"Flagler's Folly" is what they called it: A railroad across the Florida Keys. More than a few people thought that the financier and developer, at age 71, had stepped over the line to senility when he proposed the project. Skepticism was enormous despite Henry Flagler's reputation as the man whose railway, steamship, and hotel ventures had brought much of Florida from backwoods to modernity in a few busy decades. Flagler's rail network in the Sunshine State–the Florida East Coast Railway–was his most celebrated work, laying hundreds of miles of track and linking Florida's eastern and southern parts with the civilized world.
In 1887-1888, Tampa experienced the worst of the Yellow Fever epidemic!
Death is not always gentle or timely. As you visit Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa's c.1850 public burying ground at Morgan and Harrison Streets, it is a jarring fact that many of the early Tampans interred in that peaceful spot died in violent and painful conditions, and many at a young age. Most of Tampa's founding families lost members in that fashion.
In 1886, the same year Ybor City was founded, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor. These two events are more closely linked than might appear at first glance. Between 1880 and 1890, 5.2 million immigrants entered the U.S., seeking the freedom and opportunity that the Lady in the Harbor offered. Some of these early immigrants were destined for Ybor City, and over the decades between the neighborhood's founding and 1921 (when the great tide of immigration finally began to ebb), many more came to live and work in the town that Vicente Martinez Ybor–himself an immigrant–built. This is their story, and it is up to them to say How We Got Here.