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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

What dreamers used to dream...

  • Feb 1, 2009
Rating:
+3
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 the hurricane of 1935 is a sad and ironic ending to a structure that was supposed to stand as a monument to Mr. Flagler and his vision for what Florida could become.

Flagler is one of those people who hasn't seemed to get much notice in history, given the role he played. He actually worked side-by-side with Rockefeller in building Standard Oil to the mega-monopoly that it became. As such, he ended up with far more money than a single person could ever spend. After spending some time off down in Florida, he became enamored with the state. He also saw a potential business opportunity... The Panama Canal was being built, and Tampa was the nearest deep water port on the Atlantic side. Flagler felt that he could turn Key West into the new destination, 300 miles closer to the Canal than Tampa. A railroad from Key West to the mainland could make a fortune. Thus... it was time to start building "Flagler's Folly", an engineering feat that many said couldn't be done. 20 years and millions of dollars later, Flagler experienced his dream... riding a train down the Florida coast, onto the Keys, and finally ending up at Key West. But yet little more than 20 years later, it all lay in ruins, a victim of the 1935 hurricane, thought by many to be the strongest storm ever to hit the US (over 200 mile per hour winds). But its short life doesn't negate the enormity of what Flagler was able to accomplish, as well as how it laid the groundwork for the highway that would soon link all the keys in the same way the rail line did.

Standiford does a good job weaving the story of Flagler's trials to get his dream built. He also does an excellent job in showing exactly what obstacles were overcome to make it happen. It truly was a monumental feat of engineering for the time and technology. The hurricane portion of the story seems to get short billing, however. I've read stories of the hurricane and devastation, and it's really not captured here at the level I'd expect. But even with that caveat, Last Train is worth reading to recapture a sense of what dreamers (albeit with a lot of money) used to dream...

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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 . 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 . January 21, 2009
7 mile train
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 …
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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Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … 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, Florida History, Henry Flagler

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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