Built on huge stilts and strong bridges, it boasts a history worthy of Hollywood.
Is it possible to take a tour in a vehicle alongside the dolphins and marine life? Yes. Florida’s Overseas Highway spans 44 islands in the southern tip of the United States, has 42 bridges, and is supported by huge stilts that plunge 30 feet below sea level. One of the masterpieces of engineering that replaced the old overseas railway that was destroyed after a hurricane.
To find out who thought something like this was possible, you have to delve into the mind of Henry Morrison Flagler, also called “the father of modern Florida.” In 1870 Flagler, along with John D. Rockefeller, founded the Standard Oil Company, which would soon be a powerful corporation.
In love with the landscapes of Florida and its clear economic and tourist potential, Flagler decided to use all his wealth in luxury resorts. Thus this state, which was poor and little visited, gradually became a pearl for travelers. Until then everything was going smoothly. With the resorts ready, the second problem that arose was the transfer of tourists to the luxurious complexes.
In 1885, just 15 years later, Flagler decided to join several railroads that went from Jacksonville to Miami. That is, from South to North. Years later Flagler would follow this line to Key West, the largest city in Florida in the 1900s.
The project of this ambitious man was called “Flagler’s madness” since it was considered an impossible work to carry out. Hurricanes proved many right. At the beginning of the last century, three hurricanes destroyed the building and cost the lives of 100 men. Determined to finish, the tycoon went ahead and seven years later, at a cost of almost 1.6 billion current dollars, inaugurated his section.
“The eighth wonder of the world”. This is how the work completed in 1912 was known. Flagler himself, 82, was part of the maiden voyage in the luxury carriage that can now be seen at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. His dream was fulfilled.
However, what had started as an announcement of nature ended up destroying everything. Just 23 years later, the worst hurricane of the century washed away much of the tracks. Did they start rebuilding? No. Vehicles were already rolling hard on the roads and in 1938 the United States government decided to build this incredible highway that is one of the longest in the world on water.
Flagler would be once again present in this project. Not in life, but thanks to its bridges created to resist winds of 320 kilometers per hour. It was these bridges that supported and still support, together with the immense concrete piles, the structure of the Overseas Highway that linked the Florida Keys forever.
The engineer, the workers and a very hard life
The 62,137-mile stretch of tracks over open water was designed and built by engineer William J. Krome. A route that has 700 support piles that sink nine meters under the sea. It was men who worked day and night and who had the help of divers to create these immense concrete supports.
In Cayo Paloma, 400 workers stayed in a camp for three years. Of these men, 100 died and the rest had to endure the heat, hurricanes, scorpions, and alligators.
Today the incredible highway ends at a black and white buoy that represents the limit point of the route through the United States. From there, Cuba is 90,098 miles while Miami is 131,731.