Henry M. Flagler Museum
Palm Beach Travel Blog› entry 3 of 6 › view all entries
Flagler Museum, also known as Whitehall, is a 55-room mansion open to the public in Palm Beach, Florida in the United States. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Henry Flagler, one of the founders of Standard Oil, built Whitehall for his wife, Mary Lily Kenan, in 1902. The architects were Carrère and Hastings. It wa a winter residence, and Henry gave it to Mary Lily as a wedding present. They would travel to Palm Beach each year in one of their own private railcars, one of which (#91), was restored to its original condition and is sitting in the Flagler Museum's new Beaux Arts style pavilion.
Whitehall was used as a hotel after 1925 and was saved from demolition by one of Henry Flagler's granddaughters Jean Flagler Matthews . Her father, Harry Harkness Flagler, had died in 1952.
When it was completed in 1902, Whitehall, hailed by the New York Herald as "more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world." Today, Whitehall is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as the Flagler Museum, featuring guided tours, changing exhibits, and special programs. The Museum is located at Cocoanut Row and Whitehall Way, Palm Beach.
After the United States announced in 1905 the construction of the Panama Canal, Flagler became particularly interested in linking Key West to the mainland.
Initially called "Flagler's Folly", the construction of the overseas railroad required many engineering innovations as well as vast amounts of labor and monetary resources. At one time during construction, four thousand men were employed. During the seven year construction, five hurricanes threatened to halt the project. Costs were estimated at between $20 million and $40 million.
Despite the hardships, the final link of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. In that year, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first train into Key West aboard his private railcar "Rambler", marking the completion of the railroad's overseas connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida.
The portion of the Overseas Railroad in the Middle Keys was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, a Category 5 hurricane which is often called "The Storm of the Century". The September 2, 1935 storm killed between 400 and 700 people and devastated Long Key and adjacent areas. The FEC's Long Key Fishing Camp was destroyed, as was a FEC rescue train which became swamped at Islamorada.
Already bankrupt, the Florida East Coast Railway was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections. The roadbed and remaining bridges were sold to the State of Florida, which built the Overseas Highway to Key West, using much of the remaining railway infrastructure. Many of the original bridges were replaced during the 1980s, following Flagler's dream, the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1, which runs from Key West to Fort Kent, Maine) continues to provide a highway link to Key West. Many old concrete bridges of the Overseas Railroad remain in use as fishing piers and pedestrian paths.