KEY WEST (CBSMiami) – “All Aboard.”
Exactly 100 years after Henry Flagler was greeted by a Key West parade celebrating his first Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad train’s journey from mainland Florida to the island city, a similar parade was held Sunday to commemorate the centennial of the railroad’s debut.
The parade through Key West’s Old Town was a highlight of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad Centennial Celebration that continues through Monday.
The Over-Sea Railroad connected the previously isolated Florida Keys with each other and the mainland for the first time, paving the way for their evolution into today’s vibrant community of islands. The completion of the line has been called the single most important event in Keys history.
“I think about that often — the excitement in this community 100 years ago with the train’s first arrival,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cates. “Their whole lives were going to be changed.”
Parade participants included a Henry Flagler re-enactor, “Conch Tour Trains” recalling Over-Sea Railroad trains, dignitaries in Flagler-era costumes, a United States Navy marching group, dancing troupes and bands.
The procession ended at the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, where crowds applauded as “Flagler” delivered portions of a speech the railroad baron gave 100 years ago.
“He once said, ‘You built one bridge, you build it pillar by pillar and before long you’ll be in Key West,’” said Florida Keys Mayor David Rice of Flagler. “It took a lot of vision to do that. It took a lot of guts, and it took a whole lot of money in that day — and he took the risk.”
In addition, children sang songs that recalled the schoolchildren greeting Flagler in 1912 and a ribbon-cutting opened the museum’s expanded “Speedway to Sunshine” Over-Sea Railroad exhibit.
Other centennial events during the weekend included a 1900s-era costume ball and fireworks show at a Key West hotel Flagler conceived for the railroad’s elite passengers.
The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.