The photo above is of workers cleaning up after the great hurricane of 1935 that killed hundreds and that left much of the Florida Keys in ruins. Bridges to Key West were wiped out and Henry Flagler's railroad that ended in Key West just ended. Forever.
Ever since the Civil War, Key West was a strategic location for the United States Navy. The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression when the hurricane decimated the Florida Keys and money was scarce - everywhere. The bridges to Key West had to be rebuilt. And they were. The above photo shows the first of the new bridges that re-connected Key West to the mainland. A few short years later Japan attacked the United States and brought us into World War II. Key West emerged as a critical base for Navy operations.
Written on the back of the above photo: WAR BOOMS KEY WEST. Wartime installations in Key West are so big that a third of the town has been slowly swallowed by the Navy. It is now, perhaps, the most important spot on the map of the Caribbean area. Key West repairs and supplies and berths ships from the Seven Seas. New War housing pops up on all sides. 780 dwelling units in low cost housing project, 900 more in two War housing groups, and 350 little frame homes that are selling for $3,500 and bought before they are finished. Key West had only 12,000 persons before the war. It now has 40,000. Here is a view down a street in one of the two new war housing projects. 17 March 1943.
It looks like it was a good thing that the bridges to Key West were re-built when they were. Even greater projects like the TVA and Hoover Dam were built during the Great Depression. Both projects were massive undertakings and terribly expensive - especially when money was so scarce. During the Depression these projects employed thousands of workers which in turn helped get the economy to grow. They gave provided water and electricity a few short years later when World War II tested our national metal. The projects were trans-formative as played a major role in the development of the new south and the expansion in the west in the years that followed.
The recent photo above was taken at the end of one of the bridges destroyed during the 1935 hurricane. The sentiment spray painted on the bridge is recent and reflects the huge schism in modern day America.
Like so many teen's in the early 1960's, I was inspired by John F. Kennedy. Kennedy challenged my generation to be better and to achieve more. His vision of the New Frontier thrust America into outer space arguably was the most trans-formative force in American history. We went to the moon. Then we helped build the international space station and began making routine commutes up there. It is how we got there that changed how we live today. The Internet in all of its forms and incarnations, telecommunication, medicine, transportation (cars, planes, trains, and even bikes) are all beneficiaries of new technologies and new materials developed as part of the space race that improved our lives. Like the Hoover Dam, the TVA, and the reconstruction of bridges to Key West, investments in space exploration proved so valuable for decades that followed.
Who would have imagined how much different our world would be fifty years after Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon? Science fiction became science fact - on steroids. Who now can argue that the money spent then was a waste, a boondoggle? I guess some could argue that computers, digital communication and miniaturization would inevitably would have happened. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the investment made in the 1960s assuredly is still reaping benefits five decades later just as the investment in the Hoover Dam, the TVA, and the bridges to Key West continue to make our common lives better.
There is no present discussion of any big ideas or any grand projects in our national dialogue. Instead the discussion is about our looming national debt and how we are going to pay for government in the future and to pay for programs and entitlement payments that occurred in the past. Past unfunded obligations include two major wars, bank bailouts, and tax breaks for the rich.
It riles me to no end that we are spending our national treasure to "rebuild" Afghanistan when we need to spend that money at home rebuilding our own villages, towns, and cities. We need to spend money on big trans-formative projects like the Hoover Dam or the TVA and smaller projects like rebuilding bridges to places like Key West. Those big projects and those little bridges keep people employed and create the opportunity for business growth and development for decades.
The roads and bridges to Key West destroyed by the great hurricane of 1935 were re-built. People have been coming to the Keys for decades from far and wide for business and pleasure like this couple from Kansas in the 1950's .