The ribbon of steel that pierced our backyards - 1893 -1894

Henry Morrison Flagler
The Florida East Coast Railway
"He gave Florida a future"

This presentation is an edited version of a paper prepared for my Senior Year high school Economics class in 1963 - with supplementing information specific to the South Indian River Drive area of St. Lucie County, from the Ft. Pierce city limits South to the Martin County line uncovered during my research on our earliest freeholders.


The writer first came into contact with Florida legend and history while reading Theodore Pratt's trilogy - Barefoot Mailman, Flame Tree, and The Big Bubble and Sidney W. Martin's Florida's Flagler.  Florida history was interesting to me, having recently moved to Florida from Connecticut and, because it is - for the most part - all "recent" history and developments within the past 80 (now 120) or so years.  After reading about Flagler, I've visited "Whitehall", Flaglers mansion in Palm Beach which is now home to "The Flagler Museum",  and talked with the Director, Mr. Grant Bedford, many times.

There is a saying that goes, "charity begins at home".  Likewise a study of economic development should begin at "home".  Searching for a most influential person in South Florida one frequently comes upon the name Flagler - Flagler County, various Flagler monuments, and it seems, at least one Flagler Street or Avenue in every town, city, and hamlet.  Mr. Bedford says that the most asked question about Flagler is "where did he come from and how did he get his millions".

The first record of Flaglers family is in 1681 when Louie XIV was overrunning Europe with his "little army".  Flagler's Great-grandfather, Zachariah Flegler from Franconia, Germany led his religious following to England to escape from the advancing army.  England, in order to prevent the wrath of Louie XIV and to reduce their growing immigrant population, had a standing offer to provide ships and two months provision to groups going to the "new world".  On January 1, 1700 Zachariah Flegler and his following set sail on what was to be a most disastrous crossing.

June 29th, five months and twenty-nine days after they set sail, Flagler's ships arrived at the mouth of the Hudson River and sailed up to what is now Hopewell, Duchess County, New York.  The mortality rate on the crossing was more than sixty per cent and only four children survived.  Two of these surviving children were Simon and Solomen Flegler.  Solomen, either intentionally or due to poor writing, changed his name from "Flegler" to the present "Flagler".  Solomen Flagler was a very prolific man, fathering fourteen children, six of them boys.  His youngest son, Simon, married and had one son - Henry Morrison Flagler.

In the Flagler family, there was a tradition that the first born son enter the ministry.  Henry, and active and brilliant child (although his formal schooling only went to the eighth grade) realized that there would be little chance for self betterment in the ministry and at thirteen said "Father, I have not the courage to enter the ministry" and announced that he planned to travel to Republic, Ohio - where his half brother, Dan Harkness, ran a store.  At this announcement, his father was only to happy to help our "hero" pack his bags and leave.  Before he left, Henry, not yet fourteen, said "I will do more good for God in my life than you have ever done in the ministry father".

Flagler's first job at the Harkness store paid five dollars a month, three meals a day, and lodging under the store counter with wrapping paper - saved through the day - for bedding and cover.  Through suggestions from the young Flagler the Harkness store expanded and became very prosperous.  Before long Flagler married the bosses daughter, Mary Harkness.

One of Harkness' friends and customers, John D. Rockefeller, had been trying to talk Harkness into going into oil with him and observing the effects of young Flagler's ideas on the store, asked if he could have Flagler.  At this time, the Rockefellers had no money.  Naturally, Flagler had no money, and at Flaglers suggestions all the profits from the store went toward expansion.  So, Harkness (later of Harkness pharmaceutical fame) mortgaged the store for somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars and the Standard Oil empire was born.  In an interview of Nelson Rockefeller by the "New Your Herald", the Standard Oil Company was credited as "the brain child of Henry Flagler".  Flagler, though weak in formal education, had the intangible ability to make the right decisions quickly.

Like many other wealthy people of the times the fashionable thing to do for rest or vacation was to go to Europe - which the Flaglers had done many times.  His first trip to Florida was due to his wife's poor health and made to Jacksonville during the Winter of 1879-80.  On December 1, 1879,  Flagler wrote an unhappy and despondent letter to his people in the North about his first reactions to Florida.  But, by the end of December he had a complete reversal of ideas, had decided that Florida would be an excellent area to develop and on December 29, 1879 wrote another letter to his associates advising them to come to Florida and start investigations into the development possibilities.

Flaglers decision met with great ridicule with other business and industrial leaders in the North.  The "New York Herald" called Florida "Flaglers Wilderness" and his best friends advised him to get out.  Later the Herald changed its nickname to "Flaglers Sandbar", and finally to "Flaglers Folly".  On hearing of Flaglers decision to expand and build railroads, the head of the Union Pacific advised Flagler, both as a friend and a railway man, that "you can't build a railroad in Florida".  In the next 34 years, from 1880 to 1914, Flagler developed the entire East coast from Jacksonville to Key West and extended via Steamship connections to Cuba and The Bahamas.

