Saturday, August 4, 2012

Florida History: Miami's first, the Royal Palm Hotel

Salt water pool at Royal Palm

For more Miami (and Fort Lauderdale) history, visit

By Jane Feehan

Henry M. Flagler thought Palm Beach was the terminus of his Florida East Coast Railway line in 1896 until a severe freeze hit the state dipping temperatures to fourteen degrees in Jacksonville and 30 in West Palm Beach; there was snow in Fort Meyers. He sent his front man, James Ingraham, to Miami where he met with resident and land owner of considerable holdings, Julia Tuttle. When he reported back to his boss that there was no freeze and plenty of land there, Flagler was convinced to extend his railway.

The official date given for the arrival of the train was April 15, 1896, though the city celebrates its birthday in July. As with other significant stops along the way from Jacksonville, the Miami destination was to have a grand hotel. The rail extension sparked immediate construction and spawned new business in the area.  The five-story Royal Palm Hotel opened its doors in 1897.  It brought the backward settlement its first hotel, first electricity, first pool and introduced the first golf course to Florida (for more on Florida  golf, see:

The Royal Palm, which took up 600 feet along the Miami River and sat atop an Indian burial ground, was the center of social life in Miami. The move to Miami marked the beginning of Flagler’s most aggressive expansion phase, which eventually included building the rail over the ocean to Key West.  Soon after building the hotel, he began steamship service to Cuba and the Bahamas from Miami and dredged a portion of Biscayne Bay for a port.

Stories abound about Flagler’s activities in Miami. He donated land to the U.S. Weather Bureau for a weather station to advertise Miami’s good weather across the nation. One lesser known, darker tale, however, concerns a smallpox outbreak among some of the hotel’s African-American employees. Flagler’s staff moved them to a secret hospital where they recovered. Afterward, the employees were spirited out of the state.

The Great Hurricane of 1926* severely damaged the Royal Palm Hotel. It reopened briefly in 1928 and but closed within months, never to open again. The hotel was razed in 1930. Bricks unearthed from the hotel site near the Dupont Building downtown (once home of the Miami Herald) were placed on sale for $100 each in 2004 with proceeds marked for archaeological research on Indian artifacts. Bricks were also placed on sale shortly after the hotel was demolished but the going price at that time was $14 for 1,000. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

* For more on the 1926 hurricane, see my history blog:

Bramson, Seth H. Miami, the Magic City. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
Grunwald, Michael. The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2006.
Miami News,  May, 14, 1971
Miami Herald, Apr. 21, 2004

Tags: Miami history. first hotel in Miami, Henry M. Flagler, first golf course in Florida, FEC Railway history, film industry researcher, historical researcher

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