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Pigeon Key center moving, so is train car

This 86-ton, 82-foot-long train car that has housed the Pigeon Key Visitor Center on Knights Key is getting a new home on U.S. 1 in front of the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, mile marker 50 bayside in the coming month.
This 86-ton, 82-foot-long train car that has housed the Pigeon Key Visitor Center on Knights Key is getting a new home on U.S. 1 in front of the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, mile marker 50 bayside in the coming month. Keynoter

Big changes on Knights Key in Marathon mean big changes for the Pigeon Key Visitor Center, housed in a red train car at mile marker 47 oceanside for almost 20 years.

Construction on a new 199-room resort with 30 workforce housing units behind and on land surrounding the visitor center meant a new home must be found for the information station, which is also the launch point for a ferry that takes visitors to the historic island of Pigeon Key. The train car alone has been there for at least three decades, according to former Pigeon Key Foundation board member George Neugent.

The visitor center, temporarily closed as the changes happen, will open in a trailer tucked between motorcycle shop Keys Cycles and the Hyatt Place Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, which owns the land at mile marker 48 bayside.

Pigeon Key Foundation Director Kelly McKinnon told the Keynoter the new center will open in about a week and the ferry service to Pigeon Key will operate out of the Faro Blanco marina, thanks to the Spottswood family. The Spottswoods own several hotels in the Middle and Lower Keys.

“We’ve been working on this for a little while and finishing up the last few details. We’re already out of the train car, so at the moment we’re not running tours,” he said. “The shop’s set up and ready to go but we’re waiting to pull the trigger on opening.”

Pigeon Key is a former railroad-worker camp and Larry Wright, owner of Paradise Divers, has been ferrying people to the historic island 2.2 miles from the Marathon end of the Seven Mile Bridge since 2008. Wright’s ferry service has stopped temporarily and will continue with four trips a day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for educational programs and historic tours when the new visitor center opens.

So what will happen to the bright red train car still sitting on Knights Key? It’s getting a new home on U.S. 1 in front of the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, mile marker 50 bayside.

It’ll be at least another three weeks before the 82-foot-long car is moved, said Charlotte Quinn, Crane Point Hammock chief operating officer.

It will be put on a flatbed and moved overnight, pending approval from the Florida Department of Transportation. A replica of the first railroad train station platform in Marathon will be built at the entrance of the car, Quinn said.

The Singh family, building the new resort, offered to hand over the car, Quinn said. It will house some offices, a train museum and a meeting space. “That’s the long-term goal,” she said.

There is little information about the Pullman train car and its use on Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad as a passenger car, but Neugent said it was brought to Marathon on a barge in the mid-1960s or early ’70s.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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