Flagler Railway

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sat 12 May 2012 10:36
Flagler Railway to the Keys
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We left Baby Beez at the marina and en route to the bus stop saw this little museum, vouchers for free entry and in we went.
We seem to be following Henry south, here’s a bit more about him.
The Early Years: Henry Morrison Flagler was born to Isaac and Elizabeth Flagler on the 2nd of January 1830, in Hopewell, New York. He was the youngest of five children, which included three half sisters and one half brother. His father’s occupation as a Presbyterian minister kept the family moving and they seldom stayed in the same place for long.
In 1844, at the age of fifteen, Henry left home to work in a general store owned by his half-brother’s uncle, Lamon Harkness in Republic, Ohio. Four years later Henry would move to Bellevue, Ohio and take a larger position with the firm. In 1853, Henry married Lamon Harkness’ daughter Mary. They would have three children, Jennie Louise in 1855, Carrie in 1858 and Henry Harkness Flagler in 1870. Only his son would outlive him. Carrie died in 1861, Jennie in childbirth in 1889.
Henry eventually bought a piece of the family business and opened a liquor distillery with his half brother, Dan Harkness and Dan’s brother, Stephen. In 1863, however, Henry sold all his business interests and moved to East Saginaw, Michigan, to buy into the war-fueled salt industry. In 1865, with the end of the Civil War, the salt industry collapsed and Henry lost everything he had plus an additional $50,000. He borrowed the money to pay his creditors from Lamon Harkness at ten per cent interest. Henry soon found himself in Cleveland selling barrels to various oil refiners including one who used to sell grain on commission to Henry when he was working in the general store. That man’s name was John Davison Rockefeller.
In 1867, Rockefeller decided to expand his business. He approached Stephen Harkness for a $100,000 investment. Stephen agreed to put up the money, provided Henry Flagler be given complete control of his share. The firm Rockefeller, Andrews and Flagler was born.
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Middle Years: John Davison Rockefeller was asked during a federal hearing if he had conceived the idea of Standard Oil. He replied, “No, Sir, I wish I’d had the brains to think of it. It was Henry Flagler.”
Henry was the one who thought of buying up smaller refineries to make Rockefeller, Andrews and Flagler bigger and more powerful. It was his idea to approach the railroads about giving them a rebate in return for their continued business. In 1870, Henry had the idea to incorporate and sell stock. On the 10th of January 1870, Henry with no legal training, drew up an act of incorporation which did not exceed two hundred words, and Standard Oil was born.
By 1878, there was no major American oil refining city in which Standard Oil did not control the majority of the refining capacity. By 1884, Standard Oil had imposed a virtual monopoly in the transportation of crude oil and had complete control over the railroads.
One problem facing Standard Oil was that, at the time, inter-state holding companies were outlawed. Henry solved this by adopting the old English common law idea of “trustee”. They would buy companies in other states and then Henry would appoint himself trustee to control it for Standard Oil. In 1882, Henry set up a board of nine trustees to control all Standard Oil properties. This was the birth of the “trust”. Those nine men, headed by Henry and Rockefeller, controlled nearly ninety per cent of the nation’s refining capacity.
In 1876, Henry Flagler first visited Florida as a rest-cure for his wife, Mary, who was ill. His description of it was “awful.” In 1881, Mary passed away and it was about this time that Henry started to distance himself from the day to day operations of Standard oil. The following year, having heard about the beginning development of Florida, Henry decided to return.
In 1883, Henry married Ida Alice Shrourds, his second wife. Ida Alice had been his first wife, Mary’s nurse. They honeymooned in Jacksonville and St Augustine, Florida.
In 1885, Henry bought several acres of land in St Augustine on which he built the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College). It was completed in 1887 at a cost of 2.5 million dollars.
In 1889, Henry built the Memorial Presbyterian Church in St Augustine to commemorate the death of his daughter, Jennie. He built coal and lumber docks, the Methodist Church (so long as they had no bell tower to compete with his daughters church), a hospital, a Catholic church and a school for African-American children. He paid to pave streets and install electric lights and public water works. He also began acquiring existing railroad holdings under one title, Florida East Coast Railway Company.
By 1893, Henry’s second wife, Ida Alice, was showing increased signs of mental instability. She was briefly committed to an asylum in 1895 and permanently committed in 1897. Henry never saw her again but set up a $1.4 million Standard Oil stock to care for her.
In 1901, Henry would marry his third wife, Mary Lilian Kenan. That same year he began construction of a marble palace in Palm Beach called" “Whitehall” which would become his home.
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In 1904, Henry Flagler’s last great project, the Key West Extension, was begun. He lived to see it’s completion in 1912, after which he said, “Now I can die happy. My dream is fulfilled.”

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Henry in 1870, the classic picture of him and just before he died, getting in to his Flagler carriage.


On the 15th of March 1913, Henry suffered a fall at Whitehall, which resulted in a broken hip. He was confined to bed and struggled to live for two more months.

