The allure of the Islands of Marathon in the Florida Keys emanates from its fascinating history and environmental attractions.
The Earliest Inhabitants
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Florida Keys were Native Americans and the Spanish. Ponce de Leon is credited for naming our string of islands “Los Martires” in 1513 during his exploration of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Spanish were the first to navigate their tresure-laden ships through the unpredictable Gulf Strea waters that lie just south of the Florida Keys.
Many fell prey to the tricky currents and the Native Americans were the first to take advantage of the shipwrecked bounty. Salvaging became big business in the Florida Keys and lured wreckers from around the world.
In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States, and a new edict was proclaimed that only US citizens could engage in the lucrative wrecking industry off the Florida Keys. This spurred many Bahamian families to emigrate to the Keys.
At Crane Point Hammock in Marathon you can visit the Adderly House Historic Site. George and Olivia Adderly sailed from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys in the 1890’s and eventually settled in Key Vaca where they bought 32 acres of land. Their house is the oldest in the Keys outside of Key West.
Henry Flagler and His Folly
About this same time, Standard Oil magnate, Henry Flagler, was well on his way to realizing his dream of building a railroad that would connect the Florida Keys to the mainland.
In 1905 Flagler began construction of a railway that would span 128 miles of rock island and open water. Naysayers labeled the undertaking “Flagler’s Folly” but, by 1908, the first stretch was completed from Homestead to Marathon. This was quite a boon to Marathon.
Cuban ships unloaded treasure troves of pineapple and limes that were loaded on railway cars and transported north. Knights Key became a railroad turnaround, and Pigeon Key emerged as a base camp for the workers who would complete the line to Key West. It was the railroad workers who named the town “Marathon,” citing what a race it had been to complete the project. In 1912, at the age of 82, Henry Flagler rode his dream from Homestead to Key West.
Pigeon Key Today
Today, you can tour Pigeon Key and see many of the original buildings and artifacts from the era.
Monroe County began construction of a road to run parallel to Flagler’s Railroad in 1928, but the seven-mile span of water between Marathon and Bahia Honda provided an engineering challenge. A car ferry connected the two road spans and travelers could now journey by auto from Homestead to Key West.
Labor Day Hurricane
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 devastated much of the railroad. Already in receivership due to mismanagement, the railroad chose not to rebuild. The single-track railway trestles were converted to two-lane bridges for cars and the highway from Homestead to Key West was now complete.
The City of Marathon
The City of Marathon incorporated in 1999 and set its boundaries from the East end of the Seven Mile Bridge (approximately MM 47) to the West end of Toms Harbors Bridge (approximately MM 60).
About one hour from Key West and Key Largo, Marathon is the Heart of the Florida Keys. The islands of Marathon are Boot Key, Knight Key, Hog Key, Vaca Key, Stirrup Key, Crawl and Little Crawl Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Deer Key and Fat Deer Key, Long Pine Key and Grassy Key.