Audubon Park, once a plantation, was used by both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War, as well as staging ground for the Buffalo Soldiers following the war. named for the famed naturalist, the city purchased the park in 1870 with the intention of creating a park. little development of the park occurred in the first decade the city owned it, but it managed to host the World Cotton Centennial (a World’s Fair) in 1884. development began in earnest thereafter though nearly all of the Fair buildings came down in favor of others. structures went up and down throughout the 20th century – a miniature railway, swan boats, carousel, a viewing shelter on the banks of the Mississippi, a conservatory. several early features remain – a golf course from 1898 (converted to Par 3 executive course in 2002 and protested as desecrating the original design of the park), the zoo (which received development aid from the Works Progress Administration), and a rookery on Oschner Island, which hosts a wide array of birds (including herons, egrets, and cormorants) and apparently makes for some of the best birding in New Orleans.
during Katrina, a few of the park’s oak trees blew over, but the park escaped flooding and attendant problems because of its location on top of the River’s natural levee. following the storm, it served as a makeshift helicopter port and encampment for National Guard troops and relief workers.
we made use of Audubon Park for a morning run – once we finally got there, after walking from the end of the (construction-shortened) streetcar line. we had to share the 1.7 mile paved path (which was closed to vehicles in the 1980s) with a swarm of parents and children engaged in a charity run/walk of some kind. the costumes on some of the kids – and the gravel path to one side – mostly made up for the congestion. next time, I wager we’d try the longer dirt path that skirts the edge of the park!
as I’ve done in San Diego and Portland, I felt compelled to take in the views from the top of the lighthouse in Key West. the original structure, built in 1825, stood on the shore and was flattened by a hurricane in 1846. the keeper, Barbara Mobrity (who succeeded her husband who died in 1832), survived but six of her children perished in the storm.
|seriously — you have to climb these!
rather than replace it with one on the same spot, they erected the new lighthouse and keepers quarters in the middle of the island. the new building rose to 46 feet (compared to the original’s 65 feet) initially, but was extended in to 86 feet in 1894 to make it visible above the rising tree line. Barbara stayed on as keeper upon its completion in 1847, but lost her position at the age of 82 after making statements against the Union (which controlled Key West and the lighthouse) during the Civil War.
the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1969 and turned the property over to Monroe County, who leased it to the Key West Art & Historical Society, which now runs it, in 1972.
of all the lighthouses I’ve visited, climbing the one in Key West unnerved me the most. generally, I don’t have a problem with heights, but something about ascending 88 narrow, open-backed, iron stairs up the center of the structure unsettled me and made it somewhat difficult to enjoy the remarkable views from the deck.
perhaps it also had something to do with the warning, immediately inside the door, not to stay in the tower when there’s a thunderstorm. so much of the damn thing is metal and isn’t what one might consider “safe” to stand on and/or in during storms as I understand iron makes a pretty good conductor, making the 86 foot tower an effective lightning rod that can kill you.
I’ve heard that expression before “driving down the Keys,” but never fully appreciated what it meant before. you’d think “archipelago, obviously it’s a bit of a drive” and yet … I was also surprised at how quickly we got out of Miami and onto the coastal highway. once we cleared the snarly right outside the airport, it was a nice, easy drive with only a slow-moving gawker or two.
in its early days, Key West was a bustling town as it was so accessible by water; even before Henry Flagler built his railroad link, the city was home to 30,000 residents. Flagler developed an interest in Florida towards the end of the 19th century and became a resort developer, constructing a series of hotels down the east coast, culminating with the Casa Marina hotel in Key West.
initially, the Overseas Railway was referred to as “Flagler’s Folly” — who’d think that a 128 mile extension over a coral archipelago would succeed? it necessitated immense amounts of labor, as well as innovations in railway construction. work began in 1905 and trains began running to Key West in 1912. hurricanes disrupted progress in 1906, 1909, and 1910 and, ultimately, destroyed it. trains rain until 1935, when the Labor Day Hurricane struck at Islamorada and swept away several sections of bridge, in addition to killing nearly 400 people. the company didn’t have finances to repair or replace the damaged sections and, eventually, they sold the remaining tracks and roadbed to the State of Florida, which turned the route into the highway it is today. while many of the bridges were replaced in the 1980s some remain as pedestrian and fishing bridges. you could tell the locals — bronze figures either running along otherwise desolate stretches of concrete, or planted in one of the fishing alcoves with a rod or two.
portions of the road were tolled until 1954. the Seven Mile Bridge was one of the longest bridges when it was constructed and once crossed over Pigeon Key (home to Flagler’s railway company) but now bypasses it as the original structure is unsafe for vehicular travel. the road, now designated U.S. 1 runs from Key West to Fort Kent in Maine.
I’m thankful that we ended up making the drive while it was sunny out. being on the road, with the water on both sides and the sun beating down, set the tone for the weekend wonderfully.