Across the Gulf by Rail to Key West


The National Geographic Magazine June 1896

Across the Gulf by Rail to Key West

by Jefferson B Browne – Collector of Customs of the Port of Key West

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Key West Railroad RouteAcross the Gulf by Rail to Key West – The Government is now engaged in deepening the northwest passage to 21 feet, and when this is completed ships trading in the gulf will pass through the harbor of Key West, coming in at one of the main channels and passing out over the northwest bar, thus saving 70 miles and avoiding the dangerous reefs around the Tortugas islands. 

That Key West will within a short time be connected with the mainland by a railroad, no one who has noted the trend of railroad building in Florida can doubt. The ultimate object of all railroad construction in this state is obviously to reach deep water at an extreme southern point, and Key West meets these requirements to the fullest degree.

The first survey of a railroad route to  Key West was made by Civil Engineer J.C. Bailey for the International Ocean Telegraph Company as long ago as 1866. General W.F. Smith, better known as “Baldy” Smith, at that time president of the company, obtained from the Spanish Government an exclusive landing for a cable on the coast of Cuba for forty years. The company had under consideration two plans for reaching Key West with its telegraph system. One contemplated a land line to Punta Rassa, Florida, and thence by cable to Key West;  the other a continuous land line along the keys.  It was proposed to drive iron piles into the coral rock in the waters separating the keys, and to socket them about 10 feet above high-water mark with wooden poles, and Mr Bailey was employed to make the survey.  While engaged in this work he surveyed the route for a railroad to Key West, and embodied in his report to the company his opinion of its feasibility and cheapness as compared with the popular idea of what such a road would cost. When the Western Union Telegraph Company obtained control of the International Ocean Telegraph Company this report came into its possession, and it is still on file in its offices in New York.

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