Greetings From: St. Augustine, FL

The Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine was built by Henry Flagler in memory of his oldest daughter who died in childbirth. Henry, his first wife, daughter, and unborn grandchild are interred in the attached mortuary.

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

Henry was a rich man.

Maybe the richest man you’ve never heard of.

Henry left home at age 14 to work in a store owned by an uncle. He started as a clerk, then became a manager, then left to start his own grain business. He failed at a salt business and came back to the grain business.

He met a guy named John.

John was starting a new business, and needed capital. Henry borrowed money from a step brother and went into business with John.

The business?

Oil refining.

Henry proved to be a sharp businessman. He and John grew their oil business to the point of owning oil wells, refineries, pipelines, barrel plants, warehouses, and tank cars. They employed over 100,000 people. They sold 300 oil-based products including tar, chewing gum, and paint. They had corporate offices on Broadway in New York City.

Success, though, came at a cost. Protests. Vandalism. Bad press. Lawsuits. Charges of monopolization. Violation of anti-trust acts. 

There was also trouble at home. Henry’s wife Mary was sick with tuberculosis. Her doctor suggested a trip to the warmer climes of Florida.

Henry took a lessor role in the business and followed the doctors advice.

And found his next calling in life. Developing Florida.

Henry confirmed that his success in the oil business was no fluke. He built hotels. Bought existing railroads and added to them. Built mansions. 

He was generous with his riches, donating land and money for churches, hospitals and schools. 

But there are two reasons you’ve never heard of Henry.

First, he was modest. Henry didn’t like things named after himself. 

In Southern Florida he helped one city by financing new streets, water, sewer, and a newspaper. The residents wanted to name the city after Henry. He refused, and convinced them to call it “Miami” instead.

Second, Henry’s personal life was seemingly cursed.

Mary – his first wife – passed away shortly after that first Florida trip. 

Henry had three children with Mary – two girls and a boy. 

Jennie, his oldest daughter, died during childbirth at age 34. The baby died with her.

Carrie, his middle child, died at age 3.

Harry, his youngest, was in his 20’s and managing one of Henry’s hotels when Henry fired him. The two apparently never spoke again.

Henry did remarry. His second wife was Ida, one of Mary’s nurses. Ida ended up suffering from dementia, was declared insane, and institutionalized.

While still married to Ida, Henry began a scandalous relationship with a young socialite named Mary Lily. He was 61, she was 23. At first it was platonic, but three years later the newspapers were starting to call out Henry publicly for having an affair.

Ida’s mental health had only gotten worse. Henry wanted out. But incurable insanity wasn’t legal grounds for a divorce in Florida.

So Henry did what only Henry could do. 

He bribed the Florida legislature and got the law changed. With the law re-written in his favor, he divorced Ida and married Mary Lilly 10 days later.  

Four years later Florida repealed that law. Henry had been the only person divorced under it.

11 years later, Henry fell on some stairs and never recovered. He passed away at age 83.

With no children by either his second or third wives, and still estranged from his only son, the immense fortune of Henry Flagler, partner of John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company, and the so-called “King of Florida”, all went to his third wife Mary Lily Kenan.

Making her the richest woman in the world.

Who you’ve probably never heard of either.

Henry Flagler built Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine in memory of his daughter Jennie. She, Flagler and Flager’s first wife Mary are  interred in the attached mausoleum. More information is at memorialpcusa.org.

Henry Flagler donated the lot on which the Ancient City Baptist Church stands. He made them promise to never put a bell in the bell tower.
Henry Flagler wanted the land where the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church originally stood, so he built this church building a few blocks away and donated it to the church.