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Remember When… You could take a train to the Florida Keys?

All you hear about nowadays is Brightline, the new-ish private high speed rail service whisking us between Miami and West Palm Beach. But long ago, you used to be able to ride the train all the way down to the Florida Keys. In fact, that train helped turn Miami-Dade into the metropolis it is today.

THE BEGINNING: The Florida East Coast Railway’s first tracks were set in the late 1830s, but the railway didn’t get its name until 1895, after Henry Flagler, a pioneering businessman, purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax River Railways back in 1885.

THE EXPANSION: As more and more hotels and businesses sprung up along the east coast of Florida, the railroad expanded with them, extending down to Ormond Beach, then to Daytona Beach, and a little bit farther down to Palm Beach.

PITCHING MIAMI: It almost stopped there, but some more Miami pioneers, William and Mary Brickell, reached out to Flagler and asked him to extend the railway down to the 305. Julia Tuttle (the founding mother of the city of Miami) sold Flagler and his fellow businessmen on Miami and boasted about how it survived a citrus freeze that impacted crops just north of the city. The pitch worked, and the railway reached Miami in 1895.

A BRIGHT(LINE) FUTURE: The FEC railway also eventually connected to Key West until the 1930s and passenger rides on the rest of the railway continued until 1968. For decades after that, the railway was mostly used for freight trains, many of them carrying limestone. But that all changed earlier this year, when Brightline service launched between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and then connected down to us in Miami. Now we’re just waiting for the day it reaches Orlando and we can ride the train to Disney. Family vacations will never be the same.

Stay tuned to the newsletter for more semi-regular pieces of Miami history.  And check this story for more on the history of the Florida East Coast Railway. Are there other overlooked or lesser-known Miami history tidbits you want us to share? Let us know in the comments.

By Lance Dixon
Lance is the Storytelling Producer for The New Tropic