The Seven Mile Bridge is really one of the iconic images of the Florida Keys.
Some might actually say that it is the thread that keeps the whole place together.
And certainly whatever your appraisal, not only is it an iconic image, but it has quite a history too.
So in this page we will let you in, on not only the highpoints of this bridges life, but also the low points.
The fact that there has been two versions of the bridge will have you realising that the low points were about as bad as they could be.
But let’s take you back to the very beginning.
To a time when there was no Seven Mile Bridge, but there was one man: Henry Flagler.
The Beginning Of It All
Henry Flager was a visionary, and a self made man.
He had earnt a fortune, and then lost it, and then like most self-made men got it all back, in such spectacular fashion that he was used to doing the impossible.
If you fancy finding out more detailed information about Henry Flagler then simply click here, but for now we will get back to just focusing on the bridge.
Henry Flagler was a busy man.
And he was busy because he wanted to create an infrastructure down to the Florida Keys, which was badly needed.
Even though Key West was only about 127 miles away from the mainland of Florida, the whole area was badly behind the times, but had so much to offer.
It had the climate.
It had the natural beauty.
It just didn't have much going for it, except swamps and mosquitoes.
But Flagler saw an opportunity that very few others would have seen, and thought "If I could build some new hotels and promote the place, then I could be sitting on a gold mine!"
So from his offices at Pigeon Key, Flagler started to set in motion and plan the bridging of all of the islands and the waters between to create the great Overseas Railroad.
Just A Glimpse Of This Historic Old Bridge
There is probably no part of the route which is as beautiful as this bit linking Knights Key, Pigeon Key, and the Moser Channel, and the man did a great job by positioning huge steel-girders on top of massive concrete piers between these first bits of land to make the first three stages of the Seven Mile Bridge.
This was not easy, as they had to link the foundations to solid bedrock under the water, and quite often needed to go down 28 feet to work on it all.
But they achieved their aim and the Seven Mile bridge started to take shape.
You might be wondering about why it ended up being called the name that we have been writing about?
Ie Why did it get the Seven Mile moniker?
So I'll stop the history lesson for a moment and talk for a bit on the length of this iconic bridge.
We will then get back to the construction of it all.
Is It Really Seven Miles In Length?
The Seven Mile Bridge is a great name, and one that will stand the test of time, but no it isn't that length.
Not quite anyway.
The actual length of the new bridge that you would be traveling on today, if you paid a visit to the Florida Keys is technically speaking 6.765 miles long.
"Have you traveled along the 6.765 miles bridge yet?"
See what we mean, it doesn't sound right.
So seven miles it will be.
As for the old remaining part of the bridge that is still standing, with probably a few fisherman dangling rods as we speak, it is 2.2 miles in length.
Ok, that covers that, so lets get back to the history lesson.
"Let's see if we can hook a car or two! That will be a laugh!"
The Beginning Of It All (Part Two)
Flagler then moved onto the fourth of the sections called Pacet Channel Viaduct, which was quite problematic as it had to allow for the passage of boats moving between the gulf of Mexico And the Atlantic Ocean.
So upwards he went with a huge expanse of bridge, which allowed for the boats to come and go down below.
All in all the bridge, was made up of 546 concrete foundation piers, with each of them consisting of enough materials to fill up a five masted schooner.
Make no mistake.
This was one huge undertaking and needed a dreamer who could dream big.
Flagler did this, and not just here at the Seven Mile bridge, but he pulled out all the stops along the whole route to make his dream come true.
Not only did he overcome the natural hazards of bridging over seven miles of water between Marathon and Bahia Honda, but he also had to overcome devastating hurricanes two years running in 1909 and 1910.
But Henry was nothing but a persistent man, and on the 22nd January 1912, the Overseas Railroad was born, and the traffic started to discover what we all know.
That the Florida Keys is a great place to go.
Henry Flagler who by then was an old man of 82 got on a train at Homestead on the Florida mainland and traveled down to Key West.
As he looked out of the window, and chatted to the fellow passengers, he crossed 42 areas of water, 17 miles of concrete viaducts and steel bridges, 20 miles of land filled causeways and ended up at the Southernmost point of America.
