One hundred years ago, approximately 400 men were camping on Pigeon Key. The little island located just a couple miles off Marathon’s shore served as the base camp for the workers toiling on the East Coast Railway Extension that would eventually connect the city of Miami with the port of Key West.
Aside from swarms of mosquitoes, threats of hurricanes and long workdays under the blistering Florida sun, the men lived quite well. The bunkhouses had screened windows, electricity and as much lobster as they could eat.
One tidbit of historic information current Pigeon Key tour guides relay is that the workers were fed so much lobster that the general foreman actually had to issue an order to vary their diet.
Today, those who inhabit Pigeon Key continue to feast on the bounty of the sea, but most provisions come from the local grocery stores. Electricity is still manufactured on the island by generators, but the satellite TV, high speed internet and air conditioning are modern advances that make the island a bit more hospitable for Pigeon Key’s current caretakers.
Nearly four years ago, Kelly McKinnon swam up to the island to assume control of the educational programs. Just one season later, he was swiftly promoted to Executive Director. Since McKinnon’s arrival, Pigeon Key has developed a reputation as one of the premier marine science camps in the country and schools from as far as Iowa come to the island for extensive marine biology and aqua culture research. He has also overseen the eradication of exotic plant species from Pigeon Key and launched a mangrove restoration project with Education Director Rachel Sofrine.
Today, Pigeon Key remains pretty much like it was when Henry Morrison Flagler attempted the greatest engineering feat of his time. Eleven of the island’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and artifacts from the railroad are still washing into the saltwater pool along the island’s beaches.
The island is open to the public nearly every day of the year, and a ferry service runs from Knights Key to the historic island four times a day. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon on Pigeon Key’s beach, explore the island or simply enjoy a memorable Florida Keys’ sunset.
Pedestrians and cyclists may journey out to Pigeon Key via the old Overseas Highway and take in the balmy ocean air while spotting eagle rays, sharks and schools of snapper from the bridge.
For more information on Pigeon Key, please visit www.pigeonkey.net, stop by the old railcar on Knight’s Key near MM47 or call (305) 743-5999. Questions regarding Marine Science Programs are directed to (305) 289-0025.
Pigeon Key Art Fest this weekend!
Artists from around the country will fill up the Marathon Community Park for the biggest art show in the Florida Keys – 16th Annual Pigeon Key Art Show. The critically acclaimed festival benefits the Pigeon Key Foundation and will feature watercolors, jewelry, crafts, music, photography, graphic arts, food, pottery, glass, beverages, oil paintings, sculptures and acrylics.