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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Florida Keys Celebrates Overseas Railroad Centennial

image-historic train sepia
The Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad
On Sunday night in Key Largo during the kick-off of the Flagler Centennial Celebration, I was treated to a sneak-peek of the new PBS documentary, "Flagler's Train: The Florida Keys Over-sea Railroad.” Intrigued by the history of this string of islands, I found the program chock full of fascinating archival imagery and personal correspondence that bring to life the human struggles and monumental technical achievements required to build America's railroads. 
The overseas railroad connected this chain of isolated islands for the first time, forever changing the face of the Florida Keys. Many of the old railroad bridges can still be seen from U.S. Highway 1. My favorite is the iron-trestle bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. You can also see Pigeon Key, a tiny island south of Marathon that lies beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge. It's home to original buildings and houses that date back to 1909 when this spit of land was a base camp for railroad workers
On Saturday, Jan. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Pigeon Key honors the centennial with festivities featuring folks dressed in period clothing, kettle cooking, treasure hunts, square dancing and favorite foods from the early 20th century. On Friday, Jan. 20, at 11 a.m., Bahia Honda State Park stages a historical re-enactment. Stage shows depict Henry Flagler, the railroad magnet, and period travelers as they sharing their experiences. 
The event I’m most looking forward to is Key West's Flagler Centennial Parade on Sunday, Jan. 22. It marks the day in 1912 when the first train arrived in Key West. The procession will march down Duval Street at 1 p.m. to the Custom House steps where “Henry Flagler” will address the spectators. An expanded "Speedway to Sunshine" railroad exhibit will be unveiled in the Custom House musuem.
Tune in for the documentary, "Flagler's Train: The Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad,” on Thursday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. on WPBT2, the Public Broadcasting System affiliate for South Florida and the Keys. It also airs nationally on PBS in the spring. For a full listing of events visit

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