Exploring the Historical Legacy of Henry Morrison Flagler

Henry Morrison Flagler, an American industrialist and financier left a rich and lasting legacy of public works and philanthropy orbiting his home state of Florida. He is primarily remembered as the “Father of Florida Tourism” for his incredible contributions to the development of the east coast of the Sunshine State. Through his numerous works, including the launch of his namesake railroad, the establishment of several luxury resorts, and his generous donations, Flagler left an indelible mark on the history of Florida and was essential in shaping the modern tourist-focused economy. Flagler was born in 1821 in Hopewell, New York. After working in the Ohio oil industry and eventually co-founding the Standard Oil Company, Flagler retired in 1877 at fifty-six. Having acquired significant wealth, he elected to move to Florida. Flagler’s most important contributions to Florida began when he took control of the Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Halifax River Railroad in 1881. The railroad extended along Florida’s east coast, providing its first modern transportation system. Learn more here.

His vision was extended to the Florida East Coast Railway, with its first section completed in 1893 and its grand opening in 1895. Flagler built the first significant bridges across Florida’s Biscayne Bay, New River, and Lake Worth as part of the construction efforts. Hotels followed with the grand opening of the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach in 1896 and the construction of the legendary Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine soon after. These two resorts, sided by the Flagler Museum, named in honor of him and his second wife, Mary Lily, form the center of a corridor of luxury resorts stretching from the beaches of Miami to the golf courses of St. Augustine Beach. Aside from his feats in industry and finance, Flagler is also remembered for his generosity. Flagler donated large amounts of money to churches and other religious institutions throughout Florida, especially in rural African American communities. He also used his wealth to establish several institutions in St. Augustine, including a school for orphan children, a hospital, and a home for the elderly. He also supported the establishment of several universities, including the University of Miami. Learn more about Exploring Flagler Park: the Heart of West Palm Beach.

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