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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Goin' to Florida

The Overseas Railroad was an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway
to Key West, located 128 miles beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. Work on the line started in 1905 and was completed in 1912; the line was in daily passenger and freight service until its destruction by a hurricane in 1935. My wife and I joke a lot about cars driving down the road for kilometers with their turn signals on. We usually alert the other person by saying,"Guess he's goin' to Florida." Then the other person knows to look for a car with continuous turn signalling happening. I have to admit that she has asked me if I was going to Florida a couple of times. Today's blog post is taking us to Florida without the benefit of an ongoing turn signal. We are looking at three of my seven post cards that highlight the Florida East Railway's Long Key Viaduct. I will first tell you the story, then talk about the publisher of each post card at the end. I will simply intersperse the fronts of the post cards through the narrative as taken mostly from Wikipedia. The
construction problems were formidable; labor turnover was frequent and the cost was prohibitive. The first portion of the line, from Homestead to Key Largo, was across swamp land. Thankfully, the dredging of the drainage canals to clear the swamps provided the material to build up the roadbed. Worse than any other challenge was the weather: a hurricane in September 1906 destroyed the initial work on the Long Key Viaduct and killed more than 100 laborers. Hurricanes in 1909 and 1910 destroyed much of the completed railroad. After these hurricanes, work resumed at a faster pace — The owner of the railroad was 80 years old and wanted to ride all the way to Key West on his railroad. The completion of Seven Mile Bridge assured many that the line would soon be completed. Henry Flagler, by then blind, arrived in Key West on January 22, 1912, aboard his private rail car "Rambler", telling a welcoming crowd, “Now I can die happy. My dream is fulfilled.” Regular service on the 156-mile extension — dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" — began the following day, with through sleepers between New York and Key West with connections at Key West for passenger steamers and car ferries bound for Havana. Flagler died less than 18 months later in May 1913.
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane washed away approximately 40 miles of the Middle Keys section of the line. In addition, the Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, along with a rescue train which was — with the exception of locomotive #447 — overturned by the storm surge at Islamorada, Florida. With Flagler gone, the railroad was unwilling to repair a line that had never repaid its construction cost — an unknown figure. It was later determined that the total cost of what had been derisively nicknamed "Flagler's Folly" exceeded $50 million ($1.31 billion today), all from his personal fortune.

The top post card, above was mailed in 1914, soon after the viaduct opened. It was published by the H. S. Kress Company. A publisher and large distributor of postcards through their national chain of Five & Dime stores. They were purchased by Genesco in 1964 who slowly began shutting the business down.

The middle post card was published by the Leighton & Valentine Company
out of New York City. Hugh C. Leighton was a printer and major publisher of national view-cards, especially scenes of New England. They printed most of their cards in four distinct styles employing halftone lithography. Most used a simple soft yet highly recognizable RGB pallet. While some cards were printed at their plant in the U.S. most were manufactured in Frankfort, Germany. Almost all their cards were numbered. They merged with Valentine & Sons in 1909.

The last of the post cards was published by the E.C. Kropp Company:
a publisher and printer that began producing chromolithographic souvenir cards and private mailing cards in 1898 under the name Kropp. These cards were of much higher quality than those that would printed under the E.C. Kropp name. They became the E.C. Kropp Company in 1907 and produced large numbers of national view-cards and other subjects. Their latter linen cards had a noticeably fine grain. Sold to L.L. Cook in 1956 and they are now part of the GAF Corp. U.S. This post card is an excellent example of a linen post card. The texture and weight of the card are obvious when one holds it and holds it up to the light. I hope you can see the texture in this close-up:

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If you know anything about the history of the cards, the trains or the locations, please add them.