"Flagler's Legacy" Top 5 Page for this destination Florida Keys by grandmaR

Florida Keys Travel Guide: 249 reviews and 671 photos

The Florida Keys started out as a coral forest underwater about 120,000 BC. As water levels changed, some of the reef emerged from the water and became little islands. There appear to have been Indians living in the Keys between 1000 AD and 700 AD.

The origin of the word "Key" to refer to a small island is not really known. Some think that it began when the Spanish adapted the word "cayo' from the Taino Indians of Hispanola and Cuba. The English used "Cay" or "Kay" such as Cay Sal Banks. In some places, Cay is pronounced as the letter "K." In other places (like the Bahamas) Cay is pronounced like Key. The line of little islands or keys stretches from Key West to the Florida mainland - some 125 miles.

Key West was claimed by the United States in 1822, and by 1860 (in spite of the Seminole Wars and hurricanes), it was one of the richest cities per capita in Florida and by 1880 was the largest city in Florida.

But tourism as we know it received a tremendous boost from Henry Flagler when he extended his railroad down to Key West. Construction started in 1905 and the railroad was completed by 1912 just a year before Flagler's death. Pigeon Key, just west of Marathon (which was named by the railroad workers) was where the railroad workers were housed.

After the disasterous Labor Day hurricane of 1935, the railroad was sold and turned into a highway.

The mile markers on the Keys probably came about because Henry Flagler numbered every mile of railroad beginning at Jacksonville and ending at Key West. There were white and black concrete Mile Post signs along the railroad track and on the printed timetables. Now, the mile markers go the other way. If the MM's are getting smaller, one is traveling south or southwest. Note: the farther south in the Keys one is, the more east and west the highway runs. So instead of saying north or south (which isn't accurate), one more accurately says "up" or "down".

  • Last visit to Florida Keys: Mar 2004
  • Intro Updated Feb 15, 2005
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grandmaR

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