WINDLEY KEY FOSSIL REEF GEOLOGICAL STATE PARK
Formed of Key Largo limestone, fossilized coral, this land was sold to the Florida East Coast Railroad, which used the stone to build Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s. After the railroad was built, the quarry was used until the 1960s to produce exquisite pieces of decorative stone called Keystone. Today, visitors can walk along eight-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of the ancient coral and learn about the quarry and its operation- an important part of Florida's 20th century history. Samples of the quarry machinery have been preserved at the park. Visitors can enjoy the natural attributes of this island while strolling five short, self-guided trails. Picnic tables are available. The Visitor Center, open Friday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., features educational exhibits about the history of this site. Located at Mile Marker 85.5 on Windley Key near Islamorada.
Various tribes of Native Americans inhabited the Keys before the first European explorers arrived. Middens and other remains are located throughout the islands documenting their earliest human occupation. After Key West was settled, "Conch" families moved up the Keys to establish small farming and fishing communities. In the mid-1800s, the Russell family homesteaded Umbrella Key, Windley?s earlier name. The Russell family lived on the land until it was sold to the Florida East Coast Railway in 1908 for $852.80. From that time, until the final completion of the Overseas Railroad, the quarries along the tract were used to supply thousands of tons of fill for the railbed and the bridge approaches.
The railroad was completed in 1912 and the quarries and Windley Key Station continued to serve in many ways. Local trains stopped daily to deliver much needed fresh water from the mainland and pick up mail and passengers. On return trips, shipments of polished "keystone" were railed back to the mainland. This keystone, a decorative building stone, can be seen on several buildings throughout the United States including the St. Louis Post Office, an altar in a New York City chapel and many other locations. Local examples include the Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center at Windley Key and the Hurricane Monument located in the center of Islamorada. The quarry was active into the 1960s and today stands as a preserved geological treasure. The clean cuts of the quarry machinery reveal the perfectly preserved fossilized specimens of a variety of ancient coral animals. The park offers a rare opportunity to professional geologists and curious visitors to compare the living corals of today with their fossilized ancestors. The limestone cuts also reveal the thin layer of soil that supports the abundant variety of botanical life that thrives in the subtropical environment of the Keys.
The Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center offers displays on Flagler's railroad, tropical hardwood hammocks, Florida Keys' geology and more. A conference room on the second floor can be reserved for school groups, meetings, etc. The Visitor Center is open Friday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.