Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flagler Railroad Mystery

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Discovering History in Central Florida

It started with some rather poor quality photos online by a hiker. From what I could see, he had actually found genuine ruins of the old Flagler Railroad. I knew that if anything was still there, I wanted to see it, and as a homeschool mother, I wanted my boy to soak up the history even if that meant a 5 hour hike in 97F heat with 95% humidity and biting yellow flies.
But where was it? I found 1 more mention of it online, a mere paragraph, but no location. No one wanted to give away the secret of the location.

You have to understand, Florida has very little that we can call historic because people simply didn't live here before air conditioning. For example, the oldest home in Orlando was built in 1882 by a citrus grower. What's the oldest house in your town?
It was 14 years later that the Flagler Railroad actually started bringing tourist to Miami, caused hotels to be built, pushed Florida into the 20th century, and gave it an economy. Land is precious here so we don't have ruins or abandoned buildings, we have hotels and subdivisions. I've lived in this area for over 20 years and had never heard of this hidden gem, tucked in the woods, and I was going to find it.

The Railroad and the Hurricane

History of The Flagler Railroad

In 1896 Flagler's railroad reached Biscayne Bay, creating a railroad that connected Jacksonville to Miami (originally named, "Mayaimi" by Henry Morrison Flagler).
By 1905, Flagler decided to extend the railroad to Key West and completed the project in 1912 and was considered to be The Eighth Wonder of the World. It was also known as, "Flager's Folly," and the, "overseas railroad." Even in the hard times (1931), there was one departure and arrival from Key West daily. A Key Wester could go round trip to Miami for $4.75! By mid 1935, an estimated fifty million passengers had already taken the 156 mile journey through the Florida Keys.

On September 2, 1935, with a hurricane close by, a locomotive and several baggage cars were assembled to rescue those living on the Keys. Waves were already washing over the tracks as the train approached Islamorada. As soon as the train stopped, families began boarding. A stop in Homestead, however, proved fatal. Within minutes a tidal surge of more than 17 feet swept over the train, sweeping it out to sea. In the days to follow, more than five hundred bodies were found.
After twenty-three years of service, Henry Flagler's railroad died at sea, along with her passengers, during the great hurricane of 1935.

The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane Quiz

1. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, recently re-analyzed by NOAA, shows that the maximum sustained winds were more likely around 185 mph (295 km/h) at landfall. This was a Category what?  Do you know?  The answer is 5.  It was a Cat 5.

     It was thought that the Key West Extension was Henry Flagler's desire to be immortalized. Flagler County was established in 1917.


    Flagler's Railroad

    Touching History in Central Florida 

    After hunting all day through the Little Big Econ State Park, talking to other hikers, people in canoes along the river, I found it! The odd thing is, no one I talked to knew it was there. Many hadn't seen any sign of it. It took me all day of trying to find the best way, and the Jones Trailhead on Snow Hill Road (Lat:28.667 Lon:-81.125) or the Equestrian Trail further down the road, seem to be the shortest and more or less, the most straightforward hikes. Bring a bike map or cellphone map, there are MANY trails throughout the area and none are marked. Wear your hiking shoes, sunscreen, bring water, and your bug spray (tick country). It's not a quick little skip into the woods and there's no bathrooms, no drinking fountains, and no trashcans.
     Along the way, while hunting trails, I did capture some nice scenery and one picture just won a photo contest. If you like mountain biking, you have to try those trails--but you'll never catch me speeding along in loose sand, exposed roots, and along a cliff edge, thanks.

    You can buy all of these images on Zazzle!

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    Award Winning Contest Photo!

    This image is the winner of the State Forest Photo Contest, 3rd Quarter, 2011

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    Winner in the, "Artistic," category, Spring, 2011 State Forest Photo Contest!

    Ruins of the Flagler Railroad

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    Flagler's Railroad Found

    History in Seminole County, Florida 

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    Flagler In The News

    History Being Made

    Flagler Commissioners Endorse SunRail As Gov. Scott Prepares to Derail Commuter Line
    The Flagler County Commission this morning unanimously approved a resolution supporting the construction of the SunRail commuter line in Central Florida. The resolution asks Gov. Rick Scott to release money the Legislature has appropriated for the project, and to support SunRail to completion. The commission's resolution drew a measure of opposition from the public.
    The historic Flagler Railroad Bridges are century old monuments that have stood the test of time and are a major part of the modern landscape of the Florida Keys. The structures were built of North American ingenuity and superior European materials; they still survive today and will perhaps outlive the new US1 highway bridges. Before the great City of Miami existed, Henry Flagler envisioned a railroad across the sea that would create a cultural and economic connection to Cuba, the Panama Canal and South America. Construction of the Florida East Coast Overseas Railroad began in 1908 and on January 22, 1912, 42 bridges later; the completed project was heralded by the press as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". In all, more than 17 miles of bridges and 20 miles of fill embankments were constructed to cross the gaps between the Keys. The railroad transformed the wilderness of the Florida Keys into an economically viable landmass of luxury destinations, a playground for the upper class and sports fishing capital of the world. Key West's role as the closest North American deep-water port to Cuba and South and Central America provided economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and a cultural connection for the more social. Freight and tourism to Cuba and the Caribbean Basin became an integral part of the railroad traffic.
    Eyewitness Recalls First Train's Arrival In Key West
    On Jan. 22, 1912, when Ruby Whitlock was eight years old, she watched the arrival of the first train that traveled down the Oversea Railway from mainland Florida through the Florida Keys to Key West.

    In early 2000, when she was an energetic 96-year-old, Whitlock reminisced about the event that changed the Florida Keys forever. She was believed to be the last remaining Key West resident to witness the historic arrival.

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