Portrait: Henry Morrison Flagler, founder of many towns and cities in Florida

Wednesday, 22 November 2017 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Miami / South Florida, Portrait
Reading Time:  10 minutes

Portrait of Henry Morrison Flagler © The Cyclopaedia of American biography, 1918

Portrait of Henry Morrison Flagler © The Cyclopaedia of American biography, 1918

Henry Morrison Flagler was an American industrialist and a founder of Standard Oil. He was also a key figure in the development of the Atlantic coast of Florida and founder of what became the Florida East Coast Railway. He is known as the father of St. Augustine, Miami, West Palm beach and Palm Beach. When looking back at Flagler’s life, after Flagler’s death, George W. Perkins, of J.P. Morgan & Co., reflected, “But that any man could have the genius to see of what this wilderness of waterless sand and underbrush was capable and then have the nerve to build a railroad here, is more marvelous than similar development anywhere else in the world.” Miami’s main east-west street is named Flagler Street and is the main shopping street in Downtown Miami. There is also a monument to him on Flagler Monument Island in Biscayne Bay in Miami; Flagler College and Flagler Hospital are named after him in St. Augustine. Flagler County and Flagler Beach in Florida and Flagler in Colorado are also named for him. Whitehall in Palm Beach is open to the public as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum; his private railcar No. 91 is preserved inside a Beaux Arts pavilion built to look like a 19th-century railway palace. On February 24, 2006, a statue of Flagler was unveiled in Key West near the spot where the Oversea Railroad once terminated. Also, on July 28, 2006, a statue of Flagler was unveiled on the southeast steps of Miami’s Dade County Courthouse, located on Miami’s Flagler Street.

On the advice of his physician, Flagler traveled to Jacksonville for the winter with his first wife, Mary (née Harkness), who was quite ill. Two years after she died in 1881, he married again. Ida Alice (née Shourds) Flagler had been a caregiver for Mary. After their wedding, the couple traveled to Saint Augustine. Flagler found the city charming, but the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate. Franklin W. Smith had just finished building Villa Zorayda and Flagler offered to buy it for his honeymoon. Smith would not sell, but he planted the seed of St. Augustine’s and Florida’s future in Flagler’s mind. Although Flagler remained on the board of directors of Standard Oil, he gave up his day-to-day involvement in the corporation to pursue his interests in Florida. He returned to St. Augustine in 1885 and made Smith an offer. If Smith could raise $50,000, Flagler would invest $150,000 and they would build a hotel together. Perhaps fortunately for Smith, he couldn’t come up with the funds, so Flagler began construction of the 540-room Ponce de León Hotel by himself, but spent several times his original estimate. Smith helped train the masons on the mixing and pouring techniques he used on Zorayda. Realizing the need for a sound transportation system to support his hotel ventures, Flagler purchased short line railroads in what would later become known as the Florida East Coast Railway. He modernized the existing railroads for them to accommodate heavier loads and more traffic. His next project was the Ponce de León Hotel, now part of Flagler College. He invested with the guidance of Dr. Andrew Anderson, a native of St. Augustine. After many years of work, it opened on January 10, 1888, and was an instant success. This project sparked Flagler’s interest in creating a new “American Riviera.” Two years later, he expanded his Florida holdings. He built a railroad bridge across the St. Johns River to gain access to the southern half of the state and purchased the Hotel Ormond, just north of Daytona Beach. He also built the Alcazar hotel as an overflow hotel for the Ponce de León Hotel. The Alcazar stands today as the Lightner Museum next to the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine that Flager bought from Franklin W. Smith. His personal dedication to the state of Florida was demonstrated when he began construction on his private residence, Kirkside, in St. Augustine.

