Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine

Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine

Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine

Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine


"From the tall spires of the Ponce de Leon Hotel and the Cathedral of St. Augustine to street pavers on the ground, Graham offers us a detailed account of Henry Flagler's impact on St. Augustine in this genially written book."--Susan Parker, director, St. Augustine Historical Society "With verve and wit, Graham makes St. Augustine and a whole cast of historic characters come alive."--Susan R. Braden, author of The Architecture of Leisure "You can smell the orange blossoms, twirl around the ballroom floors, envy the gowns at the charity balls, revel in the gossip about the rich and famous, suffer with the poor and the disenfranchised, and thrill to the first blaze of electrical lights, the first automobiles and 'hard' roads, and the new sport of golf."--Elsbeth K. Gordon, author of Heart and Soul of Florida In the late 1800s, Henry Morrison Flagler walked away from Standard Oil, leaving the enormously successful company in the hands of John D. Rockefeller while he headed to Florida to pursue other interests. Flagler's new venture would lead him to completely restructure the sleepy town of St. Augustine and transform Florida's entire east coast.

This monumental biography tells the story of how one of the wealthiest men in America spared no expense to turn the country's "Oldest City" into a highly desirable vacation destination for the rich. Upon arrival, Flagler found accommodations in St. Augustine to be inferior, so he set out to build the opulent Ponce de Leon Hotel, and thus began his endeavor to attract wealthy travelers to the small southern city. He funded hospitals and churches and improved streets and parks. He constructed railroads in remote areas where men feared to tread and erected palatial hotels on swampland. The rich and famous flocked to Flagler's invented paradise. And he had the vision to stretch his new railroad southward, establishing hotels and accommodations along the way.

In tracing Flagler's second career, Thomas Graham reveals much about the inner life of the former oil magnate and the demons that drove him to expand a coastal empire that eventually encompassed Palm Beach, Miami, Key West, and finally Nassau. Graham also gives voice to the individuals that history has forgotten: the women who wrote tourist books, the artists who decorated the hotels, the black servants who waited tables, and the journalists who penned society columns for the newspapers.

Arguably no man did more to make over a city--or a state--than Flagler. Almost single-handedly, he transformed Florida from a remote frontier into the winter playground of America's elite. Filled with fascinating details that bring the Gilded Age to life, Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine provides an authoritative look at an intriguing man and a captivating time in American history.


Two monumental statues stand facing each other in downtown St. Augustine at opposite sides of a plaza once known as the Alameda. One is Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who founded St. Augustine in 1565. He stands triumphantly, holding a sword in his hand and wearing the steel breastplate of a Spanish conquistador. the life of Pedro Menéndez ended in the year 1574 when he was fifty-five years old. the other statue depicts Henry Morrison Flagler. He stands more casually, his right foot advanced just half a pace, wearing the long duster coat of a traveling man, his eyes fixed on the horizon and his right hand in his pocket— counting his change, say the carriage drivers who pass by every day carrying tourists through the oldest European city in the continental United States. Flagler came to St. Augustine in 1885 at the age of fifty-five and began to transform the ancient city into a modern municipality. Perhaps no man, single-handedly, did more to make over a city than did Henry Flagler. Indeed, he is said to have transformed the entire East Coast of Florida, changing it from a remote frontier wilderness into the winter playground of America.

This book tells the story of Henry Flagler’s enterprises in St. Augustine and, to some extent, of his activities along the entire East Coast from Jacksonville to Key West—and even beyond to Nassau. He built the Florida East Coast Railway and a chain of luxury winter resort hotels along the Atlantic seaboard, but his initiatives took him into many other fields. This account also explores sympathetically the personal story of a great, enigmatic man who kept his distance from most people and attempted to conceal his private life from the world. He was foremost a businessman who engaged his mind and energy almost every day in the details of actively managing his many ventures. in his first business career he partnered with John D. Rockefeller to build Standard Oil Company into the greatest corporation the world had ever seen. He became fabulously rich—a 1901 calculus ranked him the sixth wealthiest man in America, and a 1905 estimate placed him twelfth—but in his second career in Florida, Flagler spent money in prodigious amounts on ventures that benefited the state and its people but not necessarily Flagler himself. He usually justified his business undertakings on commercial principles, yet almost certainly much of what he attempted in Florida was done . . .

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