Historic City News takes note that today in 1912, the first Florida East Coast Railway train arrived in Key West — marking the completion of the railroad that would forever change the future of St Augustine.
In 1904, Henry Flagler decided to extend his railroad to Key West, more than 100 miles from its terminus in Miami.
Work on the extension required a labor force of 3,000-4,000 men over seven years to complete. Construction was difficult, causing high labor turnover, and the line seemed cursed.
Workers weathered difficult construction, fought insects and disease, and the weather was brutal.
In 1906, a hurricane destroyed initial work on the Long Key Viaduct and killed more than 100 workers.
Hurricanes in 1909 and 1910 destroyed much of the completed railroad, but the 80 year old Flagler had workers resume at an even faster pace. He was determined to ride all the way to Key West on his railroad.
According to the archives of the Florida Historical Society, when Flagler arrived in Key West aboard his private car, “Rambler” on January 22, 1912, he told the huge crowd, “Now I can die happy. My dream is fulfilled.” Flagler died less than 18 months later.
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane washed away 40 miles of the Middle Keys section of the line. In addition, the Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, along with an FEC rescue train which was overturned by the storm surge at Islamorada, leaving only one car, steam locomotive 447.
With Flagler no longer at the helm, the FEC was unwilling to repair a line that had never repaid its construction costs.
It was later determined that the total cost of what had been derisively nicknamed “Flagler’s Folly” exceeded $50 million (over 1 billion today), all from his personal fortune.