Originally, the Florida Keys were only accessible by boat with no way to use any form of land transport to get to them. Included was Key West, which is located at the end of the Florida Keys, is the southernmost point in Florida and was the state’s largest city until 1900 due to its advantageous location.
That changed on Jan. 22, 1912, when the Overseas Railroad became operable all the way to Key West, seven years after work had started on it. The man behind the development of it was Henry Flagler, who was 82 when he rode the first train from Miami to Key West, a 156-mile journey. At the time, many referred to the Overseas Railroad as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The building of this train route was an impressive engineering feat, and the process included the inventing of things like dredges and rolling bridge scaffolding. After it was built, passenger trains were regularly run along it, but freight trains were not, which caused the Overseas Railroad to not be a profitable venture.
While it was built, a trio of powerful hurricanes in 1906, 1909 and 1910 threatened its completion, but those in charge of the project adapted to these challenges and got it finished. However, it was a sign of things to come.
On Sept. 2, 1935, the Labor Day Hurricane, nicknamed the “Storm of the Century,” ripped through the Florida Keys, killed hundreds and washed away 40 miles of Overseas Railroad track, permanently putting an end to this intriguing way to get to Key West.
At the time of its destruction, a road to Key West was being built, and that continued and became the new sole way to use land transport to get through the Florida Keys once it fully opened on March 29, 1938.