Brief History of The Florida Keys and Key West

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- A Very Brief History of the Florida Keys and Key West -
The Keys were only sparsely populated until the early 20th century. In 1905, however, railroad magnate Henry Flagler began building the extension of his Florida East Coast Railroad south from Homestead to Key West. His goal was to establish a rail link to his steamships that sailed between Key West and Havana, just 90 miles across the Straits of Florida. Flagler also realized that Key West offered a deep-water port where harvests of bananas and other tropical fruits could be off-loaded from freighters and loaded onto his freight cars for their trip north, thus saving many days over sea travel to the markets in the large northeast cities. Henry Flagler The railroad arrived at Key West in 1912 and remained a lifeline of commerce until the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 washed out much of its roadbed. The Overseas Highway, built over the railroad's old roadbeds and bridges, was completed in 1938.

At the top of the Keys, nearest the mainland, is Key Largo, becoming more and more congested as it evolves into a bedroom community and weekend escape for mainland residents. At the bottom, 106 miles southwest, is Key West, where for the past few years there has been a frenzy of real estate activity with prices increasing 20% and 30% per year. Buying even a cottage for less than a half a million dollars is rare.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary In 1990, to protect the area's ecosystem, Congress established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, covering 2,800 square nautical miles of coastal waters. Adjacent to the Keys landmass are nationally significant marine environments, including sea-grass meadows, mangrove islands, and extensive living coral reefs. These fragile environments support rich and diverse biological communities.

As you drive down U.S. 1, the main artery between Key Largo and Key West, gaze out over the silvery Atlantic and its still-living reef, with Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the backcountry on your right. At a few points the ocean and gulf are as much as 10 miles apart. In most places, however, they're from 1 to 4 miles apart, and on the narrowest landfill islands, the only thing separating them is the road itself. Sunsets here are a pure, unadulterated spectacle that each evening attracts thousands of visitors and locals to the waterfront throughout the Keys.

Key Deer The Florida Keys are a wilderness of flowering jungles and shimmering seas, a jade necklace of mangrove-fringed islands dangling toward the tropics. But they are also a string of narrow islands overburdened by a growing population and booming tourism. Unfortunately, in the Florida Keys you can't have one without the other.

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