This weekend we decided to have ourselves a mini-vacation – one right in our own backyard. We are fortunate in that we live in Florida, and there are lots of great spots within driving distance to visit. I have even written about a few on here, like Spook Hill. This time we settled on beautiful St. Augustine as our destination.
St. Augustine has a rich history. Spanish, French and British forces have all held the city at one time or another. But I was surprised to find out that if not for the vision and passion of one man, St Augustine (and the rest of Florida’s east coast for that matter) might be completely different.
One of the largest investors in Florida was Henry Flagler, who was a partner in Standard Oil along with John D. Rockefeller. Flagler used his vast fortune from his Standard Oil days to pursue his vision for the state of Florida. Initially he saw Florida as a playground for the rich and mighty, who needed to “get away” from the cold and dreary winters of the northeast. He accomplished that vision by building a string of luxury hotels and the transportation needed to reach them. From Jacksonville to St Augustine to Miami and eventually Key West, Flagler kept his Florida East Coast Railway alive and moving. Along the way he created a myraid of jobs, from construction to hospitality. The railroad cost Flagler $20 million, two-fifths of his total Florida investment.
What began as “Flagler’s Folly” was later to become known as the “Overseas Railroad” after he, in his private rail car, completed the first official trip from Miami to Key West in 1912. In the end, Flagler’s feat was hailed as an engineering accomplishment on a par with the Panama Canal.