Florida Keys and Henry Morrison Flagler story

Florida Keys are the chain of small islands which are forming the southernmost portion of the continental United States.They begin at the southeastern coast of Florida, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Miami.

The last on the chain is the famous Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands.

Actually the westernmost is Dry Tortuga National Park, it is uninhabited though, but you are able to visit by ferry and there are a lot of snorkeling tours that you can choose in order to visit the Dry Tortuga National Park island. This 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands.

The Keys were accessible only by water until Henry Morrison Flagler, an American industrialist, decided to build the strong railway bridge that connects the Keys with the mainland. In 1912, the Florida Overseas Railroad was completed to Key West. Over thirty years, Flagler had invested about $50 million in railroad, home and hotel construction and had made donations to suffering farmers after the freeze in 1894.

In May 1913, Flagler fell down of the marble stairs at Whitehall. He never recovered and he died in Palm Beach from his injuries on May 20, he was 83 years old. At 3 p.m. on the day of the funeral, May 23, 1913, every engine on the Florida East Coast Railway stopped wherever it was for ten minutes as a tribute to Flagler.

On February 24, 2006, a statue of Flagler was unveiled in Key West near the spot where the Over-Sea Railroad once terminated.

After his death his fortune passed into the hands of his widow, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Later on she married  Robert Worth Bingham and she moved to Louisville in November 1916.

Lonely in a strange city, Mary Lily became increasingly ill. Her husband’s doctor gave her enough morphine to ensure an addiction, useful leverage to parlay for Bingham’s agenda, which was to keep her “totally pacified” until she agreed to add his name to her will, according to Stuart B. McIver, author of “Murder in the Tropics.”

She fainted in her bathtub, had convulsions and then died suddenly after eight months of marriage. In “House of Dreams: The Binghams of Louisville,” author Marie Brenner said: Lacking conclusive evidence “that Bingham actually murdered Mary Lily, the events of her first and only year in Louisville leave little doubt that the Judge was dangerously irresponsible toward a very sick woman …”

Besides off all, Bingham gained the favor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and became ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1932. He died five years later of Hodgkin’s disease or syphilis, according to his granddaughter, author Sallie Bingham.

I am wondering after all the research I made for this blog post regarding this story how nobody until now didn’t make any film regarding this story.

Today a lot of schools, institutes, streets, and hospitals are named after Flagler, this great businessman and donor. Today they call him the father and creator of modern Florida and East coast.

This railway bridge brought big prosperity to the Keys but also to the entire state of Florida. Unfortunately the bridge was destroyed in the big hurricane known as Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. This was the worst hurricane that ever hit USA, and it made it landfall near Islamorada island in the Upper Keys on Labor Day, on Monday, September 2. 

More than 400 people were killed that day.

In 1935, when new bridges were under construction to connect a highway through the entire Keys. Hundreds of World War I veterans were working on the roadway as part of a government relief program. They were housed in non-reinforced buildings in three construction camps in the Upper Keys. Unfortunately the evacuation train failed to reach the camps before the storm, and more than 200 veterans perished.

The storm also destroyed the 23-year old Overseas Railway. The damaged tracks were never rebuilt.

Today parts of that old bridge are open to the public. A lot of people from the area are fishing from that bridges, although it was closed to vehicular traffic on March 4, 2008 there are some parking places where you are able to park your car before you go on the bridge. So as I said it is still open to pedestrians for walking, biking, fishing and jogging.

After the destruction of the Keys railway including the biggest 7 mile bridge, they build the new automobile roadways.

Today this unique coastal highway allows you to travel through the tropical islands of the Florida Keys and view exotic plants and animals found nowhere else on the US mainland. This roadway is called, U.S. Highway 1.

It is an amazing experience to travel through this highway and its bridges. It is a two way highway, and the speed limit is 55 MPH.

Also it is amazing to see what’s left of the legendary railway bridges, they are still standing there and reminding us of the history and the great human achievement. They are the monument of the greatest Henry Morrison Flagler’s achievement, he was the man who believed that everything is possible in America.

Today Overseas Highway is 113-mile long. It offers to travelers an exotic roadway through a tropical savanna environment, and beautiful landscapes.

Following the Cuban Revolution, that began in July 1953, conducted by Fidel Castro that continued until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his government with a revolutionary socialistic state.

Many Cubans fled to South Florida after revolution. Key West traditionally had strong links with its neighbor, ninety miles south by water, and large numbers of Cubans settled there after the revolution.

In 1982, US border control had established roadblocks and inspection points on US Highway 1, stopping all northbound traffic returning to the mainland at Florida City to search vehicles for illegal drugs and undocumented people.

The Key West City Council repeatedly complained about the roadblocks, which were a major inconvenience for people traveling from and to Key West.

Because that roadblock and inspection points were hurting the Keys’ most important tourism industry.

Even though they complained so many times, nothing had been changed. Therefore on April 23, 1982, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow, and the city council declared the independence of the city of Key West, and declared the Conch Republic. After one minute of secession, he surrendered to an officer of the Key West Naval Air Station.

The stunt succeeded in generating great publicity for the Keys’ plight, and the inspection stations and roadblocks were removed. It also provided a new source of revenue for the Keys, and the Conch Republic has participated in later protests.

If you ever visit Key West you will still see the flags of the famous  Conch Republic everywhere. They are actually very proud of the fact that they were independent republic at least for one minute. The Conch Republic celebrates it’s Independence Day every April 23rd as part of a week-long festival of activities involving numerous businesses in Key West.

Florida Keys are actually many. They are consisted of over 1000 islands. The islands are classified into three major groups: The Upper Keys, Middle Keys and Lower Keys.

The five most famous Keys and must stop points at the Keys are:  Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Bahia Honda Key and Key West.

There are so many things you can see and do at the Florida Keys. Starting form historical landmarks and sights, through the water-sports, day cruises, museums, sailing trips, kayaking and canoeing, visiting national parks, snorkeling, diving, travel with glass bottom boat, and admire the sunset. And don’t forget to try Conch Fritters and the famous Key lime pie.

Florida Keys are beautiful tropical, coral islands, with beautiful houses, shops, bars and eateries.

If you ever visit Florida state, I suggest you to visit the famous Florida Keys.

For the end, if I have triggered your attention regarding Henry Morrison Flagler, and you wish to learn more about him, his life, achievements and the construction of Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, please watch the movie that you can find in the link below. It is almost an hour long movie but it is worth watching.

When I watched that movie for the first time and especially the part regarding the construction of the 7 miles bridge my eyes were already filed with tears.

It is so incredible to see and realize what people were capable to accomplish, and after so many years of effort, within a few hours one hurricane destroyed it all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: