Henry Flagler Research Papers
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Henry Morrison Flagler, was born in 1830 in Hopewell, New York. At the age of 14 he moved to Bellevue, Ohio, where he would eventually meet and become a partner of John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company. By the 1870’s Standard Oil would make both Flagler and Rockefeller very wealthy men.
After all but retiring from the oil business, Flagler made his first visit to Florida in 1878 with his ailing wife, Mary. Mary died in 1881 and two years later Flagler married his second wife, Ida Alice Shourds. The couple visited St. Augustine, and while Flagler saw the potential of St. Augustine for attracting tourists, he found the hotel and transportation facilities there to be poor. By 1885 Flagler returned to St. Augustine and began construction of the 540 room Hotel Ponce de Leon. In order to ensure proper transportation, Flagler also purchased the following railroads:
- Jacksonville Railroad
- St. Augustine Railroad
- Halifax Railroad
These were the first of several railroad purchases Flagler was to make.
Following the opening of the Hotel de Leon in 1888, Flagler built a railroad bridge across the St. John’s River and began the long progression south which would consume the next 24 years and would not end until his Florida East Coast Railroad reached Key West in 1912. This became the blueprint for Flagler’s philosophy in developing Florida: Build the railroad, depots, hotels, hospitals, schools, and other facilities almost simultaneously. The result was the seemingly overnight development of Florida’s entire East Coast.
In 1896, Flagler’s Florida East Coast railroad reached Miami. It had been just over 10 years since his odyssey began in St. Augustine in 1885. It seemed to all, including Flagler, that this was the culmination of his career in developing Florida, yet the biggest challenge was yet to come.
In 1905, the United States announced its plan to build the Panama Canal. Flagler realized the importance of Key West, the closest deep water port in the United States to the proposed canal. Under Flagler’s guidance, construction soon began to extend the Florida East Coast Railroad down to Key West. This meant building railroad bridges out into the ocean to cross the 128 mile island chain to reach Key West. It was a daunting engineering task. Despite this challenge and the fact that the 4000 man construction project was hit by 5 hurricanes, the final link of the railroad to Key West was completed in 1912, seven years after it began. Soon after completion, Henry Flagler rode the final link of his railroad into Key West.