Anyone who has driven to the Lower Florida Keys has traversed one of the most famous and iconic bridges in America - the Seven Mile Bridge. The bridge that is used today for automobile traffic, however, is not the original Seven Mile Bridge. The first bridge was originally built in 1912, and has since fallen into major disrepair. Today, January 12, 2022, Flager’s original bridge reopens to pedestrians and bicyclists after a major four year restoration has brought it back to life.
In the early twentieth century, Henry Flagler undertook a massive building project - a bridge to connect the Middle Keys from Marathon and Lower Keys to Key West with a railroad extension of his Florida East Coast Railway. The bridge connected Marathon to Pigeon Key, and remains the main access point to this tiny island. This was a tremendous feat in the early 1900’s and when it was completed, Flagler’s railroad was able to extend all the way to Key West. Then the famous 1935 Labor Day Hurricane unfortunately caused widespread damage to the railway, causing it to require rebuilding. Upon its reopening following repairs, it was transformed into a bridge for automobile use only. This was the only way, other than by boat, to reach Key West until 1982. The old bridge endured much damage and wear and tear between 1935 and 1982 and city planners decided to abandon the bridge and build an entirely new seven mile bridge. This bridge, which opened in 1982, is the same bridge we use today. Since the new bridge opened, the old bridge was left unused except mostly by fishermen and pedestrians. Even that, however, became dangerous as the old bridge fell to ruin.
In July of 2016, the Old Seven Mile Bridge was closed completely and a massive restoration project began. The multi-million dollar project was aimed at restoring and repairing the Old Seven Mile Bridge, as well as providing on-going maintenance to the structure. The work that was done has been astounding. Every I-beam support for the bridge needed replacing. Each beam was constructed onsite. Giant hydraulic jacks were used to lift up the actual bridge so that the old I-beams could be removed and the new ones installed. This was done one ten-foot section at a time. This process was repeated more than 1,000 times to complete the restoration the entire two mile section of the bridge that was part of the project. Other parts of the restoration included replacing thousands of rusty metal rivets and plates and adding a new pedestrian guardrail to ensure that the new structure was safe according to the current building code. The bridge’s deck, superstructure, and substructure were all re-finished. Finally, the entire two mile bridge was given three coats of primer and paint to protect against the elements and rust. All of this work was done while the bridge was wrapped to keep all debris contained so as not to pollute the water or ecosystem of the Keys.
Today, January 12, 2022, the Old Seven Mile Bridge is reopening for pedestrians and bicyclists. This popular fishing pier and jogging path will once again offer what it once did for residents of Marathon real estate and the surrounding areas, and access to Pigeon Key will be restored. This absolutely iconic piece of Florida Keys history is open again!
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