The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

Walking The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

Pigeon Key has long been a mystery in my mind. It’s a small island with an abundance of history located in the middle of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. For years I had driven by this island and missing bridge link and created stories about what it could possibly be. Each time we passed by, I would perch myself next to the window with my eyes glued to the island searching for clues.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

It wasn’t until recently that I learned there is a museum on the island. You can visit the island either by walking the 2+ miles on the old bridge or by taking a ferry boat. This was quite intriguing to me, so I decided we had to pay the island museum a visit. We wanted the best of both worlds, so we chose to take the boat to the island for the tour and then walk back on the bridge.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The ferry departs 3 times a day from the Pigeon Key Visitor center in Marathon. Tickets are available for purchase in the old train car/gift shop–the tickets cover both the ferry ride and the island/museum tour.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

After boarding the boat, you will have about a 15 minute ride to the island. The boat soars under both the new and old bridges and it provides a unique vantage point for the history you will soon hear when you reach the island.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

Once the boat docks, the tour will begin. One thing that everyone wants to know is how the island and the bridge came to be. To fully understand the history of this unique spot, you need to go back to the early 1900’s before a road connecting the Florida Keys was developed.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

Henry Flagler was the mastermind behind this project–he came up with the idea to build a railroad that connected the islands all the way down to Key West as an extension to his East Coast Railway project. Building this railroad was a huge undertaking and quite an engineering feat; throughout the course of its construction, it employed over 4,000 men. During the building of the railroad, Pigeon Key was a desolate island that was used as a work base and camp for the railroad construction workers. Here there were cabins which housed up to 400 employees at a time, and men from all over the world came to assist in building the bridge based on a promise of steady pay and a ticket to Florida–which at the time was a pretty great promise. Today, a register can be found in the museum with the names and home countries of the individuals who built the bridge. Construction of the bridge spanned mfrom 1908 to 1912.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

After construction was complete, the island became home to a maintenance crew, and the railroad stayed open for 23 years; it was the only way to get through the keys besides boating to them. In 1935, after a major CAT 5 hurricane destroyed much of the railroad and many of the islands, the train service was ceased and never reopened. The government saw the destruction of the railroad as an opportunity to turn it into a highway–the main structure of concrete pillars was already in place, so they just had to reconstruct it from a track to a highway, which happened in 1938. Parts of the tracks were used in supporting the highway and can be seen by looking up from underneath the bridge.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

When the highway was finally complete, it was quite a treacherous drive for those heading to the keys–especially when crossing the 7 mile bridge as it was barely wide enough to fit both north and southbound traffic at once. To give drivers a peace of mind when crossing the long bridge, a rest stop was created at Pigeon Key. A ramp led down to what was touted as the most beautiful rest stop in the United States. Drivers could stop to stretch, grab a snack and relax before continuing on their way to Key West.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The island became abandoned when the the new seven mile bridge was constructed in 1982. With the new bridge built next to the old one, there was now no convenient way to reach the island anymore. It wasn’t until the Pigeon Key Foundation restored the historic buildings, that this island had a purpose once again.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

There is a large hole in the bridge right next to the island, and I’ve always wondered how that came to be. Apparently, it used to be a swing open bridge that allowed boats to pass through, but obviously it is not there anymore because the road is no longer in use–this is why you now see a gigantic hole!  When walking the Old 7 Mile Bridge, your steps will be following a historic road with stunning views in all directions.  You are only able to walk about 2.2 miles of the bridge, as the remaining part is closed off and not maintained.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

We learned all this information and more on our tour of the island. Today, on the island, there is a museum in one of the old homes that details the interesting history of the island. During the summer, the island operates a summer camp for children to learn about marine science.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

You will also find cottages, a snack bar, and places to snorkel, swim and relax in the sun. If you would like, you can stay on the island as long as you would like to play in the sun and sand, but if you don’t want to walk back, make sure to catch one of the few ferries to return to Marathon.

