Marion E. Marzyck
Marion Marzyck: a Monroe County
school mathematics teacher and world traveler. Her life was
influenced by both Conch and Cuban lifestyles. She was a fourth
generation Conch, a descendant of Adolphus Pinder, an early
pioneer in the Upper Keys, and from the Cuban Solano family
that had a dairy in the southern past of Key West.
Following completion of the railroad
in 1912, Keysí natives began to need roads to allow them to
travel along the Keys in their own automobiles.
In 1917, Monroe County issued bonds to finance
the cost of building single-lane dirt roads or trails on Key
Largo and Big Pine Key, a bridge to Stock Island and a short
road on Stock Island. The next step was not taken until 1922,
when a bond issue was approved to construct roads linking Key
Largo to Lower Matecumbe. At the same time, Dade County authorized
construction of a road from Homestead to Key Largo via a bridge
across Card Sound.
Between 1923 and 1928, construction of additional
roads, bridges and an automobile ferry were authorized and completed.
On January 25, 1928, the highway was officially opened and it
became possible to travel by automobile and auto-ferry from
Miami to Key West.
A trip to Key West on this first Overseas Highway
took at least 8 hours. Four of these hours were spent on a ferry
boat which crossed the 40-mile water gap between Lower Matecumbe
Key and No Name Key. The three ferries in service each could
carry 21 cars, and had a restaurant and lounge topside. It was
not unusual for trips to be delayed when ferries ran aground
in shallow water.
In January of 1930, a road was completed across
Grassy Key and Key Vaca (now called Marathon) with ferry slips
at either end. This construction reduced the original 40-mile
ferry ride to two 14-mile ferry crossings.
The narrow rickety wooden bridges in the Lower
Keys presented major challenges to motorists. When drivers met
on these bridges, they passed each other very slowly with bated
breath. It was impossible to get by a truck on a bridge. At
night, trucks would stop and blink their lights before starting
across, and proceed only if no lights blinked back -- no one
wanted to back off one of those bridges. One blind curve was
called "Dead Manís Curve;" another section was known as "The
Washboard" because of the bumps. Service stations were few and
far between. A breakdown on this highway often meant a wait
of several hours with only mosquitoes and sandflies for company.
In order to eliminate the need for ferries,
the Florida Legislature, in 1933, created the Overseas Road
and Toll Bridge District to finish the highway between Lower
Matecumbe and Big Pine Key. This was to be financed by bond
sales, but, because of the Depression, there were few buyers
and progress was slow. When the Florida
East Coast Railway decided to abandon the Key West Extension
after the 1935
Labor Day hurricane, the Toll Bridge district purchased
the entire railroad right-of-way from Florida City to Key West
for $640,000, and began the second Overseas Highway.
In November of 1936, workers began to transform
the railroad into a highway. The principal engineering challenge
was to make the narrow railroad foundations on the bridges wide
enough to accommodate a two-lane roadway. To accomplish this,
steel I-beams, 22 feet in length, were welded across the top
of the original railway girders, and a concrete roadway was
constructed on top of them. The Bahia Honda bridge, because
of the enclosed spans, presented a different problem, solved
by building the roadway over the top of the spans. The hump
at the top of the Bahia Honda bridge gave motorists a rollercoaster
The second Overseas Highway was completed in
16 months. On March 29, 1938, it was possible to drive all the
way to Key West without a ferry. Rates at the toll booth on
Lower Matecumbe Key were one dollar for a car, 25 cents for
each passenger and from one to four dollars for trucks. Tolls
were removed in 1954.
Until 1941, the highway still ran across the
Card Sound bridge to Key Largo and, in the Lower Keys, along
the southern shore of Sugarloaf Key and the Saddlebunch Keys
over the original wooden bridges. With the outbreak of World
War II and the build-up of the Key West Naval Base, it became
vital to improve the highway. In January, 1942, the State Road
Department and the national Public Works Administration agreed
jointly to finance improvements. From Florida City to Key Largo,
a new road was built (now locally known as the 18-Mile Stretch)
following the railroad right-of-way, bypassing the Card Sound
route and thereby saving 17 miles. In the Lower Keys, the wooden
bridges were abandoned and a new road built using the original
railroad route and bridges.
This work was completed in May of 1944.
By 1960, the traffic on the highway had increased
to the point that the narrow bridges were no longer considered
adequate. In 1977, the Congress appropriated $109 million to
build new, wider bridges, and the state of Florida agreed to
share 30 percent of the cost. Work on the third Overseas Highway
was begun in 1977 and completed in 1982.
Thirty-seven new bridges were built, the longer
ones using a "segmental" construction process developed in Europe.
The new Seven-Mile Bridge is the longest segmental bridge in
the world. Most of the original railroad bridges have been totally
or partially removed, but the Long Key Bridge, the Seven-Mile
Bridge and the Bahia Honda Bridge have been designated as national
historic sites and will remain.