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USF Libraries Exhibits

Labor Day Hurricane, 1935

1928 Bridge Plan from page 33

1928 Bridge Plan to Eliminate Water Gap. pg 33.   Knowles, T.N. (2009) Category 5: The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. https://usf-flvc.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01FALSC_USF/8i1ivu/alma99379588335006599

Impact on Florida

Date of landfall:           September 2, 1935

Lives lost (FL):          408

Category/wind speed:   5/185-225mph

Cost of damages:      over $2 million

The 1935 Labor Day hurricane was also one of the deadliest in Florida history (Blake & Landsea, 2010).  Classed as a category 5, it is recorded as having winds of either 185 mph or 225 mph and a 17 ft. storm surge (Knowles, 2009).  The Labor Day hurricane was the first category 5 hurricane in U.S. history.    

Thomas Knowles (2009) describes the circumstances that led to hundreds of WWI veterans being stationed in tent camps on the keys to work on the construction of roads and bridges as part of the economic recovery efforts of the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression.  The roads were planned to eliminate the remaining gaps in terrestrial land travel between the keys (as shown above in the 1928 Bridge Plan to Eliminate Water Gap) (pg 33). The flimsy housing and difficult travel out the keys contributed to 257 veterans losing their lives during the storm. 

The 408 total victims of the 1935 storm were memorialized in stone on the Oversees Highway in Upper Matecumbe Key.  The memorial would become a stop for many touring the keys.

The Florida East Coast Railroad Extension was also a victim of the storm.  Hampton Dunn’s article (1960) in his Phototouring Florida Collection describes how the 1912 project was dubbed ‘Flagler’s Folly’ by critics of Henry Flagler’s mission to connect the keys via railroad.  The project initially took seven years and nine months to complete.  The construction was hit by several hurricanes and 700 men died before its completion.  The track was in operation from 1912 until 1935 when the Labor Day hurricane swept away 41 miles of track.  Railroad officials decided not to rebuild, and instead the foundations were used in an Overseas Highway and Bridge District project that continued the work Thomas Knowles (2009) mapped in the 1928 Bridge Plan.

The archives also house evidence of how the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane impacted wildlife in Florida.  The distribution of Great Blue Heron in the state was tracked by the Audubon Everglades Science Center.