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The Florida Keys Overseas Railway

by Warren Zeiller

KW jacket

The basic story of the Overseas Railway to Key West, an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, has been told before, from the early dream of Henry Flagler, to completion of railroad construction near the end of Flagler's life, to destruction of the extension in the devastating Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. But there is much more to tell.

The core of this book is the collection of photographs made by William Asa Glass, one of the construction engineers on the project. His views, many never duplicated elsewhere, show both the engineering and human sides of the great project in a unique way. Supplementing it are the recollections of many who were there. In combination, it makes a vivid and engrossing story, rich in unfamiliar details. Also included here is a retrospective of the route today.

Henry M. Flagler conceived the idea of a railway to Key West at least as early as 1895, and after a number of setbacks, the Overseas Railway was completed in 1912. It then served to take tourists to and from the Florida Keys, particularly Key West, as well as to transport freight and passengers en route to and from Havana, Cuba by ship. It was effectively destroyed in the cataclysmic Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and its route was sold to become part of Florida's Overseas Highway.

The coverage includes a number of views of hurricane damage as well as the construction process, along with the working environment of an engineer on this project. An epilogue provides a brief tour of the route today, with the remnants of nearly all the original Flagler bridges still standing, often alongside today's Overseas Highway.

The book's 166 photos, few ever published, 129 of them by Bill Glass or from his collection, together with 24 views (18 in color) of the route today, along with maps, artwork, and a bibliography and index, make this book unusually complete. Anyone interested in railroad history or Florida history will enjoy this book, but particularly for those whose enthusiasm is railroad construction, the Florida East Coast Railway, or the Florida Keys, this is a satisfying complement to other books on the topic, and a fascinating history in its own right.

Also available: the Table of Contents and a review of the book.

Particulars: The Florida Keys Overseas Railway, by Warren Zeiller
List price: $55     Size: 156 pages, 8.5" x 11"; 166 photos; maps, artwork and drawings, bibliography, index
ISBN: 1-930013-18-3     Publication date: May 15, 2006
Distribution: Western Star Distributors, Lompoc, CA; or direct from publisher.