The Old 7 Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key

If you do decide to walk the bridge like we did, be aware that there is no shade, so it can get very hot, unless you are fortunate enough to hike on a day with a nice ocean breeze!

 

16 Comments
  • Aryn
    Posted at 14:22h, 04 November Reply

    Ahh, so cool! I’ve never really done much beachy stuff. I really should try to go south soon! It seems like you had a lovely time!
    Aryn recently posted…Where The Western Things Are: ColoradoMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:24h, 06 November Reply

      It was great! Hope you enjoy if you go 🙂

  • Lance
    Twitter:
    Posted at 16:45h, 04 November Reply

    Love this post. I didn’t know the new bridge opened in 1982. I rode on it as a child in 1984. I’d like to walk the bridge.
    Lance recently posted…Hotel Cascada: A Comfortable Albuquerque OptionMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:25h, 06 November Reply

      Thanks! That’s crazy–you crossed it when it was practically brand new! It was interesting to hear all about the history. The beautiful scenery didn’t hurt either 🙂

  • Amy
    Posted at 21:37h, 07 November Reply

    Hi
    My name is Amy and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about the Florida Keys to share on our site and I came across your post and beautiful photos…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at amy(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!
    Amy

  • Rich
    Posted at 22:21h, 10 April Reply

    Henery Flagler was the one of the richest men in the world and John Rockefellers partner in Standard Oil ! And nobody knew who he was ! If its still there don’t miss the exebit in Key West about him at the Musesum !!
    He built that with his own money ! The man was Amazing !
    Don’t miss In key west
    Blue heaven
    Dantie’s
    Garbos food truck ( best burgers in town )
    Harpoon Harry’s for breakfast ( lobster hash is amazing )

  • Archie Loper
    Posted at 16:10h, 23 September Reply

    Is that sign true? The one that says “No Fishing”? on the old bridge. When I last went thru in 2007 we could still fish from it’s. What happened?We made our first trip down there in 1969. My Dad was in Key West during WW2. That bridge was flat dangerous and ramp too from the key. I went back in 1986 after Keating the bridge had been replaced. Again in 92, 2002,and 2007. I’m planning my last trip for 2015. Now that we have the internet one can find the odds and ends left from the old railroad.I live in Orlando and love going down there it’s Luke entering a whole new worlds. Archie Loper

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:19h, 25 September Reply

      Yeah, it seemed to be the case–I didn’t see anyone fishing. I’m not sure what happened and why it changed. Sounds like it would have been pretty frightening back in the 60’s! Hope you have a great trip when you go back!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Our Favorite Off The Strip Adventures in Las VegasMy Profile

  • Robin
    Posted at 18:01h, 05 March Reply

    Does it cost anything to walk the bridge, out and back, without visiting the island?

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:22h, 06 March Reply

      No, it doesn’t cost anything to walk the bridge! The only time you have to pay is when you actually go onto the island or take the boat there. There isn’t any shade, but it was a great spot to go for a walk!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Snow Tubing at Gorgoza ParkMy Profile

  • Gigi
    Posted at 22:22h, 19 July Reply

    How much does it cost to go into the island I think its called pigeon key ? And how much does it cost to tale ferry boat there ?

    • Gigi
      Posted at 22:27h, 19 July Reply

      I ment to write, to take the ferry boat there, how much does it cost ? We’re planning to go Tuesday

  • Kevin
    Posted at 00:54h, 16 March Reply

    Our family traveled the old bridge during the Christmas holidays in 1965. We stopped at Pigeon Key for a couple of photos. The bridge was narrow but we took it easy. It made an impression on me at age 8. I didn’t return until 1993 and again in 2013.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:44h, 20 March Reply

      How cool! It would have been amazing to have traveled on the original bridge! Glad you made it across ok 🙂 I can see how it would make an impression on you, especially at that age!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Mini Guide to Dry Tortugas National ParkMy Profile

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