Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Henry Flagler, along with John D. Rockefeller, founded Standard Oil, and became a multi-millionaire.  According to him, he would have died a rich man if it hadn’t been for Florida.  As a recent transplant to the Sunshine State, I have to say that I’m glad he spent so much of his fortune here.  He dredged Miami Harbor to put that city on the map and connected it to the rest of the country with railroad tracks.  Long before Disney came to Orlando, Flagler built several resort hotels, making Florida a destination, even before air conditioning made the state inhabitable in the hot, sticky summers.  His claim to fame, though, and the subject of this book, is the building of a rail line connecting Key West to the mainland.  I know nothing about structural engineering, but I can still appreciate what a feat he and his men accomplished, proving the naysayers wrong and battling mosquitoes and hurricane after hurricane.  Weather forecasting was virtually non-existent in the early 1900s, and Flagler soon found that floating dormitories for his workers could become watery coffins.   He pushed on, though, adapting to the elements and rebuilding when wind and water destroyed months of work.  His plans to make Key West a shipping hub did not pan out, but the tourists came in droves, so that when a 1935 hurricane blew out sections of the Seven-Mile Bridge, the federal government stepped in to replace and repair.  I’m not a big history buff, but I can’t deny the monumental contributions that Flagler made to the state of Florida, and I have to wonder if native Floridians are familiar with his accomplishments.  Plus, he began the “railroad across the ocean” after he was well into his seventies, thus becoming one of the early geriatrics to make his home in Florida.  However, a retiree he was not, and I applaud his energy, his vision, his determination, and his audacity.

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