See Map (undated but circa 1915)  - which indicates stations in our area at St. Lucie, Ft. Pierce, White City, Eldred, Walton, Eden, Jensen, and Stuart

See some early FEC Steam Engines

See Present day "RAIL CHARTS" - courtesy of Richard Shores, a fellow FEC "Railfan"
CHART 50, MP 240 - 245, Ft. Pierce through Savannah Road
CHART 51, MP 245 - 250, White City, Eldred, Ankona
CHART 52, MP 250 - 255, Ankona, Walton, Eden
CHART 53, MP 255 - 260, Eden, Jensen Beach, Rio

The first step was to purchase the Jacksonville and Halifax Railroad and build a spur line into St. Augustine where he had the firm of McGuire & McDonald build the Ponce de Leon Hotel.  Two young architects in this firm impressed Flagler greatly, John M. Carrere and Thomas Hastings.  These young men would later form their own firm and be greatly rewarded through their association with Flagler.  The next year the Alcazar was completed and the Cordova added to his growing hotel system.  St Augustine was an immediate success and Flagler aquired or built more railways to accommodate visitors to Ormond and Daytona.

While conducting deed records research to identify our areas earliest freeholders, I came upon one aspect of Flaglers expanding railway and railway holdings which I had never seen in print or heard.  This research was through the earliest deed records for St. Lucie County (records which had been extracted from the Brevard County records following St. Lucie Counties formation in May 1905, records for the period 1845 through 1889 - two microfilm rolls at the Clerk of Courts Archives).  I came across numerous deed records - transferring and granting to various named railways from the Trustees of the Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund - VAST quantities of land in consideration for "construction of road".  These grant's ranged in quantity from 6,000 to 20,000 acres per mile of railway completed.  One of the largest single grants noted was a grant in 1885 to the "Florida Southern Railway Company" of  1,592,018 and 64/100 acres (of which 819,997 and 54/100 acres were in the present St. Lucie County) for the completion of 165.26 miles of road (at 10,000 acres per mile) from Gainsville to the Withlacoochee River in Hernando County.

These grants were from lands granted to the State of Florida by Act of Congress dated September 28, 1850  titled "An Act to Grant Certain Lands to The State of Florida" and was commonly referred to as "The Swamp Land Act".  Stipulations in the State Acts, to the various Railway Companies, specified the quantities of lands to be granted for construction of road ... "in consideration of the greatly improved value which would accrue to the State" well as a stipulation that the lands granted were to be "lands which may be nearest the line of said railways and it's extensions".  Based on this last "location stipulation", I would assume that the Railways named in the Grants were some of those which became  parts of the consolidated "Florida East Coast Railroad", and the grants recorded in the (old) Brevard County records were lands selected as "nearest the line" of Flaglers extending his railway down the East coast.  Some of these grants were to "The Gainsville, Ocala, & Charlotte Harbor Railroad", "The Florida Southern Railroad", and the "Atlantic Coast, St. John, and Indian River Railroad".  At the time right of way was being acquired through "our" backyards, these acquisitions were being made in the name of "The Jacksonville, St. Augustine, & Indian River Railway Co."  I "assume" all of these ultimately were consolidated into the current "Florida East Coast Railway" (or divested), but that would be an entirely new tale to tell.

Of note here is these State Grants of lands were also being extended for other reasons such as The construction of canals and improvements to navigation.  An example of which is the dredging of what would become the Intracoastal Waterway - in front of our properties - which was initially improved to a channel five feet deep and fifty feet wide from St. Augustine to Biscayne Bay, for which the "Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company" was granted 36,103 and 3/100 acres within the St. Lucie County portion of Brevard County in September 1890 for the completion of 134 1/2 miles of canal work from Haulover  to Jupiter (I can't tell if this was the "Haulover" at "Haulover Beach / Miami" or the "Haulover" that was near the North end of the Indian River and Cape Canaveral.)  Also, it would appear, because both the State of Florida was making both sales and grants of lands transferred to the state in 1850, while at the same time the U.S. Government was making grants and sales of lands in Florida that perhaps it was "Swamp Lands" which were transferred to the state for holding or disposition while the U.S. Government retained the "better lands" for sale.  Within our stretch of Indian River Drive, "most" of those parcels sold by the State would seem to indicate that this was the case.

In 1892, Flagler started an extension of his railway from Daytona to Palm Beach.

