The Florida Keys are made totally different than the continental U. S. They are made up of coral. Ancient dead coral reefs. 125,000 years ago the keys as we know them were under about 25 feet of water. They were a giant living breathing coral reef. Teeming with fish and all kinds of sea life. As the sea level dropped the coral reef died and fossilized to what we have today. Also at the same time birds, migrating north and south from the west Indies, starting stopping over. They left behind there seeds from trees and plants. Up sprang the tropical hardwood hammack forest on the high ground and the mangrove swamps along the waters edge area. They covered all of the keys at one time.This was thousands and thousands of years in the making. Then along came man and he started hacking his way into the mangroves and into the hardwood forest. At first it was just to find a place to live and stay alive. Then trails between villages sprang up , to connect them and have communities. Soon the trails became bigger and bigger for wagons and such. For hundreds of years you could only get from key to key by boat or canoe.

By the early 1800 there were about 2000 white settlers living on all the keys combined, in remote areas, assable only by boat. After the civil war the keys started to be developed more. More tourists came down to stay at hotels and bask in the sun. Still the only way there was by boat or ferry. Remember that everything you needed to live had to be brought by ferry in order for you to survive, that included fresh water. The keys are coral and the water just goes into it and back out to the ocean. Around 1900 a guy by the name of Flagler proposed a railroad from Miami, down to key west. Most people thought it was crazy and it became known as Flaglers follys. Sure enough though  it started to be built,  it was no easy task, but by 1912 it was completed and opened. That opened the door for the tourist boom, which has brought development of the keys to a point where almost no more can be done. In a little more than 100 years.

One place that Flagler bought was an island with the right geology and coral make up for his railbed. It is now named Windley Key, and this is where Windley Key State Park is. It has three giant quarries. The first one is where the coral was blasted out into chunks and used as ballast for the railroad bed. The second quarry is where the huge water hydrolic hammer was used to cut out slabs of coral. The third quarry is where the motorized chisel jackhammer machine was used. This was on a railway and moved along it as it chisled down into the coral. The big coral slabs where then moved to a railway car and transported up north where they were cut and then polished to make a beautiful stone, which is called keystone. These slabs were also used to make some of the railway abutments for the railway. By the 1960’s it was shut down. One thing that was revealed after opening up the quarry was the array of old ancient coral reef fossils. It is still studied here today.


Keystone tiles used for the sign


If you look close you can see some coral fossils.



One of the big quarrys, they are 8 feet deep.





Here you can see the early type of drilling using a bit, every 6 inchs they drilled down until a huge slag gave way.


This is the more modern chisel hammer machine


The chisel was six inchs wide and driven into the coral, almost like a pile driver machine works today. It kept rolling on the tracks till it got to the end of the quarry, the tracks were rearranged and back and forth it went until giant slabs came off.




This machine used huge cables like a winch and dragged the slabs to the railway cars.

IMG_1605 (1)

One of the smaller slabs cut out.


They also had to bring in all kinds of supplies, including fresh water daily.


All that’s left of the Quarry station.

There you have a brief history on the Florida keys.





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