HENRY FLAGLER’S FLORIDA
By Doc Lawrence
Ponce de Leon led the first European’s to land in Florida, but it was oil tycoon Henry Flagler who was truly the state’s founding father. Next year, the Sunshine State embarks on a celebration of Florida’s 500th anniversary, but for now we toast to Flagler’s foresight and iron-willed determination. This year marks a century since his Florida East Coast Railroad joined Key West and Florida’s Atlantic coast with the world.
BRIDGE TO KEY WEST
For some time now I traveled the entire route of the Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, from where it began in St. Augustine, then south just the way Flagler built it. Flagler’s love of luxury accommodations is fascinating. Although he wasn’t much for heavy drinking or extravagant dining, his hotels along the rail line remain international legends, time-honored examples of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach has no equal in the country.
The Breakers, an architectural wonder adorned with priceless objets d’art, represents the best in gourmet dining and fine wines, maintaining a global reputation for excellence. My visits there over the years include unforgettable Bordeaux wine dinners, a delightful conversation with rock star Sting, a frequent guest, days and nights covering the gourmet gathering of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, and more than a few overnight pampered stays. Today, a glimpse of the Breakers from the street conjures up images of Henry Flagler whose descendants still own it. Here is an American treasure, just as important in its way as Flagler’s railroad.
Flagler, with a little help from ships, connected New York City with Havana via Key West. If there were delays, his resort hotels in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Miami, Palm Beach and Key West made a layover a fairytale experience.
NOTE: The Southern Culinary Triangle is a hot new tourism magnet. Tupelo honey, Mayhaw jelly, goats that faint, artisinal cheeses all with some gourmet restaurants dotting the landscape: