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  • Key West Time | Overseas Railroad
  • FL

Key West Time | Overseas Railroad


Custom House Exhibit

Celebrates Flagler’s Railroad’s

100th Anniversary

The Key West Art and Historical Society’s Custom House Museum, 281 Front Street, Key West, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the FEC Railway’s arrival to Key West, with a new exhibition entitled, Speedway to Sunshine…the Final Chapter. A member’s reception will be held Sunday, January 22, from 5:30PM to 7:00PM, 100 years to the day of inaugural train’s arrival. Special guest, official FEC Historian, Seth Bramson will be signing his latest work The Greatest Railroad Story Ever Told for KWAHS members.

The new exhibit completes the story of FEC Railway’s Over-Sea Railroad, chronicling Henry Flagler’s dream to connect the Florida Keys to mainland Florida by rail, the effects of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression on Key West, the deadly Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and the construction of the Overseas Highway.

Beginning with the railroad’s construction in 1904, visitors will experience the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the men and women who heroically labored through storms, mosquitos, and a harsh subtropical climate to complete an engineering feat comparable to the Panama Canal. This chapter of the story culminates with a scale replica of a FEC Railway car, marking the train’s 1912 arrival to Key West.

“The artifacts and memorabilia in the exhibit will help visitors understand what it was like in Key West one-hundred years ago,” said Claudia Pennington, CEO and executive director of the Key West Art and Historical Society. “It is an exhibit locals should see because the history of the island would be a lot different if the railroad had not been built. What would our lives be like if Flagler’s dream had not become a reality?

As museum visitors exit the Railway car they will enter the reconstructed veranda of the Casa Marina, “the most perfect” of the Flagler System’s hotel collection, journeying to a vibrant Key West during the 1920s. Although Flagler’s unfortunate death in 1913 marked the end of an era for the FEC, its new management vowed to create a monument to their fallen leader. Built to withstand viscous storms, the hotel was a marvel, and redefined the Flagler System’s approach to resort construction.

Archival photographs of the construction, showing the resort’s tapered, steel-reinforced walls demonstrate how such a building could withstand the harshest of hurricanes. Artifacts from the Casa Marina, including vintage furnishings, menus and china, a delicate flapper dress alludes to the artists, writers, actors and actresses, sports stars, musicians, journalists, and dancers who made the 1920s roar in Key West!

The story doesn’t stop there as visitors experience Key West’s unique version of Prohibition. While much of the nation’s authorities rallied behind the temperance movement, Key West was firmly planted in the rum-running industry. Key West was an especially attractive place to smugglers as it was 90 miles from the epicenter of the rum industry – Cuba.

As museum visitors turn the corner they enter the concluding chapter of the story as they are met by an ominous red train lantern hanging solemnly in a darkened room with the distant sounds of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 bearing down on the Matecumbe Keys. Drawing from personal letters and official records of the event, a description of the storm narrated by local artist David Harrison Wright offers visitors a personal experience of the horrific storm. Archival photographs show the derailed train, knocked off its rail by the storm’s surge, sent to rescue workers and residents. Hundreds of WWI workers, who were completing a section of the Overseas Highway, perished in the storm’s wrath.

Speedway to Sunshine…the Final Chapter is a historically significant exhibit for the local community and the Custom House Museum. This achievement marks not only the creation of a primary permanent exhibit but also tells the complete story of one of the most pivotal eras in the history of the Florida Keys. The rise and fall of Flagler’s dream had an everlasting impact on the history of Key West and the Florida Keys.

The Custom House Museum is open every day from 9:30AM-5:00PM. For more information please visit our website or call (305-295-6616).


1– 3)Norman Aberle goes through some of the Key West Art & Historical Society’s memorabilia that will be displayed at the Custom House exhibit.

4) A large poster blow up of the lobby interior of the Casa Marina circa 1912.

5) A large poster blow up of the aftermath of the 1935 Hurricane that hit the Middle Keys and destroyed the railroad.

6) A roaring 20s dress and hat that were popular at the time of the railroad’s arrival in Key West.

Initial Airing November 25, 2010
Key West Time | Episode 4


Howard performs “Meet Me In The Keys”, visits Bahia Honda & Grills Mahi Mahi at the Sunset Grill while celebrating the 100th anniversary of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.

  • Key West Time | Overseas Railroad
  • FL

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