Pigeon Key - Summerland Key



Pigeon Key

Pigeon Key in the Lower Keys is located off the old Seven Mile Bridge, at approximately mile marker 45 and contains the historic district of Pigeon Key, Florida. The 5-acre island is home to 8 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, some of which remain from its earliest incarnation as a work camp for the Florida East Coast Railway. Today these buildings serve a variety of purposes, ranging from housing for educational groups to administrative offices for the non-profit Pigeon Key Foundation. The former Assistant Bridge Tender's House has been converted into a small museum featuring artifacts and images from Pigeon Key's colorful past.

The island was originally known as "Cayo Paloma" (literally translated as "Pigeon Key") on many old Spanish charts - said to have been named for large flocks of White-crowned pigeons which once roosted there. During the building of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad Key West Extension between 1908 and 1912, there were at times as many as 400 workers housed on the island. While these workers built many bridges along the route through the lower keys, the Seven Mile Bridge, spanning the gap between Knight's Key and Little Duck Key remains the largest and most impressive component of what was once referred to as "the 8th Wonder of the World". A number of buildings from the Flagler era remain on the island and are now part of the Pigeon Key Historic District.


Bahia Honda

Bahia Honda (meaning deep bay, in Spanish) in the Lower Keys is located on US Hwy. 1 at mile marker 38.5.

The island is virtually uninhabited, being home to the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park. Founded in 1961, the park occupies most of the island. The channel at the island's west end is one of the deepest natural channels in the Florida Keys.

Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway once ran through the present parkland to Key West. Built between 1905 and 1912, it was destroyed by the severe Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Later, the railroad bridge foundations were used to build the Overseas Highway, which became U.S. 1. Part of the old Bahia Honda Bridge is accessible from the park, and offers a panoramic view of the islands. In 1908, the Florida East Coast Railway Company built two large two-story dormitories there to house workers building the Bahia Honda Bridge.

The 2.5-mile natural, white sand beach was rated the #1 beach in 1992 in the United States by "Dr. Beach" Stephen Leatherman (the first Florida beach to be so honored), making it popular for swimming. A nature trail near the park’s oceanside beach skirts a tidal lagoon before passing through a coastal hardwood hammock. Bicycling and inline skating can be done on the park’s 3.5-mile paved road, and there are several fishing and picnicking spots in the area.

Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented at the park, and boat trips for snorkeling on the reef are available. The park has a marina with boat slips available for overnight rental. Campsites (primitive and full hook-up) and vacation cabins are available, although reservations for the winter months can be very difficult to get.

The park is also a part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.


Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys is located on US Hwy. 1 at mile marker 33.

The Big Pine Key island is home to the Key Deer population. Precautions are taken to preserve as much Key Deer habitat as possible.

A former oil well is located at the dead end of Long Beach Road. A former shark processing plant is located on the east side of the key, north of U.S. 1.

As of the census of 2000, there were 5,032 people, inhabiting the island.

The Blue Hole is the only fresh water lake in the Florida Keys. The Blue Hole is an abandoned rock quarry that was used for nearby road fills and Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad. The water it contains is mostly fresh and is used by various wildlife in the area, such as birds, snakes, alligators and feral Green iguanas. It is part of the National Key Deer Refuge.


Ramrod Key

Ramrod Key in the Lower Keys is located on US Hwy. 1 at mile marker 27.5. Originally named Roberts Island, Ramrod Key was renamed for a ship named Ramrod, which was wrecked on a reef south of there in the early nineteenth century. Many people come here to dive or snorkel on Looe Key Reef.

Until the construction of U.S. Route 1 in the 1920s, the only building on Ramrod was a post office that was alongside the train tracks.

Ramrod Key is a popular tourist site due to the short distance between the island and Looe Key. Amenities include a store, a bar, and a putt-putt course.


Summerland Key

Summerland Key in the Lower Keys is located on US Hwy. 1 at mile marker 25.5.

Summerland Key is a bedroom community located almost mid-way between the "large" cities of Marathon and Key West.

It is home to the Brinton Environmental Center of the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base. Also located on Summerland Key is a field station for Mote Marine Laboratory.

A private, 2550-foot community airstrip (FD51) is located just south of US Hwy. 1 on West Shore Drive at mile marker 25.

Beginning in 1948, Henry Hudgins, the father of modern Summerland Key, started developing Summerland from an uninhabited tropical wilderness to an upscale residential neighborhood.

In the fall of 1948 two hurricanes hit the Lower Keys with tidal surges that rose six feet and caused much flood damage to the area. After Hudgins saw the high water mark on Summerland he decided that homes built in his development would have to be elevated. He purchased two surplus military buildings and had his construction crews secure them atop utility poles at the foot of what is Dobie Street today. This was not only the Hudgins family's first home on Summerland, but also one of the first homes in the Keys on stilts — if not the first in all the Keys. Building code today requires all homes be built elevated to be above the floodplain.

Hudgins drew up plans for streets and canals for the development and began dredging operations to form the canals. Unhappy with the results of the dredge, Hudgins developed a new technique that was later adopted for digging all the man made canal of the Keys.

Hudgins' wife Mary learned to fly and kept a plane in Marathon. After meeting Philip Toppino of Toppino Brothers construction on Rockland Key, who also liked flying, Toppino suggested that Hudgins build an air strip on Summerland. Around 1956, Hudgins and Toppino formed a partnership and developed a section of Summerland, named Summerland Cove, with a landing strip flanked by homes on both sides and canals behind the homes.