Joseph Robinson PARROTT, the Havana Special, and the eighth wonder of the world

Joseph Robinson PARROTT, the Havana Special, and the eighth wonder of the world

By Wayne Parrott

The Florida Keys are a chain of islands that start at the tip of the Florida peninsula and arc southwest into the Gulf of Mexico for 156 miles/250 Km. The last island is Key West, and it can be reached from the mainland via the Overseas Highway. But before there was a highway connecting the keys, there was the Overseas Railroad, also known as the Key West Extension of the East Coast Railroad. By any name, it was an engineering feat that took seven years to build, mostly over open water, and that became known as the eighth wonder of the world in its day. It opened on 22 January 1912 at a cost of over $14 million.

The East Coast Railroad made Florida accessible to mainstream Americans. At the end of the 19th century, Florida was still an out of the way peninsula largely unreachable from the rest of the United states. Then came Henry FLAGER, who recognized Florida’s tourist and economic potential. There he built the largest hotel chain in North America at the time, including legendary hotels such as the Ponce , the Ormond , the Breakers , and the Royal Poinciana . To ensure guests could reach his hotels, he funded the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway and later its Key West Extension.

FLAGER had the funds to spend. He, along with John D. ROCKEFELLER, had founded the Standard Oil Company, a company so large that the government sought to disband it via the Sherman Antitrust Act. Today, its disbanded components still remain as BP, Exxon Mobil, Marathon, and Chevron.

FLAGER also had a capable lieutenant to manage his investments in Joseph R. PARROTT. A 1913 editorial by Chas. E. Jones in the Miami Metropolis newspaper explained that “Flagler had the millions, and Parrott the brains.” “For years, it was his [Parrott’s] master mind that directed the affairs of the East Coast Railroad it was his master mind that directed the affairs of the world famed east coast hotels it was his master mind that operated newspaper plants devoted to the special interest, and his master mind that controlled the peculiar politics of a peculiar faction in this state.”

Joseph Robinson PARROTT (30 Oct 1859 – 13 Oct 1913) was born in the state of Maine, the first of 10 children. His father was an overseer in a cloth mill, and his mother was the mill owner’s daughter. Joseph ’s family #033 in the Catalog of American Parrott Families ( ) can be traced to the late 1700’s in the state of Massachusetts, but the family origins before then remain unknown. The family remains very small, despite the number of years it has been in the United States. This family might be related to other PARROTT families in Massachusetts, but no supporting documentation has been found, so a Y-DNA test is needed to determine if there is any relationship.

The remainder of this article can be found in the December issue of Family Notes.

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