NAME: Pigeon Key
COUNTY: Monroe
CLIMATE: Hot almost year round.
COMMENTS: Pigeon Key is a small (4.5 to 5 acre) island in the Florida Keys located south of Marathon in the Moser Channel. This tiny island played a huge role in the completion of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad and, later, what would become the Overseas Highway. Henry Flagler was intent on extending his Florida East Coast Railroad southward beyond Miami to Key West. By 1908 the tracks ran as far south as Marathon and his sights were set on crossing the 7 mile gap to Bahia Honda Key. Pigeon Key, only 2.2 miles from the shores of Marathon, was an ideal location for creating a workman’s camp as the railroad bridge was completed.
REMAINS: The old Mess Hall, an original building from Flagler’s era (circa 1908), still stands as do many older buildings from the early part of the century such as the Post Office (known as Negro Quarters after the post office ceased), Dormitories and Paint Supply Buildings. A large salt-water swimming pool, added in the 1950s, has been modified to function as a shallow harbor.
The small island, named for the flocks of White-crowned pigeons that used to roost there, housed up to 400 workmen in dormitories and tents. There were accommodations for the foremen, a large ‘mess hall’ a water tower and ‘privies’. The conditions were harsh, with no mosquito control; few trees for shade on the coral atoll and of course, no air conditioning.With the completion of the railroad to Key West in 1912, Pigeon Key changed from a construction camp to a bridge tender-maintenance camp. Some homes and a commissary were built for the ‘permanent’ residents. A school was opened in 1923 in an attempt to attract and keep more married personnel. There were 12 grades, sometimes with only one pupil per grade! A post office was also established on April 9, 1923 and remained open until September 5, 1933. From May 1923 to March 1927, the Pigeon Key post office also served the Marathon area, as its post office was closed.The hurricane of 1935, which hit the Upper Keys (north of Marathon) destroyed much of Flagler’s Railroad, and use of the railroad through the keys was abandoned. The railway was then converted into the Overseas Highway with the roadbed laid on top of the train trestle. The rails were used to create the guardrails along the now old Seven Mile Bridge. This transformation was completed in 1938 and, because of the train trestle height over the key, a steep wooden ‘exit ramp’ was added to the roadway (U.S. Highway 1) to provide automobile access to the island. The wooden ramp is still in use today.Pigeon Key continued to be home to paint crews, bridge tenders, maintenance workers and their families until the early 1950’s. The University of Miami then leased the island until 1987 for use as a marine research facility. The island currently exists as an educational camp and historic site, leased by the non-profit Pigeon Key Foundation. There are two full time residents; a husband and wife team who maintain the island and provide tours. The “Henry”, a 16-passenger ‘train’ that had provided transportation to the island from the Knights Key Visitor Center is suspended. Public access is to Pigeon Key is currently accessed by foot or bicycle on the north end of the Old Seven Mile Bridge or via a 15 minute ferry ride. It is rumored that the old bridge will be shut down for repairs soon. Submitted by: Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Pigeon Key with the old wooden bridge to the left and the modified swimming pool in the foreground
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Woden ramp leading from the old Overseas Highway to Pigeon Key
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Foremans House
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Mess Hall
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Letter from 1933 with Pigeon Key postmark
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance

Underside of the old Overseas Highway showing original railroad trestle (blue section) and parts of the railway used for the guardrails.
Courtesy Erik Ransom and Dara Vance