Florida Keys / Historic / Snorkeling

Pigeon Key: Island on Seven Mile Bridge has scenery, history

Bring snorkeling gear to explore the waters off Pigeon Key dock

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

Historic yellow cottage on Pigeon Key; note old Seven Mile Bridge in background.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

Beyond the old Seven Mile Bridge, you see the new one

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

The dock at Pigeon Key

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

Snorkeling off the dock at Pigeon Key

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

Treasures from the water around Pigeon Key are on display in a wooden cart.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

On the boat ride to Pigeon Key, you go under the new and old bridges.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

A boat whisks you to Pigeon Key in a short, delightful ride.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge

Bring a picnic to Pigeon Key and admire the old Seven Mile Birdge.

Pigeon Key, a little island off the old Seven Mile Bridge, is a singular place with beauty and history equally well-preserved.

When I first visited the Florida Keys in 1978, the most memorable experience was driving across the Seven Mile Bridge.

This was the old Seven Mile Bridge — a narrow two-lane highway built atop Henry Flagler’s historic train tracks, with the guard rails on the side created out of the rusting railroad tracks.

With the impossibly blue water below and the impossibly blue sky above, my eyes were still drawn to that yellow line down the middle and the narrow pavement on either side. There was no room for error on the Seven Mile Bridge, site of many tragic accidents.

Two miles south of its start in Marathon, the Seven Mile Bridge passed over this perfect little green island with old yellow cottages and palm trees — Pigeon Key. A spur off the bridge curved down to the island, but it was privately owned and visitors were not welcome. Oh how I wanted to explore that small circle of paradise!

Today, you can explore Pigeon Key and marvel at the old Seven Mile Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while there are a lot of places I love in the Keys, Pigeon Key may be first on my list.

A sleeker, safer Seven Mile Bridge paralleling the old one opened in 1982. The old bridge remains, falling further and further into disrepair. Until a few years ago, the 2.2 mile stretch to Pigeon Key was used for trams for visitors. But it became too deteriorated for vehicles and today it is closed for major repairs. (Here’s info on the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which will be closed until 2021)

Pigeon Key is now operated by Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center. Visitors pay $12 (kids 5-13 are $9) and now are whisked by speed boat from Marathon to the island — a short, delightful ride under both the new Seven Mile Bridge and the old bridge.

A tour guide walks you around the 5-acre island of Pigeon Key and through many of its 11 historic buildings. Pigeon Key housed the workers who built the Seven Mile Bridge from 1908 to 1912 for railroad magnate Henry Flagler, a partner of John D. Rockefeller.

The Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key’s fascinating  history are well told through displays and artifacts on Pigeon Key. The story includes the deadly 1935 Labor Day hurricane that killed some 400, including 250 World War I vets washed to sea from work camps. The hurricane destroyed the railroad line and Flagler eventually sold the bridge to the U.S. government. The old railroad bridge’s foundation was used to build a  bridge for vehicles — the one I drove over in 1978.

Today a visit to the Seven Mile Bridge and the island of Pigeon Key offers several pleasures. It is a joy just to spend time on this historic island and wander among its picturesque 100-year-old cottages and palm trees, soaking up its history. Bring your lunch and relax: Picnic tables are available and you are encouraged to stay after the tour for the whole day,  if you like.

On a sultry summer day, we brought our snorkeling gear and explored the waters around the Pigeon Key dock — another recreation that is encouraged.  Pigeon Key is surrounded by waters rich in sea life, and the dock attracts schools of colorful fish. What we liked best, though, was finding pieces of history in the water — stones that were obviously building materials from the era of the railroad tracks’ construction, pieces of metal encrusted with barnacles.

We ate our lunch under the chickee hut at the end of the dock, a breeze blowing and the blueness of the water and sky dazzling our senses.

Perfect.

Tours of Pigeon Key

Tours of Pigeon Key are at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. The $12 tours last about two hours and includes a 2-mile boat ride ferrying you to the island. Get tickets  at the Pigeon Key Foundation’s gift shop in Marathon, in an old railroad car at 1 Knight’s Key Blvd. or by calling (305) 743-5999. Additional information is available at www.pigeonkey.net.

Other nearby things to do in the Florida Keys and Marathon area:

When I first visited the Florida Keys in 1978, the most memorable experience was driving across the Seven Mile Bridge.

This was the old bridge — a narrow two-lane highway built atop Henry Flagler’s historic train tracks, with the guard rails

on the side created out of the rusting railroad tracks.

With the impossibly blue water below and the impossibly blue sky above, my eyes were still drawn to that yellow line down the

middle and the narrow pavement on either side. There was no room for error on that bridge, site of many tragic accidents.

Two miles south of its start, the bridge passed over this perfect little green island with historic yellow cottages and palm

trees. A spur off the bridge curved down to the island, but it was privately owned and visitors were not welcome. Oh how I

wanted to explore that small circle of paradise!

Today, you can explore it and marvel at the old bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while there

are a lot of places I love in the Keys, Pigeon Key may be first on my list.

A sleeker, safer Seven Mile Bridge paralleling the old one opened in 1982. The old bridge remains, falling further and

further into disrepair. Until recently, the 2.2 mile stretch to Pigeon Key was used for trams for visitors. But it became too deteriorated for vehicles and today it is open only to hikers, bikers and fishermen.

Pigeon Key is now operated by Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center. Visitors pay $11 (kids 5-13 are $8.50) and now

are whisked by speed boat to the island — a short, delightful ride under both the new bridge and the old bridge.

A tour guide walks you around the 5-acre island and through many of its 11 historic buildings. Pigeon Key housed the workers

who built the Seven Mile Bridge from 1908 to 1912 for railroad magnate Henry Flagler, a partner of John D. Rockefeller.

The bridge and the island’s fascinating  history are well told through displays and artifacts on Pigeon Key. The story

includes the deadly 1935 Labor Day hurricane that killed some 400, including 250 World War I vets washed to sea from work

camps. The hurricane destroyed the bridge, which Flagler eventually sold to the U.S. government. The old railroad bridge’s

foundation was used to build the bridge for vehicles I drove over in 1978.

Today a visit to the bridge and the island offers several pleasures. It is a joy just to spend time on this historic island

and wander among its picturesque cottages and palm trees. Bring you lunch and relax: Picnic tables are available and

you are encouraged to stay after the tour.

On a sultry August day, we brought our snorkeling gear and explored the waters around the Pigeon Key dock — another

recreation that is encouraged.  The island is surrounded by waters rich in sea life, and the dock attracts schools of

colorful fish. What we liked best, though, was finding pieces of history in the water — stones that were obviously building

materials from the era of the railroad track’s construction, pieces of metal encrusted with barnacles and sea life.

We ate our lunch under the chickee hut at the end of the dock, a breeze blowing and the blueness of the water and sky

dazzling our senses.

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Comments

  1. Christy Cherry says:

    We have passed by there many times and just have never taken the time. Thanks so much for this info. It inspires us to take a picnic lunch and snorkel there!

  2. Interesting. Pigeon key’s charm is what happens when industry rusts and nature begins to take back over. Sounds sort of like exploring the ruins of a previous civilization.

%d bloggers like this: