25 May 2008

Henry and Henry: Fathers of modern Florida

Ok, so at this point, you may be wondering, "so who is this Henry Flagler guy, and what happened to that Henry Plant guy we read about in Tampa?" That's a very good question, if you were thinking it. I wondered it as well, and in fact asked my tour guide at Flagler College what the relationship between the two men was. His response was, friendly competitors. Perhaps best shown in a story when Plant opened his Tampa hotel and invited Flagler, who asked, "where is Tampa?". To this, Plant simply responded, "follow the tourists." In the above photo, Flagler is on the left, Plant on the right. So who were these well-to-do gentlemen, and why do they matter to Florida? Well, let's take a look.

Flagler was born Jan 2 1830 in Hopewell, NY, and was 14 when he entered the working world. He held a few meager jobs, and was financially ruined by the Civil War. But his big break came with the Harkness Grain company in Bellvue, OH. It was here that he met a man named John Rockefeller, who at the time was a commission agent for the company. When Rockefeller went into the oil business, he received money from the Harkness company on terms that Flagler be made a business partner. In 1867, the company that became Standard Oil was founded. In 1878, Flagler became ill, and was told by his doctor to seek the warm weather of Jacksonville, FL. Between that trip, and another to St Augustine in 1881, he became convinced that a fortune could be made in the tourism industry of Florida. On Jan 10, 1888, his first hotel the Ponce de Leon (last post) opened in St Augustine. This was followed by the Hotel Ormond north of Daytona, the Royal Poinciana and the Palm Beach Inn at Palm Beach, and the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami. Along the way he greatly contributed not only to tourism, but also improved the towns and standard of living among people he came across. He is considered to be the father of Miami, which the citizens wanted to rename for him, but he declined. In 1912, his Florida East Coast Railway extended with the construction of the Florida Overseas Railway, all the way to Key West, This railway was destroyed, however, in the Labor Day Hurricane on 1935. Much of what remained was transferred to the state, and became the overseas highway. On May 20, 1913, Flagler died from injuries sustained by falling down a flight of stairs. He is buried in St Augustine.

Henry Plant was born on Oct 27, 1819 in Branford, CT, and began his life as a deck hand on a steam ship. Here, he organized the neglected area of express parcels, which was later taken over by the Adams Express Company and transferred to railroads. In 1853, he was sent to Jacksonville for his wife's health, and saw the state's potential. He was soon superintendant of the rail lines south of the Ohio river, and made many improvements. Unfortunetly for him, much of this was destroyed in the Civil War. But it was after the war that his greatest chance opened up. With much of the Southern railroads gone and the companies going bankrupt, in 1879 and 1880 he bought The Atlantic and Gulf Railroad and Steamboat company, and the Charleston and Savannah railroad. In 1882, with the help of investors that included Flagler, he created the Plant Investment company, and used it to create many railroads, especially in Florida. These new railroads greatly encouraged Floraida farmers by giving their products new market access, and the sleepy village of Tampa became his companies terminus for railroads, and steamboats to Cuba. It was in 1891 that he built the Tampa Bay Hotel for winter visitors. He died in 1899.

So these are the nearlt forgotten men who began to turn Florida from the swamp that it was into todays modern tourist hub. Long before Disney came to town, Flagler was sending tourists all down the Eastern coast of Florida, while Plant made the state the center of Southern trade.

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