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The anniversary of Henry Flagler's railroad and Key West

KeysOverSeaRail1_1456_3668_lowThis post is dedicated to a man who made a favorite road trip possible: Henry Flagler, who connected the islands of the Florida Keys to each other and to the Florida mainland a century ago with his Over-Sea Railroad. The rail line, also known as the Key West Extension, was destroyed in 1935 by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the United States. But its bridges, an engineering marvel in their time, inspired the Overseas Highway and provided the foundation for some over-water stretches of the road.

Flagler made his fortune as one of John D. Rockefeller's partners in Standard Oil. Then he invested part of that fortune in building a railroad -- which would become the Florida East Coast Railway -- from Jacksonville to Key West. The railway opened the state, especially its southern end, to tourism. KeysOverSeaRail2 flagler_1460_3668_1487_3668_low

The state will celebrate the centennial of Flagler's railroad in January, with a series of events in some of the cities along the line, including St. Augustine and Palm Beach, where he lived, and in Key West. The official centennial is Jan. 22, 2012, one hundred years to the day after the train arrived in Key West for the first time, with Flagler riding in his private rail car.

Highlights of the celebration:

*In Palm Beach, the Flagler Museum, housed in what was once the Flagler winter home, Whitehall, has an exhibit on the Over-Sea Railroad through Jan. 8. In addition, a pavilion adjacent to Whitehall is the permanent home to Flagler's private railcar. No. 91. Information

*Pigeon Key, which was a base camp for the railroad's construction workers a century ago, will hold a day-long festival Jan. 14 with live music, square dancing, kids' activities, tours of the island's railroad museum and other activities. Pigeon Key is located under the old Seven-Mile Bridge. Information.

KeysOverSeaRail5_rails-1496_3668_low*Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys will host a re-enactment on Jan. 20, featuring Flagler, his third wife Mary Lily Kenan, Ernest Hemingway (a sometimes resident of Key West) and others. Information.

*Key West will hold a parade on Jan. 22 featuring bands, costumed re-enactors, and a replica of Flagler's private railcar. The parade will end at the Key West Museum of Art & History, which will have a special Speedway to Sunshine exhibit about the railroad. Information.

*Marathon Community Theatre will have a one- man show by Paul Jellinek as Flagler, telling Flagler's story, on Jan. 22. Information.

Photos courtesy of the Monroe County Public Library: From top, Over-Sea Railroad on the Long Key Viaduct; Henry Flagler; the Long Key Viaduct.