Before the Overseas Highway stretched from the mainland to Key West, the distance between the two places was covered by the Overseas Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, the railroad which opened up Florida to tourists.
To mark distances along the way, the Florida East Coast Railway marked every mile from Jacksonville to Key West with a white, triangular concrete post, on which the mileage was painted in black. While I was researching 101 Travel Bits: The Florida Keys and Overseas Highway, I came across numerous publications discussing these mile markers in the Keys. Through this research, I learned two important things: (1) Only two of the original mile markers in the Keys survive today, and (2) Of those two, only one is in its original location.
Finding the one which isn’t in its original location is easy; it’s at the Caribbean Club on Key Largo. Here’s a link to a picture with the marker – it’s the tall, white, triangular stone on the left-hand side of the photo, with “KW 102” on one side and “JAX 420” on the other, showing the respective distances via the railroad to Key West and Jacksonville. It’s pretty and cool, but I really wanted to know about the other original mile marker in the Keys. As part of our trip to the Keys last winter, I made it a goal to find that other marker.
Unfortunately, the Internet was not much help in finding it, though it did tell me the mile marker was at Mile 30 from Key West. I deduced for myself that this meant I should look for it on Big Pine Key (the key with most of the Key Deer), but a search of Google Maps Streetview showed me nothing which looked like the tall monument I saw at the Caribbean Club.
No matter – Paul and I would just look for the mile marker on our drive down to Key West. It would be an adventure! How hard could it be to miss a white, four-foot tall stone on the side of the Overseas Highway?
Very difficult, it turns out.
On our drive down to Key West, I caught a glimpse of what I thought was the marker, but I couldn’t be certain. It sure didn’t look like the one at the Caribbean Club. This was more of a gray, short stone, bearing little resemblance to the picturesque mile marker on Key Largo. No matter; on the way back, we would check out the stone I saw and hope it was what we were looking for. If not, I would do more research for our next trip, and we would find it then.
On our way back, we stopped at the stone I had seen. Up close, it was clear this was the mile marker we had come looking for, but the years of wear and tear had definitely done a number on it.
Take a look for yourself:
As you can see, this is nowhere near four-feet tall, and it’s missing a very large chunk of the stone. It is, however, clearly marked with the distances to Key West and Jacksonville, so there is no doubt what it is.
Here’s a closer look at the damage:
Once I knew where it was, I went back to Google Maps Streetview to see if I could find the mile marker, and it’s definitely there and looking much different. It seems the damage to the mile marker occurred in the last few years, though what caused it, I don’t know. I’m also curious to know if Hurricane Irma, which did significant damage on Big Pine Key, caused any more damage to the mile marker; I will update this post when I find out on my next trip to the Keys.
If you’re looking to see this unique piece of Keys history, it’s a very easy and quick stop. Unfortunately, unlike the prettier mile marker at the Caribbean Club, you can’t have a cocktail while you take pictures with this one. You can, however, say you’ve seen the last of its kind – the only Overseas Railway mile marker in the Keys in its original location.
The last of the original Keys mile markers in its original location can be found on Big Pine Key, near the intersection of U.S. 1 and County Road SRD, on the ocean side of the road (the address is approximately 30944 Overseas Highway – you can look at Google Maps Streetview at this address and see the mile marker that way, if you can’t visit in person).
UPDATE – February 15, 2018
Last week, I had the chance to check on the mile marker. Even though Hurricane Irma destroyed a lot of homes and buildings on Big Pine Key, the mile marker is still in place (if just a little worse for wear).
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