The railway arrived in Ft. Pierce in January 1894 and reached West Palm Beach on March 20, 1894.  From the above deed research, Right of Way acquisitions were being made through "our back yards" in the period May 1893 through about November 1893 ... two ROW deeds in particular fix the time period during which the centerline alignment survey was being made through this area ... the first, for ROW across the lands of CT McCarty & Lizzie McCarty in Lot 2 Sec 1 T36S R40E (near our North end) as a "continuation of the line established through the lands of C.S. Moore June 26, 1893 ... the second is for ROW lands across the lands of ______ in Lot 2, Sec 32, T36S R41E (near our South end) as "said centerline being the line established by the engineer July 3, 1893.

In 1893, Flagler went to Palm Beach and his agents got large options of lands on both sides of Lake Worth.  They also raised options for the coming railroad, about $30,000 from the Palm Beach area and about $10,000 from the Hobe Sound area.  While Flagler was in Palm Beach, almost $400,000 worth of lands changed hands including most of the land for Palm Beach and his proposed service town - West Palm Beach.  This is during the time when the State of Florida and the U.S. Government were both making "Original Sales" of Government lands for $1.25 per acre, and considerably less, as little as $0.25 per acre, for large block sales, and Flagler - through his Railroad holdings - was being "Granted" HUGE quantities of State Lands.

Flaglers first hotel in the Palm Beach area was the Royal Poinciana with 540 rooms and accomadations for 800 guests.  In the construction of this hotel, materials and supplies were shipped over the Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway, the "Celestial Railroad", at an estimated cost of $70 to $100,000 - exorbitant rates at the time.  Flagler did not forget this, and when the "FEC" Railway entered Jupiter in early 1894, he instructed his engineers to go west through the sawgrass flats, thus cutting off the Jupiter and Juno areas from railway service.  The FEC entered West Palm Beach March 20, 1894 with it's terminus between Clematus and Datura Streets.  In 1899 there was an addition put onto the Royal Poinciana Hotel enlarging it to 1,200 rooms and accommodation for 1,600 guests, employing during the December to April "season" 1,400 staff.  This addition made the Royal Poinciana the largest wooden building in the world, at the time.

Late in 1894 Flagler started work on "The Inn" in Palm Beach to handle the overflow from the Royal Poinciana.  In 1895 it opened along with a horse drawn railway spur over Lake Worth to the Royal Poinciana. The Inn was enlarged in 1903 and renamed "The Breakers".  Late in 1903 The Breakers burned to the ground.  Flagler ordered it rebuilt and as it was nearing completion was again struck by a disastrous fire.  Undaunted, Flagler again ordered it rebuilt and this building stood until 1925 when, again, it burned.  The president of the FEC Hotel System, Flaglers brother-in-law, in the Flagler style ordered it rebuilt again.  This construction meant a great deal to the economy of Palm Beach County providing employment for a great many men during the depression, thus carrying out the Flagler tradition of helping the local citizenry during a time of economic stress.  The Breakers rebuilt in 1925 is the one still in use.

Flagler was not only interested in the "transient" aspect of our local economy.  Early in the development of the area he encouraged people to settle and farm the area by paying, out of his own funds, $3 per day to a single man or $5 per day to a family - plus seed - to establish their own homesteads.  When the great freeze of 1894-5 wiped out many farmers, Flagler sent out members of his staff, anonymously, to find the people most in need and present them with a gift of money to help them get back on their feet.

In 1896 Flagler extended his railroad down the coast to Miami - "the city that Flagler built", constructed the Royal Palm Hotel and had installed water and lighting systems for the City of Miami.

Flagler became a legal citizen of Palm Beach in October 1900 and, according to the "Lake Worth News" in December 1900 "today Henry Morrison Flagler pays nearly half of the taxes in Dade County".  On November 10, 1884 the Palm Beaches incorporated on a vote of 77-1 out of a population of about 1,000 with 100 registered voters.  Through Flagler's efforts, Palm Beach County separated from Dade County in September 1909.  And, in 1911, Palm Beach became a separate municipality.

In 1911 Flagler offered the firm of Carrere & Hastings, the Architects who had impressed Flagler so much with their work on the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and who would later go on to style The US Senate and House Office Buildings, the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National  Cemetery, the New York Public Library, and The Metropolitan Opera House in New York, five million dollars to build a home (Whitehall) for him in Palm Beach.  This was to be a wedding gift for his new wife, Mary Lily Keenen.  It was completed in a fantastic eight months for "only" two and a half million dollars.  This was the time when Flagler was paying a skilled railroad worker $1.50 a day and a good pair of shoes or work boots cost 60 cents.  Whitehall was opened on Flaglers birthday, January 2, 1912 and described by the New York Herald - December 1912 as -

"more wonderful than any palace in Europe, more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world ... The Vatican, the forests, the quarries, the old salons, art shops, and looms from around the world have contributed their finest treasures ... there is nothing in the world to equal Whitehall"
As for the promise Flagler made to his father to "do more good for God" (as a businessman, rather than as a minister) he had a standing offer to the ministry, anywhere in the country, that if they had a congregation - but no church - he would finance its construction.  Naming a few of many contributions in this area, he donated the pulpits at the First Church of Jensen, built the Catholic Church of West Palm Beach, built the Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, and bought the Royal Poinciana Church in Palm Beach "to be used as an interdenominational place of worship - for ever and ever".

