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flagler photoA Poor Beginning

Henry Morrison Flagler was born on January 2, 1830 in Hopewell, New York. Upon completing the eighth grade in 1844, Flagler began working for L.C. Harkness in Ohio as a store clerk. In 1853, Henry Flagler married Harkness' daughter, Mary. It was Mary's poor health that would later bring Henry Flagler to Florida.

train on bridge

& Standard Oilcertificate

In 1867, Flagler became partners with John D. Rockefeller, an oil refiner in Cleveland, Ohio. The partnership emerged as the Standard Oil Company and, in less than two years, was leading the oil refining industry, producing over 10,000 barrels a day. Rockefeller was once asked if it was he who conceived the idea for Standard Oil, to which he replied, "No, sir. I wish I'd had the brains to think of it. It was Henry M. Flagler." By the time he was 50, Henry Flagler was one of the wealthiest men in the world. 


In winter of 1876-77, the Flaglers went to Jacksonville, Florida for Mary's failing health. This was to be the first of Flagler's many visits to the state. In 1881, Mary Flagler died. In 1883, Flagler married Mary Flagler's former nurse, Ida Alice Shrouds. The couple took a delayed honeymoon to St. Augustine, Florida. Flagler was enchanted by the city but dismayed at its mediocre accommodations and transportation systems. While Flagler was to remain on the board of Standard Oil, his new venture was the wilderness of Florida's east coast.

Hotels & Railways

In 1888, Flagler's hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine opened to rave reviews. Needing suitable transportation to bring guests to the hotel, Flagler purchased the St. Augustine & Halifax railroad, which later became the Florida East Coast Railway. The F.E.C. Railroad continued expanding through the wilderness of the Florida east coast. Along the tracks cities sprang up and Flagler continued to build luxury hotels to accommodate the tourists. In 1896, Flagler reached Biscayne Bay in Miami.

On To Key West

In May 1905, Henry Flagler was 75 years old and ready to begin the most daring and difficult venture of his life. He proposed to build a railroad 130 miles out to sea and instructed his engineers, "Go to Key West."


Key West was, at the time, the largest city in the state and strategically located in the Straits of Florida. It was America's closest deep water harbor to the new Panama Canal. 

Combating mosquitoes, hurricanes, labor problems and the wilderness, the railroad took seven years to complete. 

On January 22, 1912 at 10:43 a.m. the first New York to Key West train arrived in the Southernmost City with Henry and his third wife, Mary Lily, aboard. The Key West Extension was considered Flagler's greatest triumph and the grand culmination of his legendary career.

On May 20, 1913, Henry Flagler died in Palm Beach but his legacy lives on at the Flagler Station Over-Sea Railway HISTOREUM® Museum.

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