How the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys changed from danger to showpiece

·1 min read

In 1982, a wider and safer Seven Mile Bridge opened to traffic in the Florida Keys. But the old bridge was never forgotten.

The original bridge remained a landmark, running alongside the new one in Marathon. Cars were allowed on portions. People fished off the railings.

It was built as the railway bed for Henry Flagler’s overseas train. After the hurricane of 1935 washed away sections, it was converted to a bridge for cars as the only way in and out of the Lower and Middle Keys.

But it was narrow. A bit harrowing. Unsafe.

With the rise of the new and safer Seven Mile Bridge, the old bridge kept its place in history, but transformed into a recreational spot. A few years ago, it closed for repairs. In January, 2022, it reopened for walkers, skaters, bicycle riders, with enhanced safety features.

With both bridges up and running again, let’s look back at the original, told through these old photos from the Miami Herald archive:

Boat race

Aqua Toy Store, piloted by Tague Estes of Lighthouse Point, Fla., and Dan Campbell, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., speeds between new, left, and old Seven Mile Bridges in the Florida Keys en route to victory in the Superboat Unlimited Class Sunday, June 16, 2002, at the Fountain Marathon Super Boat Grand Prix.
Aqua Toy Store, piloted by Tague Estes of Lighthouse Point, Fla., and Dan Campbell, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., speeds between new, left, and old Seven Mile Bridges in the Florida Keys en route to victory in the Superboat Unlimited Class Sunday, June 16, 2002, at the Fountain Marathon Super Boat Grand Prix.

Crash

This Toyota sedan crashed into a barrier on the old Seven Mile Bridge in 1996. One man died and a woman was critically injured.
This Toyota sedan crashed into a barrier on the old Seven Mile Bridge in 1996. One man died and a woman was critically injured.

Warning

A sign on the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys warns cars to slow down in 1995.
A sign on the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys warns cars to slow down in 1995.

The arches

The arches on the old bridge in 1996.
The arches on the old bridge in 1996.

Fred the tree

Every year, a crew of anonymous “elves” decorate the Australian pine known as Fred the Tree on a section of the old Seven Mile Bridge.
Every year, a crew of anonymous “elves” decorate the Australian pine known as Fred the Tree on a section of the old Seven Mile Bridge.

History of the highway

In need of repairs

The old Seven Mile Bridge, right, next to the new one, at the time it needed millions of dollars in repairs for pedestrian safety.
The old Seven Mile Bridge, right, next to the new one, at the time it needed millions of dollars in repairs for pedestrian safety.

Changing rules

A crew from the Florida Department of Transportation removes Fishing Area signs from the crumbling Old Seven Mile Bridge on June 13, 2008.
A crew from the Florida Department of Transportation removes Fishing Area signs from the crumbling Old Seven Mile Bridge on June 13, 2008.
A crew from the Florida Department of Transportation removes fishing signs on the sides of the crumbling Old Seven Mile Bridge in 2008.
A crew from the Florida Department of Transportation removes fishing signs on the sides of the crumbling Old Seven Mile Bridge in 2008.

The view

Old Seven Mile Bridge in 1998, from the southern end.
Old Seven Mile Bridge in 1998, from the southern end.
A man stopped his bike ride along the old Seven Mile Bridge to watch a storm brewing on the horizon.
A man stopped his bike ride along the old Seven Mile Bridge to watch a storm brewing on the horizon.



The reopening

Florida Keys officials and residents gather on Jan. 12, 2022, in Marathon to celebrate a section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge reopening after a $44 million renovation.
Florida Keys officials and residents gather on Jan. 12, 2022, in Marathon to celebrate a section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge reopening after a $44 million renovation.

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