Henry Morrison Flagler passed away at 10:00 a.m. on the 20th May 1913. he was 83 years old.

Henry’s Legacy: At the time of his death Henry owned The Florida East Railway Company, Peninsula and Occidental Steamship Company, the Ponce de Leon, Alcazar, Ormond, Royal Poinciana, Breakers, Royal Palm, Colonial and Continental Hotels, Standard Oil stock, five Florida newspapers and countless properties and other holdings.
He had single-handedly brought Florida from a wilderness to a paradise. When the city of Miami was incorporated in 1896, there was strong public sentiment to name the city “Flagler”. It was Henry himself, who opposed the idea and suggested the old Native American name of “Miami” would be more appropriate.
Henry’s estate at the time of his death was valued roughly at $100,000,000. Today around 2 billion dollars. The bulk of his estate was left to his third wife, Mary Lily. Henry’s son received 5,000 shares of Standard Oil stock and each of his grandchildren received 8,000 shares.
Mary Lily remarried in 1916 and died the following year. The bulk of her estate went to her brother, sisters and a favourite niece. They owned the FEC Railway Company until it’s bankruptcy during the depression, after which, it was taken over by Ed Ball.
The federal government ordered the breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly in 1911 and fined them $20,000,000. The separate companies survived and continued to operate through centralised policies and management. Standard Oil later became known as “S.O.” then “Esso” and today, “Exxon.”
Henry Flagler was buried in the Memorial church he built in St Augustine alongside his first wife, his daughter and the child she died giving birth to.
His second wife, Ida Alice, died in a sanitarium in July 1930 at the age of 82. Her estate was valued at $15 million.
Henry’s son, Henry died in 1952, also at the age of 82.
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Bear standing in the one up, one down museum, which used to be home to Henry Livingstone Atwell, born in 1873. He made charcoal for a living and also worked as a carpenter. He lived here with his wife and four children in the 1920’ and 1930’s. Henry died in a fire while burning brushwood on No Name Key in 1937. Two years earlier, his son Henry, also died in a fire in his home in Key West along with his wife and four children. We sat and watched a film about the railway and then went to look at the exhibits next door.

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The Overseas Railroad (also known as Florida Overseas Railroad and the Overseas Extension) was an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West, located 128 miles beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. Work on the line started in 1905 and it operated from 1912 to 1935.

Henry Flagler and the origin of the Florida East Coast Railway: The wealthy Henry Flagler took interest in Florida while seeking a warmer climate for his ailing first wife in the late 1870’s. Returning to Florida in 1881, he became the builder and developer of resort hotels and railroads along the east coast of Florida.

Beginning with St. Augustine, he moved progressively south. Flagler helped develop Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Palm Beach, and became known as the Father of Miami, Florida.

Flagler's rail network became known as the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). By 1904, the FEC had reached Homestead, south of Miami.


Key West Extension - Eighth Wonder of the World: After the United States announced in 1905 the construction of the Panama Canal, Flagler became particularly interested in linking Key West to the mainland. Key West, the United States' closest deep-water port to the Canal, could not only take advantage of Cuban and Latin America trade, but the opening of the Canal would allow significant trade possibilities with the west. Initially called "Flagler's Folly", the construction of the oversea railroad required many engineering innovations as well as vast amounts of labor and monetary resources. At one time during construction, four thousand men were employed. During the seven year construction, three hurricanes - one in 1906, 1909, and 1910 - threatened to halt the project. The project cost was more than $50 million. 


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Construction by land: Construction of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway began in April 1905, Joseph Carroll Meredith, who had been appointed Chief Construction Engineer the previous July, was in charge of the operation. His first assistant was William J. Krome, who had led the survey into the Keys to decide if the project was possible. Krone would later take over as Chief upon the death of Meredith in April 1909.

The entire length of the Key West Extension from Homestead to the terminal in Key West is 128.4 miles. The construction crew ran into trouble almost immediately. Half way through Key Largo they found something that had not shown up on the preliminary surveys, an inland lake that they christened “Lake Surprise”. Roughly one mile across and six feet deep. Lake Surprise had a peat bottom which was too unstable to support a trestle bridge. The only option was to bridge it by building an embankment which took fifteen months to construct.

Much of the land the work crews were building over was swampy. The roadbed had to be built up to a level above high tide mark. To do this they used dredges and traveling excavators which would dig canals on each side of themselves and used the material to build an embankment in front of them. One steamer skipper working on the project remarked that Florida Keys had “not quite enough water for swimming, but too damned much for farming.”


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Pigeon Key



When the embankment was built up, they would use large chunks of native limestone for riprapping. After the hurricane of 1906 sent boulders weighing six to ten tons rolling away like pebbles, the engineers had to come up with a different method of construction. They put the limestone inside the roadbed and then cover the whole embankment with marl, a clay-like substance which is dredged from the ocean floor. When marl sets, it hardens like concrete and is capable of withstanding heavy hurricane seas. Thirty five miles of spur track were built to reach marl deposits which were sometimes up to a mile away from the roadbed.

