Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key

A Guide to What’s Happening in Marathon, Florida Keys, Florida Keys edition

By Christy Johnson

US-1, or the Overseas Highway, is the only road that connects the Florida Keys to the continental United States.  It is approximately 110 miles long and includes 42 bridges.

But none more magnificent than the Seven Mile Bridge.

Built in the early 1900’s as part of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, in order to speed up construction the Seven Mile Bridge was divided into four parts.

The first three, Knights Key Bridge, Pigeon Key Bridge and Moser Channel Bridge, consisted of steel-girder spans laid on top of concrete foundation piers. The piers were secured to bedrock which in some cases was 28 feet below the waterline. A 253-foot swinging span was inserted for passage of boats between the Atlantic and Gulf. The fourth section of the bridge was called the Pacet Channel Viaduct and it consisted of two hundred+ 53 foot concrete arches.

The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed much of the Overseas Railroad and put an end to rail travel in the Keys.  In 1982, a new Seven Mile Bridge was completed to accommodate modern auto traffic and taller ships.  The original Knights Key Bridge is now known as the Old Seven Mile Bridge and is a 2.2-mile span that links Marathon to Pigeon Key.

Between 1908 and 1912, the five-acre Pigeon Key was home to as many as 400 railroad workers.  Today, Pigeon Key is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the only authentic museum documenting construction of the Overseas Railroad.  The Pigeon Key Historic Foundation maintains the remaining buildings and offers tours and educational stays.

The Old Seven Mile Bridge has served as a world famous fishing pier, jogging, walking and biking route and, of course, the major path to Pigeon Key.

During May, when tarpon congregate at the bridge during their annual migration, locals and visitors alike flock to the bridge at day’s end to watch the mass of boats fishing for the Silver King in the waters below.

Tarpon are very strong and typically provide a hard initial run followed by soaring leaps and acrobatics.  When it’s man (or woman) vs. fish, the fight can last anywhere from a brief few seconds to an hour or more.

The pursuit can take the boat around bridge pilings, through the maze of other boats, out to deeper waters and back before the tarpon either breaks off or is successfully landed.

With the spectacular Florida Keys sunset as the backdrop, this is an awe-inspiring experience!


Christy Johnson is the Editor and Publisher of, an online vacation planning guide.  She owns and operates SeaSquared Charters with her husband, Capt. Chris Johnson.  You can reach her at 305.743.5305 and