Now, Flaglers investment in Florida is not only returning a monetary reward to his investors but also interest many times over to the prosperity of the State of Florida and the pleasure of the thousands who come to Florida from the world over.  Florida is the monument of Flaglers life's work, its increasing economy and industrial growth have their roots in his railway projects.  The wealth of the state has been greatly increased and influenced by his Florida East Coast Hotel System providing luxurious lodging for our visitors and many later investors in "the land of the flowers".  There is no measure for his activities in developing, and opening Florida for development, but the memory of the citizens of Florida ... who should honor him for opening this state.

Flaglers FEC was not "the first" Railway in our area
A brief history of The Jupiter and Lake Worth Railroad - The Celestial Railroad"

To the resident and visitor alike, an interesting bit of local history is the development, life, and demise of the Jupiter and Lake Worth Railroad, nicknamed by the Winter visitors the "Celestial Railroad" because of it's station stops at Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Juno, terminating at the North end of Lake Worth.  Prior to 1889, travelers to the Palm Beaches had three choices of travel between Jupiter and Palm Beach.  First by sail out of the Jupiter Inlet which was unsatisfactory because the wind had to be "just right" to navigate the respective inlets and the waiting and travel time often stretched to two or three weeks to make the short passage.  Second was by also by boat, alternately rowing and poling through the sawgrass flats - when it wasn't to dry.  The third choice was by an Ox train operated by E.M. Dimmick (later to become the first Mayor of Palm Beach) to Juno, then by boat down Lake Worth.

Work started in 1888, using old narrow gage track and rolling stock from the defunct Halifax Railway, and in March 1889 the J&LW's only engine arrived (engine #3, renumbered Engine #1 of the J&LW RR) with some of its rolling stock.  The railway was opened July forth 1889 with a picnic given by the J&LW for all the residents of the area.  About one hundred people attended.  Unlike many modern business practices, Dimmick's "Bull Train" was absorbed by the J&LW.

Being the most comfortable and reliable transportation, and the only railway in the area, they took full advantage of the monopoly - charging 75 cents for a one way ticket, and a freight rate of 25 cents per hundred wt.  One of the charter menbers of the J&LW, Joseph R. Parrot, would later join with Flagler as Vice President and General Manager of the FEC Railway.

The J&LW enjoyed six years of prosperity before they felt the effects of Flaglers coming to the area ... "booming" land prices in the area along their Right of way to 75 cents an acre!!  At it's height, the J&LW consisted of about eight miles of track from the Northern terminal at Jupiter to Juno at the North end of Lake worth, one engine, three flat cars, and two coaches.  Unlike the coming of the FEC, the J&LW did not bring great prosperity to the area it served.  At it's height, Juno consisted of seven houses, two boarding houses, the railway head, one store.  But, the area did boast an increasing pineapple and vegetable industry.

After the arrival of Flaglers FEC Railroad through the area, by-passing the Jupiter to Juno area by going West thru the sawgrass flats, the "Celestial Railroad" declined until it suspended operations in April 1895.  In June 1896, the rolling stock of the J&LW Railroad was shipped to Jacksonville and auctioned.

An "interesting and personal" sidenote re. The Celestial Railroad -
I lived in Palm Beach Shores and graduated from Riviera Beach High School in 1963.  I attended Jupiter HS for the 2nd Semester of Sophmore year and RBHS as a Junior and Senior.  After writing (or while reasearching) my Senior year Economics Term Paper in 1963, which has been edited and expanded above, I went to the stretch of low lands North of Juno and South of Jupiter / and between U.S. 1 and A1A. which at the time was totally "untouched" scrublands. (I've since learned that these lands, which I thought were "untouched" scrublands, were in fact part of a vast expance of pineapple growing lands which stretched from St. Lucie County to well down into Palm Beach County - and perhaps further).  On this Exploration, I  found remenants of the Celestial RR in the form of "bits" and "scraps" of almost completely decayed cross ties and some RR spikes.  Unfortunately, over the course of 40+ years and many many moves - these artifacts from the Celestial RR have been lost.

Another, more extensive discussion of the Celestial RR which I've recently "found" on the web comes from "TAPLINES - Shortlines and Industrial Railroading in the South" by Donald R. Hensley, Jr. ( ) and the article at -