|Image from the Monroe County Public Library collection.|
Long Key, with its graceful arches, is perhaps the prettiest bridge on the line from a purely aesthetic standpoint -- according to the book, it was Henry Flagler's favorite. The Seven Mile is impressive in its sheer scale (my favorite moment of the drive was usually when I was heading home and the car came over the top of the Moser Channel arch in the new bridge -- the whole seascape spreads out before you, including old and new bridges -- how incredible that we get to live here???). And Bahia Honda, with its superstructure unique in the Keys, is a beautiful sight, especially at sunrise. Though I am scared of heights so I am always thankful I never had to drive on top of it.
I was particularly struck in this week's reading by the numbers. When I was a newspaper reporter, editors adored details like these and you can see why. The Long Key Viaduct, for example, took 286,000 barrels of cement, 177,000 cubic yards of crushed rock, 106,000 cubic yards of sand, 612,000 feet of pilings, 5000 tons of steel -- and 2.5 million feet of timber for the forms.
Almost as much as the scale of the project, I was struck by the speed -- once the crews reached the Seven Mile, they clearly had it down so they could build four support piers in a single week. You have to wonder whether modern-day crews, even with all their technological advantages, could match that pace.
And I was struck by the persistence and determination of everyone involved in the project, from Flagler on down, as they contended with two more devastating hurricanes, in 1909 and 1910. I loved Flagler's quote: "My recommendation is to hoist Key West's flag high, keep it waving and let it bear the inscription 'Nil Desparandum.'" (I checked with our resident classicist, Library Assistant Marcos Gonzales, and that does indeed mean "never despair.")
Selfishly, I was also glad that Flagler pushed ahead and dredged Key West Harbor to create Trumbo Point, ensuring the rail would reach the island city. It did make me wonder, though, what our lives and history would be like if he had quit and set up his major port in Marathon.
What's your favorite bridge in the Keys and why? Do you ever wonder why these guys kept going, even after major destruction and loss of life from hurricanes? What do you think Key West would be like today if Flagler had failed to dredge a terminal in Key West and had stopped in the Middle Keys?