Henry Morrison Flagler is a Florida icon. More than anyone else, the oil and railroad tycoon is single-handedly responsible for the development of the great state we all know and love today. And while you probably see his name everywhere you travel in Florida, you might not be so familiar with his bio. Here’s a list of 11 interesting things you might not know about the father of Florida, Henry Flagler.

 

  • Flagler decided to leave the family farm in western New York at the age of 14 and go work with his half-brother, Daniel Harkness, in Ohio. He worked on a small boat to pay his way. During the rough three-day trip across Lake Erie to Sandusky, Flagler became very seasick and couldn’t wait to reach dry land.
  • Flagler experienced a horrible business failure during the Civil War years. He had started a salt mining business in Michigan with his brother-in-law in 1862. But the company collapsed when the ongoing conflict undercut demand for salt. Flagler ended up losing more than $100,000.
  • Flagler got to know John D. Rockefeller while working in the grain business. At the time, Rockefeller was a commission merchant in Cleveland who handled most of his company’s shipments. The friendship would greatly benefit Flagler a few years later when he moved to Cleveland.
  • Flagler became a partner in Rockefeller’s petroleum business in 1867. A couple years later, the two decided to incorporate their holdings in the Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller always credited Flagler with coming up with the idea of incorporation.
  • Flagler initially traveled to the Jacksonville area with his ailing first wife in the winter of 1878. Doctors had recommended the couple spend time in Florida because of its warm climate. On a second trip to the state, Flagler visited St. Augustine and was charmed by the city, but frustrated by the lack of amenities like hotels and transportation. Seeing Florida’s potential to attract tourists, Flagler decided to pour his oil fortune into the state’s development.
  • Flagler’s first major project in Florida was construction of the 540-room Hotel Ponce de Leon. Realizing the need for transportation to his new showplace, he started buying up existing railroads. This was the beginning of Flagler’s railroad and hotel empire.

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  • Flagler purchased the existing Hotel Ormond north of Daytona Beach and enlarged the property to accommodate 600 guests. It became known as one of the best-known hotels in the world and a playground for the rich and famous, including John D. Rockefeller. Hotel Ormond was razed in 1992. The only thing that remains is a rooftop cupola, which is now the centerpiece of a park overlooking the Halifax River.
  • Flagler’s southern expansion included two opulent hotels in Palm Beach, the Hotel Royal Poinciana and The Breakers. In 1897, Flagler opened his only hotel in Miami. The Royal Palm was a six-story rambling wood structure painted “Flagler Yellow,” and for many years, was the only reason for Miami’s existence. It was eventually deemed a fire hazard and demolished in 1930.
  • Flagler was responsible for building streets and instituting the first water and power systems in what is today Miami. He also financed the town’s first newspaper, the Metropolis. When the town incorporated in 1896, residents wanted to name the city after Flagler, but he persuaded them to use an old Indian name, Miama, for the settlement instead.
  • Flagler embarked on extending his railroad to Key West, Florida’s most populous city in the early 1900s. Known at the time as “Flagler’s Folly,” the Overseas Railroad encountered numerous construction delays including three hurricanes. The line eventually opened in 1912 and would later become the foundation for the Overseas Highway to Key West.

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  • Flagler built a 55-room mansion in Palm Beach that he dubbed Whitehall in 1901. He and his third wife used the Beaux Arts style showplace as their winter home and it rivaled the extravagant mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1913, Flagler fell down a flight of marble stairs at Whitehall and never recovered from his injuries. He died on May 20th at the age of 83. He’s buried at the church he built in St. Augustine, Memorial Presbyterian.