Long before snowbirds flocked to Florida each winter and paid a premium price to stay at top hotels, Henry Flagler set out to create what is now the world's premier resort destination: Palm Beach. His Hotel Royal Poinciana, completed in 1894, was the largest resort in the world at the time. His Palm Beach Inn, overlooking the ocean, quickly followed in 1896. With continuous requests for rooms "over by the breakers", Flagler doubled the size of the hotel and renamed it The Breakers. The original property burned down in 1903 but reopened in 1904 and remains a symbol of luxury in Palm Beach.
In the midst of building his grand hotels, Flagler set out to build a private residence as a wedding gift for his wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Appointing two of the world's top architects to design the 75-room, 60,000-square-foot mansion, Whitehall was completed in 1902 and remained a winter retreat for Flagler until his death. Today, Whitehall houses the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum and offers an impressive collection of Gilded Age artifacts, as well as Flagler's personal railcar collection.
As Flagler continued to build these renowned hotels along Florida's coast, he saw the need for an expansion of transportation and embarked on what many consider the most ambitious engineering feat ever undertaken by a private citizen: the construction of the Over-Sea Railroad connecting Miami to Key West. On January 22, 1912, after seven years of work, Henry Flagler's passenger railroad opened, running from Jacksonville to Key West . This opened up the state, including Palm Beach, as a vacation destination for visitors up and down the east coast of the United States.
One hundred years after the railroad's completion, Henry Flagler's Palm Beach remains the paradise he once envisioned and continues to attract travelers, near or far, in search of the ultimate getaway experience.