Without even getting his feet wet.
And for the next 23 years, fellow travellers, businessmen and cargo did the same, until it all came to a nasty end on labor day 1935.
When not only was the Seven Mile bridge destroyed but 408 people tragically lost their lives too.
The End Of It All
Unfortunately for Henry Flagler his dream only lasted 23 years, as in 1935 the hurricane of all hurricanes below into the Florida Keys with tragic and devastating consequences.
Many lives were lost, as are memorialized at the Hurricane Monument down in Islamorada, as well as destruction of the Overseas Railroad, that had served the Florida Keys so well.
They could have rebuilt the railroad, but this time they decided to leave it as it was and convert the railway to what is now known as the Overseas Highway or US1 for short.
You might think that this would be much easier to do, as they had already got the piers, and foundations in place but you would be wrong.
But they got it done again and in 1938 the bridge reopened with a structure about 20 feet across just for cars.
20 feet across was not ideal, as it was a bit tight for north and southbound traffic, so it was not uncommon for huge traffic jams to occur, as soon as someone had a prang, or a blown tyre, there was nowhere left for anyone else to go.
It's not the kind of road that you can just do a u-turn and turn around to find a different way.
You were stuck where you were, and this was in days without too much traffic too.
Nowadays I would perish the thought of what it could potentially be like without the added improvements that were desperately needed.
You can find out a lot more great information regarding the old part of the bridge, through this website run by "Friends of Old Seven", who are desperately trying to raise the cash to maintain and protect this piece of Florida Keys history.
Also another interesting article tells the other side of the story, of why the authorities are refusing to push anymore cash into the Old Seven Mile Bridge and are willing to let it go to pieces.
Which would be a real shame.
The Second Coming Of The Seven Mile Bridge
It was obvious to all, that even though the original structure had a romance to it, as it harked back to the good old days, when men were men, and so were the women.....er that might be incorrect!
However, the romance was quickly forgotten when you were stuck in a car before air conditioning was invented with three kids in the back, and a man who for the next two hours would bring traffic to a complete standstill as he changed a tyre on the bridge.
So work commenced on the new Seven Mile Bridge in 1978 and for the next four years engineering teams struggled to bring things up to date, and give the Florida Keys and the world an infrastructure and road network that they could be truly proud off.
Watch Where You're Going People. I Know The Views Are Good!
But once again they achieved their aim and the new bridge now comprises of 440 spans, with an arc in the middle close to 65 feet (20 meters) to allow boats to come and go.
The rest of the Seven Mile bridge doesn't get anywhere near these dizzying heights however, which might be a relief for anyone who suffers from vertigo.
The total length of the new bridge is actually 35,862 ft (10,931 m) or 6.75 miles (10.93 km), and is shorter than the original.
So it's even less of a Seven Mile Bridge than ever.
Seven Mile Bridge Fun Run
The bridge isn't always purely the domain of cars and motorbikes however, as each April it becomes the custodian of the worlds longest over water fun run.
For approximately 2.5 hours on a Saturday the bridge is closed by the police to allow 1,500 runners to experience a fun run with amazing views on either side of them.
The event is actually held to commemorate the Florida Keys bridge rebuilding project, which finished in 1982 and for the last few decades has been an annual event on the florida Keys calendar.
Additional Seven Mile Bridge Facts
The historic bridge has attracted many filmmakers over the year, and when it looks the way it does it really isn't a surprise.
Cars whizzing along at nearly seventy feet above the Gulf of Mexico is just what the following kind of films are looking for.
True Lies, 2 Fast 2 Furious, the James Bond film Licence to Kill, CrissCross, and Up Close & Personal have all found the bridge appealing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger went even further than the rest of them, and in his True Lies film from the early 1990s, decided to blow the whole thing up.
Which would have made the story of the man changing his tyre, seem like a minor inconvenience.
However, in pure Hollywood fashion in fact the explosions were edited in, and were actually done on an 80-foot model of the bridge.
But filming was indeed done on the actual bridge, and the "destroyed" section is the former swing span, which had been removed upon completion of the new bridge.