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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean » User review

Henry Flagler had the courage and tenacity to see his vision realized.

  • Jan 21, 2009
Rating:
+5
Les Standiford is the author of several critically acclaimed novels as well as several works of non-fiction.   A few years back I had the distinct pleasure of reading one of those non-fiction titles. " Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America" was one of the best books I read back in 2005.   And so when I happened upon a copy of  "Last Train To Paradise:  Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That  Crossed An Ocean" I did not hesitate.  The mere idea of attempting to build a railroad through the Florida Keys all the way to Key West sounded absolutely incredible.  But the individual  who conceived and financed this project to a successful conclusion was no ordinary man.  Henry Morrison Flagler had helped John D. Rockerfeller found Standard Oil.  After years of accumulating wealth in the oil business Henry Flager turned his sights southward  towards the largely undeveloped State of Florida.  For better or for worse,  Henry Flagler was probably the person most responsible for transforming Florida from a mosquito infested wilderness into a  progression of bustling communities and wildly successful resorts.  "Last Train To Paradise" recalls the remarkable accomplishments of this visionary figure.  It truly is a compelling story.

When Henry Flagler arrived in Florida he was initially interested in building a resort hotel.   At that point Florida remained largely undeveloped and what would become the City of Miami was just a desolate outpost called Fort Dallas.   While pursuing his hotel project Flagler discovered that there were other venture capitalists who were interested in doing the same sorts of things.  There was one major impediment however.  Rail service only went as far south as St. Augustine.  An 1889 act of the Florida legislature set aside some ten million acres of land to be deeded to entrepeneurs willing to build new railway lines and thereby bolster the state's economic infrastructure.   Flagler was perfectly positioned to take advantage of this legislation and shortly thereafter the Florida East Coast Railroad was born.  Gradually Flagler's railroad wended its way south to communities like Palm Beach and eventually to Miami.  But in the back of his mind Miami was never going to be the terminus of the Florida East Coast Railroad.  For Henry Flagler thought it entirely plausible that service could be extended all the way to Key West!  It would be an engineering achievement of monumental proportions but Flagler's mind was already made up.  In July of 1905 the official announcement was made.  Critics dubbed the dubious project "Flagler's Folly".  "Last Train to Paradise:  Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean" chronicles the planning and construction of  a project that many at the time  thought might one day qualify as a "wonder of the world".   As you might well imagine there were countless obstacles that the engineers and project managers would need to overcome. You will also learn about the trials and tribulations of  those courageous men who labored for seven long years on this tremendously challenging project.   Finally, you will read the grim account of  the amazing storm that virtually wiped out the Key West Extension in just a few hours.  It is truly an unforgettable story!

Before reading "Last Train To Paradise" I had no idea that once upon a time a train ran all the way to Key West.  Out of curiosity I asked a bunch of friends and colleagues at work if they had ever heard of it and absolutely no one had.  Les Standiford has succeeded in bringing to light a long forgotten and fascinating chapter in our nation's history.   This is an exceptionally well written book that my managed to hold my attention from cover to cover.    Very highly recommended!
7 mile train Kye Railroad Keys Railroad 1935 Hurricane

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More Last Train to Paradise: Henry ... reviews
review by . December 03, 2008
History of the railroad to Key West. The idea and execution was wrapped up in the extraordinary life of Henry Flagler, who helped Rockefeller create Standard Oil, then developed an abiding love and obligation to Florida. He built a railroad and a string of resorts that turned the mosquito-ridden swamps of Florida's east coast into valuable real estate and the nation's Southern escape. The effort cost him a big chunk of his fortune, but created a state.
review by . May 07, 2009
As a South Floridian, perhaps I am predisposed to be interested in this book. However, I think any lover of history and literature will find this an entertaining read. At times it reads more like novel than a historical account.      Les Standiford tells the fascinating story about Henry Flagler's impropable dream to build a railroad over the ocean. Deemed "one of the most difficult works of railroad construction ever attempted" by Scientific America, Flagler, with his signature …
review by . January 16, 2009
Most American children grow up hearing stories about the great engineering projects such as the Hoover dam, the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately, until I read this book, I had never heard the full story of the construction of the Key West Railroad. In many ways, it is one of the most challenging engineering projects ever done.    It is difficult for the modern reader to understand how little was known about swampy south Florida at the …
review by . March 13, 2009
As a South Floridian, perhaps I am predisposed to be interested in this book. However, I think any lover of history and literature will find this an entertaining read. At times it reads more like novel than a historical account.    Les Standiford tells the fascinating story about Henry Flagler's impropable dream to build a railroad over the ocean. Deemed "one of the most difficult works of railroad construction ever attempted" by Scientific America, Flagler, with his signature …
review by . February 01, 2009
Having an interest in Florida history, I saw this book at the library and had to pick it up... Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean by Les Standiford. The Key West railroad was a fascinating concept to begin with... building a railroad line from Miami to Key West, spanning miles of ocean in the process. Set the whole project at the turn of the century, and it becomes even more incredible. And to watch it all get destroyed by …
review by . January 26, 2009
Henry Flagler was a rich man when he more or less discovered Florida in 1877. Born in 1830, Flagler was one of the three founders of Standard Oil. He was lured to Jacksonville, Florida in hopes it might help his wife to recover her health. In 1883, Flagler became interested in Florida hotels - and a second career was launched by this immensely rich 53 year old man.     Les Standiford tells this tale well. Flagler, always a man solely focused on business, built hotels to lure …
review by . October 03, 2003
Ten years ago, when I visited Palm Beach, Florida, I noticed a lot of places named after someone called Flagler. At the time I had no idea who this person was, or why everything in the area seemed focused upon him, but after reading this book, I understand. It's pretty clear that, without Henry Flagler's vision, and money, Florida today might be an entirely different place. This man, almost singlehandedly, changed Florida from a hot, sleepy area into a mecca for tourists. His building of luxury …
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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In Last Train to Paradise, novelist Les Standiford has written a lively, felicitous account of the building of the Florida East Coast Railway, which, for a little over two decades, connected mainland Florida with Key West. Henry Morrison Flagler, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner and, in many eyes, the true genius behind that company, embarked on the project in 1905 when he was 74 years old. The railroad, which crossed more than 150 miles of open sea, was an engineering feat nearly equal in scale and difficulty to the digging of the Panama Canal. Standiford's narrative skillfully blends tales of construction perils (not the least of which were escadrilles of mosquitoes) with brief, illuminating travelogues and natural histories, pocket descriptions of life in early 20th-century Florida, and a truly gripping description of an epic standoff between Mother Nature, in the form of a monstrous hurricane, and a stalled, 160-ton steam locomotive. With nary a single missed note, this fascinating tale is popular history at its best.--H. O'Billovich
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Tags

Books, Nonfiction, Railroads, Business History, Key West, Henry Flagler, Florida History

Details

ISBN-10: 1400049474
ISBN-13: 978-1400049479
Author: Les Standiford
Genre: History
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Date Published: August 5, 2003
First to Review
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