ran along its side to carry water from the mainland.
Flagler did live long enough to see his idea come to fruition and about 10,000 people were in Key West to welcome the first train. All of them coming by boat!
In 1935, a terrible hurricane hit the Islemorada area of the Keyes. More than 500 people were killed. And the railroad was largely destroyed in that area. Had Flagler been alive, it is felt that he would have rebuilt it. But he wasn’t.
Eventually, the powers that be, decided to widen the railroad bed about six feet on each side and pave it to make a road that would connect all the Islands. It was a very narrow, two-lane road; trucks would have to pull in their mirrors to pass each other. They used the old tracks for the posts and railings on the new highway.
In the deepest water sections of the seven-mile bridge, they had to reinforce the upper parts of the bridge with steel bracing. So when the road was built, it was built on top of the steel cages. That must have been a real white knuckle driving experience. You can still see it as you drive by it – the remaining guard rails seem mighty low to me!
In the 70s, a new road was built parallel to the old road and the old road over the original railroad bed was retired. It is now used for walking and bike riding and fishing. Currently there is a big campaign going on to preserve “old seven” – the old seven mile bridge.
The new road, now going on 50 years old is still mostly one lane in each direction and is the only way on and off the Islands by car. And it is the terminus of US 1 which brings me back to the beginning of the story!
Flagler was told he’d never make any money on his railroad but that wasn’t the point — he wanted to build a railroad and he did; and, it opened the Florida Keyes for all of us to visit!
Remember when you were in school and you were given an assignment to write a story or an essay and you just couldn’t get started? Your teacher may have said something like “just write and it will come to you.”
That’s how this column came to be. It started with Route 1 and somehow got into the Flagler Railroad. I had planned on writing about the Harry S. Truman’s Little White House in Key West…and one thing led to another. Next week the column will be about the Little White House or maybe about the Turtle Hospital…
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The Senior Nutrition Program will be closed on Monday in honor of President’s Day.
The menu for Wednesday is hearty beef stew and winter blend vegetables. Also on Wednesday besides playing Bingo, they will be “planting” spring flowers. Friday, they will be serving homemade mac and cheese. The dietician will be presenting a program on “Fish – fact or fiction?!”
Senior Nutrition meets at the Senior Center, next to the Library on Oswego Street. Lunch is served at noon but they are open by 10 a.m. for coffee and news and games. Give Rosemary a call and make your reservation now at 564-5471.
Nominations for the library’s Woman of the Year will be accepted until Saturday, Feb. 23. Nomination ballots are available at the library. The voting on the nominees will then run until Saturday, March 16. The award ceremony for the winner will take place Saturday, March 23 from 2 to 3 p.m.
The Hannibal Park Committee has announced that they will be holding a Family Fun Day at the park, next to the Municipal Building Feb. 23 from noon until 3 p.m.
The Hannibal Historical Society will meet Feb. 25 at the Community Center for a covered dish dinner at 6 p.m. During the business meeting, which will follow the dinner, members of the Society will be voting on new by-laws.
Following the meeting, Louise Kellogg will be showing us some of the old fashioned games played in March at the fourth grade celebration of Hannibal History. Please bring a dish to pass and your own table service. Coffee and tea will be provide
If you know that your organization is planning an event and you don’t see it in the Hannibal column, please e-mail me or give me a buzz (both email and phone are posted at the top of this column.)
This column is meant to keep those in Hannibal, Florida, Arizona and points in between and around the globe posted on what’s shaking in our fair community. Some of us still like to get the news the ole fashioned way!