In 1904, the population of Key West was 17,114. It was the largest, busiest city in Florida. This posed a problem for Joseph R. Parrott, Flagler’s General manager who had been given the task of building the terminal in Key West. There was not enough open land in Key West to build on. Parrott wired Henry Flagler the news that there was not enough land for the terminal, the answer was short and to the point, “Then make some.”

The rail line was opened as far as Knights Key Dock in 1908 and reached Key West four years later in 1912. Even with the setback of Lake Surprise, the hurricane of 1906 which damaged construction on the Lonk Key Viaduct, the hurricane of 1909 which washed out more than forty miles of track and roadbed and stalled construction for over a year. The hurricane of 1910 which destroyed roadbeds in the lower keys, washed away track and buildings in Marathon and displaced the foundation of Bahia Honda Bridge, Flagler’s men finished the Key West Extension one year ahead of schedule.  


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Despite the hardships, the final link of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. In that year, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first train into Key West aboard his private railcar, marking the completion of the railroad's oversea connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida. It was widely known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."


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Terminal and Ferries: The Key West Terminal was built on land that was mostly fill dredged from the ocean floor off the northwest side of the island. In all, 134 acres of fill was dredged to create the terminal. This area today is known as Trumbo Point. Some of the original terminal buildings are still standing and being used by the Navy and Coast Guard.

Henry Flagler’s original plans for Key West was very grand. He envisioned twelve piers measuring 800 feet in length and 200 feet wide. Each pier would handle four large ships onto which both passenger and freight cars from his trains could be loaded. Passengers would then be able to travel from New York to Havana, Cuba without ever having to leave the comfort of their railroad car. These original plans were deemed impractical and eventually only three piers were built.


In 1912, when the trains began arriving in Key West, all that was available were passenger steamers. The train would pull to a stop at the pier and passengers would disembark, walk a few yards across the pier and board the steamer for Cuba. The steamers were run by the Peninsula and Occidental Steamship Company which was owned by non other than Henry Flagler.

On the 8th of January 1915, the first railway car ferry was built for service between Key West and Havana. Christened the “Henry Morrison Flagler” it was the largest car ferry in the world at the time. It measured three hundred and sixty feet in length and fifty seven feet wide and could carry thirty five freight cars at a speed of thirteen knots. Two other car ferries were later brought into service, the Joseph R Parrott” and the “Estrada Palma.” While these ships were all used to carry freight cars, none ever carried a passenger car. The idea of “Board in New York and step off in Havana” never came to fruition.


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Freight passing through Key West ranged from fish oil and pineapples to race horses and hogs. By 1924, 3500 carloads of pineapples were passing through Key West annually. The pineapple cars were overloaded in Havana to save space, but had to be repacked in Key West to provide more ventilation for the long trip up the Keys to eastern cities. This work provided for many unemployed locals. Days when they came in were called “Pineapple Days” and hundreds of men would show up to unload and reload for fifty cents per hour. In 1926 these men held a strike and demanded a raise to sixty cents per hour. While this was a boon for the unemployed it devastated the pineapple growers of Florida (between mainland Florida and to below Islamorada) as they couldn’t compete with the cheaper ones from Cuba.


Customs officials in Key West had to be very careful when checking the trains. Often they would find illegal aliens attempting to enter the country by hiding amongst the cargo. Stories abound about men being pulled half-dead from tanks of fish oil or tightly packed pineapple cars. During prohibition the Havana to Key West ferries became the favourite route for smugglers to bring illegal rum and other liquors into the United States.


Passengers in 1931 could travel from Miami to Havana via Key West on the Florida East Coast Railway and Peninsula and Occidental Steamship Company for $24.00 round trip. Havana remained a hotspot of resorts, nightclubs and casinos and a popular destination for American tourists right through the 1950’s.



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Demise: Much of the Overseas Railroad in the Middle Keys was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, a Category 5 hurricane which is often called "The Storm of the Century". The storm of the 2nd of September 1935 killed more than 400 people and devastated Long Key and adjacent areas. The FEC's Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, as was an FEC rescue train which, with the exception of steam locomotive 447, was overturned by the storm surge at Islamorada.



Overseas Railroad

The rail bridge we passed, now permanently open for shipping.

Already bankrupt, the Florida East Coast Railway was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections. The roadbed and remaining bridges were sold to the State of Florida, which built the Overseas Highway to Key West, using much of the remaining railway infrastructure. Many of the original bridges were replaced during the 1980’s. The Overseas Highway (U.S. 1, which runs from Key West to Fort Kent, Maine) continues to provide a highway link to Key West. Many old concrete bridges of the Overseas Railroad remain in use as fishing piers and pedestrian paths called the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges.



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