One of Florida’s most-visited — and most-photographed — historic landmarks has now reopened after a major restoration effort.
A 2.2-mile span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, a 110-year-old bridge in the Florida Keys, has been closed since a $44-million restoration project began in 2017. Earlier this week, officials from the Florida Department of Transportation held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally reopen the bridge.
“The Old Seven Mile Bridge is very important to the Keys, the history of the Keys, and a viaduct to get to Pigeon Key, which in itself is beautiful, but the bridge itself is over 100 years old,” said Roman Gastesi, Monroe County administrator. “It’s something that we’ve been able to get together and collaborate with the city of Marathon and the state of Florida to get it rehabbed. It’s been a great project.”
A Piece Of History
Located at the west end of the city of Marathon, the bridge was completed in 1912 as part of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West Extension, also known as the Overseas Railroad, according to the City of Marathon.
The bridge connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys, and the Keys to mainland Florida. It also is the gateway to historic Pidgeon Key. Then, in 1938, the railway bridge was converted to carry automobiles.
Construction on the new Seven Mile Bridge, which actually is 6.79 miles long, was finished in 1982. That bridge sits next to the historic bridge, which then became known as “Old Seven” and began to be used as a recreation spot.
“Nearly a quarter million people had visited Old Seven in 2016,” said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation. “It really is more of a linear park, where people can come out and recreate and go biking, walking, cycling, running, and take a look at all the marine resources whether it be spotting turtles, sharks, rays, or tarpon. It’s just an unbelievable experience for individuals and families.”
The restoration work, which began in 2017, is part of a 30-year, $77 million agreement between Monroe County, the City of Marathon, and the Florida Department of Transportation to fund restoration and provide a maintenance program to preserve the landmark, the Associated Press reports.
Restoration work included structural steel and bridge joint system repairs, along with adding new decking and pedestrian and bicycle handrails. Other physical enhancements were made to make the 2.2-mile span of bridge safer for recreational use.
“What made the project challenging was that it is a historic bridge, so we had to restore the bridge to the same aesthetic fabric as the original,” said Project Manager Tony Sabbag, a Florida Department of Transportation contractor.
Visiting Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key is known as a historic and educational center. Chief among its attractions are a railroad museum and original structures that were built when the bridge was being built in the early 1900s.
“As you come onto Pigeon Key, you really do step back in time,” said McKinnon. “It’s fantastic to walk around, see these original structures, and be on the same ground that these men 100-plus years ago stood on.”
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read the rest of our Florida Keys coverage, including: