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

Last updated on September 17th, 2021 at 10:03 am

Bring snorkeling gear to explore the waters off Pigeon Key dock

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.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Historic yellow cottage on Pigeon Key; note old Seven Mile Bridge in background. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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!

On Pigeon Key: Beyond the old Seven Mile Bridge, you see the new one.
On Pigeon Key: Beyond the old Seven Mile Bridge, you see the new one. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Exploring Pigeon Key: It starts with a boat ride

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 is closed for major repairs until March 2022.

The dock at Pigeon Key. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Pigeon Key is now operated by Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center. Visitors pay $15 (kids 6-12 are $12; 5 and under is $5) and now are whisked by speed boat from Marathon to the island — a short, delightful ride.

Fascinating history of Pigeon Key

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.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Snorkeling off the dock at Pigeon Key (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key’s interesting 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.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge
A boat whisks you to Pigeon Key in a short, delightful ride. (Photo: David Blasco)

Snorkeling on Pigeon Key

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.

Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Treasures from the water around Pigeon Key are on display in a wooden cart. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tours of Pigeon Key

Tours of Pigeon Key are at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. The $15 tours last about two hours and includes a 2-mile boat ride ferrying you to the island. The ferry leaves Pigeon Key to brings visitors back at approximately 12:20 p.m., 2:20 p.m., and 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on the same day in-person or you can reserve your spot over the phone if you have a time and date preference.

  • Located at Mile Marker 47.5
  • 2010 Overseas Highway, Marathon
  • Location is between the Hyatt Place and Marriott hotels bayside.
  • Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m .
  • Call (305) 743-5999.
  • www.pigeonkey.net.
Florida Keys: Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Bring a picnic to Pigeon Key and admire the old Seven Mile Bridge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Ferry service is the only way to access Pigeon Key.

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


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The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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Larry E. Brown

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

When was the metal stairway from the roadway to the island on the Gulf side removed ? I lived on Pigeon Key in the 1950's and the school bus would pick up at the ramp and drop off at the stairway...went to Sue M. Moore Elementary School in Marathon. Many wonderful memories of Pigeon Key as a youngster. Larry E. Brown

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

I don't know the answer, but the executive director at Pigeon Key probably does. I'll send him an email and report back here if I learn anything. What a fascinating place to live as a child!

UPDATE: Larry, Pigeon Key actually has a small exhibit about your family in its museum and Kelly McKinnon, the executive director, would love to hear more from you. He'll be contacting you and perhaps he can answer the question about that ladder!

Thanks for contacting us. So happy to connect you to the island's museum.

Cathryn Spreeman

Monday 29th of March 2021

We visited a few years ago and were impressed that the science camp hosts high school or middle school students for a week at a time. Seems like an awesome opportunity. Beautiful area.

Alden Snead

Wednesday 9th of September 2020

My father was born on the key. How does one visit?

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 12th of September 2020

You can buy a ticket for a public tour at their website. I'm sure the folks at Pigeon Key would love to hear your family story. If I were you, I'd contact them. There are some contacts on this page: https://pigeonkey.net/contact/

Sandra A Ternera

Wednesday 22nd of July 2020

Hello, I am currently working on a engineering project for my dual enrollment class, I wanted to ask would anyone or even you know the width and height of the seven mile bridge?

Christy Cherry

Wednesday 22nd of March 2017

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!

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