Pigeon Key - Cayo Paloma
On old Spanish charts, Pigeon Key was known as Cayo Paloma (dove or white pigeon). Many believe this 5.31-acre island located beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge, just west of Marathon, was named after the white-crowned pigeon of the Florida Keys.
Nobody had much use for Pigeon Key until Henry Flagler needed it to complete the Seven Mile Bridge, which was part of the Florida East Coast Railroad.
Work began on the island in the spring of 1909, and by the beginning of 1912, it held four bunkhouses, each designed to hold 64 men; an engineering/office building, which also held sleeping quarters for the men who worked there; and numerous tents set up over wooden floors on stilts for the laborers.
When the railroad was completed all the way to Key West in 1912, Pigeon Key was transformed from a construction camp into a bridge tender maintenance camp. Some of the original buildings were replaced with more permanent structures, some of them homes. In an attempt to attract more married personnel, a school was opened in 1923. A post office was established the same year and remained open for 10 years. After the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Pigeon Key became the southern base for rescue, relief, and evacuation operations.
As a result of the damage to the Overseas Railroad caused by the 1935 hurricane, the railroad bridges were transformed to the roadbed for part of the new Overseas Highway. Pigeon Key was headquarters for the construction of this roadway.
In 1960, Hurricane Donna damaged two of the buildings so much that it was decided to burn them down. A few years later, the University of Miami leased the land for a marine biology project.
In 1992, the Pigeon Key Foundation was formed and has transformed this island and its buildings into a world-class educational center; a place to teach visitors about the splendor of the cultural and natural resources of the Florida Keys, and a nationally recognized concert and event location.