Henry M and Mary Lily Kenan Flagler

This morning we were in the waning hours of a night-long downpour. Rain chased me indoors last night from grilling our steaks. We ate supper, played cards, and went to bed listening to a steady and much-needed rain beating on our roof and skylights. We awoke to rain drops pattering on the aluminum roof and the leaves outside our window. After breakfast we had some intense showers and several nearby lightning strikes.

Park's post-storm puddles

Park's post-storm puddles

The skies are brightening now, and we might find a rainbow when we take our afternoon walk. We welcomed the rain and wouldn’t mind if it continued all day. The region is parched and fire risks have been elevated for over a month. Conditions in this state park were extremely dry when we arrived yesterday. Gusty winds drove fine dust throughout our Airstream’s interior. Not today. Everything is well-soaked for the day.

Henry Flagler and his three wives onstage

Henry Flagler and his three wives onstage

We enjoyed a nice visit Saturday evening from Henry Flagler and his three wives. A local man, his wife, and two friends portray Henry Flagler and his three wives, Mary Harkness, Ida Alice, and Mary Lily Kenan. Mr. Flagler transformed the Florida wilderness into an accessible seasonal retreat (for the rich) with the railroad, grand hotels, churches and politics. His three wives, in turn, take the stage and describe life with Henry.

The presentation was our second on Henry Morrison Flagler and his wives, and we left pondering the connections between Mary Lily Kenan Flagler and several Chapel Hill, NC, institutions. There are Kenan-Flagler Graduate School of Business, Kenan Dormitory, Kenan Stadium, and Kenan Oil Company, among others. What would have brought Henry’s and Mary’s money to Chapel Hill to the oldest public university in the United States?

Old East UNC CH

Old East UNC CH

James Kenan, a member of NC General Assembly and of the University’s first Board of Trustees, in 1790 contributed $50 to the construction of the first dormitory, Old East. In the following 220 years the Kenan family apparently has contributed more than $165 million to the University, more than any other private donor. [source info]

Additionally Frank Kenan, one of Mary Lily’s nephews, founded Kenan Oil Company, a $50 million/year oil transport business. Mary Lily’s brother, William Rand Kenan, Jr, discovered acetylene gas while a student at the University of NC. Both of these men maintained a close and generous lifetime relationship with their alma mater.

Who would have thought we would end up learning so much about our alma mater from watching a small stage production in St Augustine about Henry M. Flagler’s life? Another plug for the “unintended consequences” rule, I think.

Some references, in case you’d like to read more about Kenan fortunes and patronage:


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