The Story Behind Florida's Abandoned Overseas Railroad Will Boggle Your Mind
If you live in Florida, you’re probably familiar with some of the oil tycoon Henry M. Flagler’s work. Back in the early 1900s, Florida was a popular winter destination for the upper crust, and some of Florida’s most extravagant works of architecture were commissioned by Flagler himself. Flagler College (Ponce de León Hotel) in St. Augustine, and Whitehall, the impressive mansion that is now the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, both serve as reminders of his influence, as do many monuments across the state. Even the abandoned Flagler Railroad seems to be a testament to both man’s ingenuity and arrogance. Was this Flagler folly the biggest architectural disaster in the state? Many believe it was Flagler’s Folly, so let’s find ut what happened to this railroad in Key West.
These treasured Flagler landmarks remain in good condition, but even Flagler wasn’t infallible. In 1905, the industrialists decided to extend the Florida East Coast Railway beyond Miami, all the way to Key West. The hope was for the Flagler Railroad to Key West to profit from this more than 100-mile extension by having the best available access to Cuba and the proposed Panama Canal.
As you can imagine, construction was difficult, dangerous, and very expensive. Three hurricanes threatened to derail the project, but Flagler pressed on. It was completed in 1912, and what had originally been referred to as “Flagler’s Folly” suddenly became “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Flagler Railroad to Key West is still one of the most talked about bridges in the southeast.
In 1935, however, nature delivered a fatal blow when a Category 5 hurricane took out a large part of the middle section of the railroad and made it unusable. More than 400 workers on the rail were killed in the storm. No one wanted to cover the tremendous cost of repairing it, so the land was sold to the state, which, soon afterward, began building the “Overseas Highway” over the salvageable portions of the structures along the rail that remained. The highway was rebuilt once more in the 1980s, and it now runs alongside some of the original railway ruins, which Florida has converted into fishing piers and walking paths called the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
Craving more abandoned goodies in Florida aside from Flagler’s Folly? You should check out this list of stunning abandoned places in Florida. ANd when you go, be sure to take a camera like a GoPro with you!
Have you ever checked out the abandoned Flagler Railroad for yourself? What do you think of this interesting chapter in our state’s history: extravagant or necessary? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear if you think Flagler’s folly was even a folly at all.
More to Explore
What are some famous Florida landmarks?
The following are some famous Florida landmarks outside of the Flagler Railroad:
- Ponce de Leon Inlet Light near Daytona is a 175-foot-tall historic lighthouse where you can climb the stairs all the way to the top.
- Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine is the oldest Spanish fort in the country.
- The Flagler Mansion, built by big-time tycoon Henry Flagler.
Where is the Overseas Highway in Florida?
Built back in the early 1900s originally as what was supposed to be the Overseas Railroad, the stretch of rail barely survived a devastating hurricane in the 1930s, which put it permanently out of commission. The Flagler Railroad to Key West converted to the Overseas Highway instead, which remained until its own replacement came about in the 1980s. Its remains can be found about two miles west of Marathon, Florida, in the central Florida Keys. Flagler's Folly is still one of the most talked about bridges in the state.
Where are some interesting abandoned places in Florida?
The following are some interesting abandoned places in Florida:
- Bongoland Ruins, lurking among the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens, features the remains of enormous dinosaur figures that were once part of a planned adventure park. The park never quite panned out, and the behemoths were allowed to resign to a quiet life of decay in the background of modern-day life.
- In Jacksonville, a legendarily haunted and utterly abandoned elementary school seems to draw only the bravest of explorers, though we suggest sticking to photographing the outside from a safe distance only. You'll find the shells of buildings belonging to what once were resorts, railroads, sports stadiums, and so much more.