The Florida Keys is an archipelago of about 1700 islands in the southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and defining one edge of Florida Bay. At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 98 miles (157 km) from Cuba. The Florida Keys are between about 23.5 and 25.5 degrees North latitude, in the subtropics. The climate of the Keys however, is defined as tropical according to Köppen climate classification. More than 95 percent of the land area lies in Monroe County, but a small portion extends northeast into Miami-Dade County, primarily in the city of Islandia, Florida. The total land area is 355.6 km² (137.3 sq mi). As of the 2000 census the population was 79,535, with an average density of 223.66/km² (579.27/sq mi), although much of the population is concentrated in a few areas of much higher density, such as the city of Key West, which has 32% of the entire population of the Keys.
The city of Key West is the county seat of Monroe County, which consists of a section on the mainland which is almost entirely in Everglades National Park, and the Keys islands from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.
U.S. Highway 1, the "Overseas Highway" runs over most of the inhabited islands of the Florida Keys. The islands are listed in order from north and east to south and west.
Keys in Biscayne National Park (accessible only by boat) in Miami-Dade County
Keys in Monroe County
(Plantation Key through Lower Matecumbe Key are incorporated as Islamorada, Village of Islands. The "towns" of Key Largo, North Key Largo and Tavernier, all on the island of Key Largo, are not incorporated.)
- Soldier Key
Boca Chita Key
True Florida keys, exposed ancient coral reefs
- Elliott Key
Old Rhodes Key
Upper Matecumbe Key
Lower Matecumbe Key Upper keys
(Key Vaca, Boot Key, Fat Deer Key, Long Point Key, Crawl Key and Grassy Key are incorporated in the city of Marathon)
Long Key (formerly known as Rattlesnake Key)
Long Point Key
Fat Deer Key
Pigeon Key Lower keys
These are accessible by boat.
the Marquesas Keys
the Dry Tortugas (not shown on map) Outlying islands
Most islands are connected by the Overseas Highway. There has been a railway, but in 1935 its operation was discontinued. See also the history section.
The Keys were long accessible only by water. This changed with the completion of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway in the early 1910s. Flagler, a major developer of Florida's Atlantic coast, extended his Florida East Coast Railway down to Key West with an ambitious series of over-sea railroad trestles.
Main article: Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
One of the worst hurricanes to strike the U.S. made landfall near Islamorada in the Upper Keys on Labor Day, Monday Sept. 2. Winds were estimated to have gusted to 200 mph, raising a storm surge more than 17.5 feet above sea level that washed over the islands. More than 400 people were killed, though some estimates place the number of deaths at more than 600.
The Labor Day Hurricane is one of only three hurricanes to make landfall at Category 5 strength on the U.S. coast since reliable weather records began (about 1850). The other storms were Camille (1969) and Andrew (1992).
In 1935, new bridges were under construction to connect a highway through the entire Keys. Hundreds of World War I veterans working on the roadway as part of a government relief program were housed in unreinforced buildings in three construction camps in the Upper Keys. When the evacuation train failed to reach the camps before the storm, more than 200 veterans perished. Their deaths caused anger and charges of mismanagement that led to a congressional investigation.
The storm also ended the 23-year run of the Overseas Railway; the damaged tracks were never rebuilt, and the Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1) replaced the railroad as the main transportation route from Miami to Key West.
Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
One of the longest bridges when it was built, the Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight's Key (where the city of Marathon is located in the Middle Keys) to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Almost true to its name, the piling-supported concrete bridge is 35,862 ft or 6.79 miles (10.93 km) long. The current bridge bypasses Pigeon Key, a small island that an older bridge crossed (a section of the old bridge remains for access to the island).
After the destruction of the Keys railway by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the railroad bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge, were converted to automobile roadways. U.S. Route 1 runs the length of the Keys and up the East Coast to Maine; the Keys section is also called the Overseas Highway.
Seven Mile Bridge
- Elliott Key