Palm Beach - Whitehall - Flagler Museum © Ebyabe/cc-by-sa-3.0 Portrait of Henry Morrison Flagler © The Cyclopaedia of American biography, 1918 St. Augustine - Flagler College © Excel23/cc-by-sa-3.0 St. Augustine - Historic Hotel Alcazar, today The Lightner Museum, with statue of Henry Flagler in the foreground © JanGoldsmith/cc-by-sa-3.0 Statue of Henry Morrison Flagler at Key West Bight Ferry Terminal © State Library and Archives of Florida
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St. Augustine - Historic Hotel Alcazar, today The Lightner Museum, with statue of Henry Flagler in the foreground © JanGoldsmith/cc-by-sa-3.0
Flagler completed the 1,100-room Royal Poinciana Hotel on the shores of Lake Worth in Palm Beach and extended his railroad to its service town, West Palm Beach, by 1894, founding Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. The Royal Poinciana Hotel was at the time the largest wooden structure in the world. Two years later, Flagler built the Palm Beach Inn (renamed Breakers Hotel Complex in 1901), overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach. Flagler originally intended West Palm Beach to be the terminus of his railroad system, but in 1894 and 1895, severe freezes hit the area, causing Flagler to reconsider. Sixty miles south, the area today known as Miami was reportedly unharmed by the freeze. To further convince Flagler to continue the railroad to Miami, he was offered land in exchange for laying rail tracks from private landowners, the Florida East Coast Canal and Transportation Company, and the Boston and Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company. The land owners were Julia Tuttle, whom he had met in Cleveland and William Brickell, who ran a trading post on the Miami River. Such incentive led to the development of Miami, which was an unincorporated area at the time. Flagler encouraged fruit farming and settlement along his railway line and made many gifts to build hospitals, churches and schools in Florida. By 1896, Flagler’s railroad, the Florida East Coast Railway, reached Biscayne Bay. Flagler dredged a channel, built streets, instituted the first water and power systems, and financed the city’s first newspaper, The Metropolis. When the city was incorporated in 1896, its citizens wanted to honor the man responsible for its growth by naming it “Flagler”. He declined the honor, persuading them to use an old Indian name, Mayaimi. Instead, an artificial island was constructed in Biscayne Bay called Flagler Monument Island. In 1897, Flagler opened the exclusive Royal Palm Hotel there. He became known as the Father of Miami.

Flagler’s second wife, the former Ida Alice Shourds, was declared insane by Flagler’s friend Dr. Anderson in 1896 and was institutionalized on and off starting that year. At the same time, he began to have a relationship affair with Mary Lily Kenan. In 1899 Flagler had created a strong enough acquaintance with Mary Lily that papers began to openly question whether the two were having an affair. That year he reportedly gifted her more than $1 million in jewelry. In 1901, Flagler bribed the Florida Legislature and Governor to pass a law that made incurable insanity grounds for divorce, opening the way for Flagler to remarry. Flagler was the only person to be divorced under the law before it was repealed in 1905. A spouse’s mental incapacity was later restored by the legislature as a grounds for dissolution of marriage, and remains the law of Florida today. On August 24, 1901, 10 days after his divorce, Flagler married Mary Lily at her family’s plantation, Liberty Hall, and the couple soon moved into their new Palm Beach estate, Whitehall, a 55-room beaux arts home designed by the New York-based firm of Carrère and Hastings, which also had designed the New York Public Library and the Pan American Exposition. Built in 1902 as a wedding present to Mary Lily, Whitehall (now the Flagler Museum) was a 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m²) winter retreat that established the Palm Beach “season” of about 8–12 weeks, for the wealthy of America’s Gilded Age. By 1905, Flagler decided that his Florida East Coast Railway should be extended from Biscayne Bay to Key West, a point 128 miles (206 km) past the end of the Florida peninsula. At the time, Key West was Florida’s most populous city, with a population of 20,000, and it was also the United States’ deep water port closest to the canal that the U.S. government proposed to build in Panama. Flagler wanted to take advantage of additional trade with Cuba and Latin America as well as the increased trade with the west that the Panama Canal would bring. In 1912, the Florida Overseas Railroad was completed to Key West. Over thirty years, Flagler had invested about $50 million in railroad, home and hotel construction and had made donations to suffering farmers after the freeze in 1894. When asked by the president of Rollins College in Winter Park about his philanthropic efforts, Flagler reportedly replied, “I believe this state is the easiest place for many men to gain a living. I do not believe any one else would develop it if I do not … but I do hope to live long enough to prove I am a good business man by getting a dividend on my investment.”

Read more on Henry Morrison Flagler Museum and Wikipedia Henry Morrison Flagler (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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