Railway almost stopped mid-way

History program to focus on the ‘extension scare’

Special to The ReporterApril 7, 2011 

The Knight’s Key dock could service two ocean-going steamships and two fully completed passenger trains. It opened for rail and sea traffic in February 1908. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wilkinson)

The Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys’ April 11 history program will be a high resolution overhead slide show titled “The Key West Extension Scare of 1907.” The program will be mostly newspaper clippings of Florida East Coast railroad construction being stopped south of Marathon in mid-1907 and almost all at Key West

The reason given was the Navy denying the railroad the use of fill from North Key West Harbor for the FEC terminal. During the wait for a resolution, Henry Flagler, while not directly stating, indicated he could survive without a terminal at Key West. The result was about a year’s delay in completing the Key West Extension and a lot of confusion.

The program will be Monday, April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Key Largo Library’s community room at mile marker 101.5 in the Tradewinds Shopping Plaza. The public is invited, refreshments will be provided and admission is free. For more information, call (305) 852-1620.

Shut down by the Navy

Henry Flagler’s plans were to fill 174 acres for the Key West Terminal [Trumbo Island], which included the railroad depot, warehouses, storage yards and ship piers. The Navy stated, “Last May (1907) the railroad company without authority deliberately began taking material from the U.S. Reservation at Fleming Key.”

At that time Fleming Key was then a partially submerged mangrove island, which was later filled during World War II. In July of 1907, the U.S. War Department shut down all of the dredging from North Key West Harbor.

The construction of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway’s ‘Key West Extension’ terminating in Key West was in jeopardy. The following day Flagler suspended operations of construction efforts south of Bahia Honda Key and later extended the suspension north to Knight’s Key. The seven-mile bridge’ was postponed.

At that time Knight’s Key was a separate small island. Flagler, using the additional resources, rushed the completion of Knight’s Key Dock offshore in Moser Channel.

The dock could service simultaneously two ocean going steamships and two fully completed passenger trains. It opened for rail and sea traffic in February 1908. Additionally there was a post office, a Customs house and hotel. A political war ensued, but the two principals remained in the background. All Key West FEC construction offices were closed, personnel transferred to middle and Upper Keys, sea going construction equipment stored in Boot Key and Miami River while the principal people said little — at least to the media. Interesting, for one reason or another, Flagler stopped visiting Key West until the squabble was over.

Somehow, the controversy was resolved and Howard Trumbo resumed his dredging in North Key West Harbor (exact date unknown) and work began from Knight’s Key southward in January of 1909. The first pier of the Knight’s Key Viaduct was completed in February 1909 indicating that work was well underway again to proceed to Key West. The present Seven Mile Bridge was then described as three separate viaducts: Knight’s Key, Moser Channel and Pacet Channel.

In the meanwhile, Associate Engineer William Krome resigned in September 1908. Seven months later, Chief Engineer Joseph C. Meredith passed away on April 20, 1909. Krome had been recalled as chief engineer the previous day to finish the project, which he did in 1916. Operations began in 1912.

My documentation of this incident comes from the scrapbooks of Krome. I have little documentation of this incident other than what he clipped, dated and pasted in a book that I copied in 1995. I think the resolution occurred while not working for the railroad, but we know it was resolved. The approximate time is indicated by work beginning in today’s Seven Mile Bridge in January, 1909. The semi-annual construction reports do not mention the incident, but do list the Knight’s Key Viadict beginning in January 1909.

Originally, Flagler was told the Key West Extension was to be completed by 1910. My opinion is that it could have been had not three hurricanes and the above incident not occurred.

Jerry Wilkinson is president of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys.

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