Monday, December 12, 2016

Connecting Key West to the Florida Mainland Part 1

Train on the seven mile railroad bridge
   The possibility that a highway from Key West to the mainland was first uttered in a political address by George W. Allen in 1895. The first real step that would indicate the coming of a land transportation system in the Keys was the railroad.   Post offices came along with the railroad providing daily deliveries of people and goods. The Overseas Highway really came about because of the 1935 hurricane that destroyed Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway.   This is basically true, but the highway actually started happening before that.   The building of the Overseas Highway really began in 1917.  Monroe County floated a $100,000 bond issue to build roads, and trails, on Key Largo, Big Pine Key and the Cow Key Channel Bridge between Key West and Stock Island.

Florida Year - Round Club (Angler's Club) Key Largo 1930's
    What really sparked the need for the Overseas Highway was the rapid growth of the real estate market. Monroe County was only accessible by the railroad and the Miami Motor Club wanted to give its winter tourists a suburban fishing ground. The real estate interests wanted vehicular access to the thousands of undeveloped acres in the Upper Keys.  Dade and Monroe County commissioners met jointly and decided to connect Key Largo with the mainland.  They wanted to follow the railroad route, but the Miami’s interests wanted a route that would help the fishing, that was the Card Sound route, which finally one out.

   Monroe County residents voted a $300,000 bond issued in 1922 to construct a road from the Key Largo Anglers Club, which began at the turn of the twentieth century as a small fishing camp and trading post on the Bay side of Card Sound, that became part of the “Florida Year Round Club in the early 1930's. to the Key Largo Train Depot.

Ferry Boat "Key West" around 1934
      Dade County completed the 11 miles of road from Florida City to Little Card Point, between Card and Barnes Sound.  Monroe County built the drawbridge and connected the Dade County road to the existing North Key Largo road.  The roadway and bridge were severely damaged in the 1926 hurricane, a decision was made to raise the bridge height from five to nine feet as a result of the damage. Until the completion, in March of 1927 an auto ferry towed by a powerboat transported cars from Florida City to the east end of the Card Sound bridge.   The road was also made serviceable as far as Islamorada during that same time period.  J. Otto Kirchheiner, chairman of the Monroe County commissioners, was the first to drive a car using a combination of roads and ferries from Key West to the mainland on July 18, 1927.   .    Key West had built a road as far as No Name Key and the construction of a ferryboat pier began at Lower Matecumbe and No Name Key connecting the two ends of the keys.    January 16, 1928, three ferryboats at a cost of $850,000 were put into operation between Lower Matecumbe Key and No Name Key. One ferry would go east and one ferry would be returning west.   The third was kept in reserve or in maintenance. However, one ferry burned eight months later. This was a 41-mile ferry trip.  Each ferry could take 20 cars and the trip took about four hours. The toll was $3.50 for vehicles under 14 feet up to $6.50 for vehicles over 16 feet, driver included. Passengers were charged $1.00 each.  Officially for the public the Overseas Highway opened January 25, 1928.