In January 1912, the first Oversea Railway train steamed from the Florida mainland through the Florida Keys to Key West, marking the completion of the railroad that connected the previously isolated islands with each other and the mainland.
The railroad and its construction are showcased in “Flagler’s Speedway to Sunshine,” a comprehensive new exhibit at the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, 281 Front St. The exhibit also spotlights the upcoming 100th anniversary of the inaugural train’s Key West arrival Jan. 22, 2012.
Conceived by Standard Oil millionaire Henry Flagler, the rail line was begun in 1905 and was officially called the Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West Extension.
The $430 million line became known as the Oversea Railway because its track stretched more than 100 miles out into open water. Its bridges and viaducts connecting the Keys, including a nearly seven-mile-long bridge at Marathon in the Middle Keys, were regarded as an engineering marvel.
The Custom House exhibit features a re-created Florida East Coast railcar, a replica of a section of the Seven Mile Bridge, vintage footage of the journey from the Middle Keys to Key West and a film recounting Flagler’s story and the arrival of the first train. Artifacts include a railroad worker’s tool chest, conductor’s uniform and other rare items from the collection of Seth Bramson, America’s foremost collector of Florida East Coast Railway memorabilia.
Quotes from railroad workers, Key West townspeople and Flagler himself help bring alive the railroad’s fascinating story.
In association with the landmark exhibit, a series of Custom House events is planned to commemorate the railroad’s completion. Among them are a model train expo and lectures by noted railroad historians including Bramson.