How Dutchess County’s earliest European settlers connect us with the Development of Florida. by David Garrity
Take a leisurely drive down Frog Hollow Road in the Town of Beekman, just off Route 216, directly across from the gently rolling fields of Sugar Maple Farm. History on Frog Hollow extends from the early days of the 1700s to present day Florida.
A short distance down Frog Hollow, on a knoll overlooking a valley to the south you find the Flagler Family Burying Ground, which is near the location of the original home site of the Flagler family. Zechariah Flagler came to the area around 1710 from Wertheim, Franconia. It is believed Zechariah and his tree sons are the ancestors of all Flaglers in the United States.
The early history fo Beekman area includes discussion of Native Americans, the Beekman Patent, New Englanders passing through on their way west as well as those remaining to build mills, hotels and to farm. However, the Flagler influence extends far beyond the meadows and farmlands now visible in the Green Haven area of Beekman.
Some have said that without the Florida East Coast Railroad (Flagler Railroad) Florida would never have been developed. Henry Flagler had a couple of business ventures prior to tackling the swamps and inland oceans of Florida. After a few buisness successes as well as failures in the mid 1800s, John D. Rockfeller, Henry Flagler and others formed Standard Oil. Rockefeller has been quoted as saying Henry was the brains behind Standard Oils success.
Two conditions turned Henry Flagler towards Florida. A family physician advised him to try the Florida panhandle as a place for his ailing wife to find respite. Second, Floida was a vast wasteland of untapped potential. Beginning in northern Florida, St. Augustine Flagler built one grandiose hotel after another, moving ever futher south. In addition he built not only grand hotels, he formed entire communities. Miami was almost named Flagler in his honor.
The major challenge to the development of Florida was the lack of a coordinated rail system. Flagler seized the challenge. He refused to listen to those who said it was impossible to build a rail road over 156 miles of ocean on the way to Key West. It took him millions of dollars, hundreds of deaths, and five long years.
Ever the visionary, he recognized the financial opportunity presented by the completion fo the Panama Canal. He rushed to complete the rail system to the very tip of the Flordai Keys to coincide with the canals’ completeion. Both engineering marvels were deemed foolish. The Florida East Coat Railroad was completed two years ahead of the canal. He died of complications after a fall in 1913 so he never saw th commerce develop between the canal and the rail system.
So, if you have some time to spare, sit a few minutes on the side of Frog Hollow Road. An American success story begins here. Think of Zecharias Flagler as he contemplates the future for his sons and beyond. What was in his heart, what was in the ground, what did he teach his family? It is said that there are the remains of the original foundation of the house Zecharias built near by, some foundation stones.
As you look over the same field as did the original Flagler, can you ‘see’ the other foundations of the house Zecharias built near by, some foundations stones.
As you look over the same field as did the original Flagler, can you ‘see’ the other foundations? What about vision? How about willingness to work even when it is hard? How do we respond when we are told, “That’s crazy, no one could…(you fill in the blank).” Henry Flagler had a vision, perhaps many more then we know. He failed in some enterprises, succeeded in others.
I’d like to think that hard work, vision, enterprising spirit don’t end here on Frog Hollow Road, but extend where ever we can imagine, not only in the 1710s but also today. What do you think?