Most of you likely have not heard of Henry Morrison Flagler. You’re likely not aware of this American tycoon, real estate mogul and railroad developer who’s life in the hey-day of American innovation, the Gilded Age, paired this man-of-his-times with partner John D. Rockefeller and saw him connecting the Florida Keys and Key West with mainland Florida.
Most likely, if you know the name – or at least the works he created – you would know Henry Morrison Flagler as the man behind the Florida East Coast Railway. He’s been named “the father of Miami” and founded Palm Beach, Florida.
Yet its Flagler’s railroad that could arguably be his greatest claim to fame (a couple cities aside) because it was his railroad that expanded Florida beyond a rough and tumble outback into an international tourist destination. It was Henry who got his rich friends to the farther Southern regions of the state and eventually all the way to the Southern most tip of America – Key West.
In fact at that time Key West was Florida’s most populous city. Trade, shipping and the deep waters here made Key West a shipping magnet and Henry wanted to take advantage of it.
Eventually Flagler’s historic railroad through the islands was damaged. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane – considered by many to be the largest known hurricane to hit America since we started keeping records – destroyed a large portion of the railroad, while also killing too many men working on it. When the railroad couldn’t rebuild, the state of Florida stepped in and bought large amounts of the tracks, right-of-way and bridges turning them into the Overseas Highway.
It was Flagler who put so much of Florida, its tourism and trade onto the map of American history.
I first learned of Henry Flager when I became interested in the Florida Keys. I began to do extensive research and have come to see him as a fascinating and important part of American history – not to mention Florida’s. His vision, industrial nature, intelligence – and like all the great men of history, very likely arrogance – and business acumen made him a very rich man while creating a tourism destination, a railroad empire and a state’s important contributions to history.
If I were to be able to sit and talk with just some of history’s greatest, Henry Morrison Flagler would be near the top of that list. His contributions to Florida as a state and her role in history is at once great, yet I fear, far too little known.
I provide here just some of the ways to see and enjoy Henry Flagler’s touch on Florida. There are many more I’m likely to miss, but needless to say, Henry Flagler had a hand in so much of what we all enjoy about the Sunshine State.
It is with deepest gratitude that I thank the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum for their kind support of this article by allowing me to use two of these images. The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum facade and the portrait of Henry himself are the copyright of the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Breakers Palm Beach
Inclusion in 30 Days & 30 Ways in Florida lists does not mean nor indicate endorsement. We are simply providing a list of options for your consideration. Please read other Rori Travels Florida articles for services, providers locations and our opinions, but the options here are provided merely as a starting point for your Florida vacation plans.