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Phil Scheckel the Steamboat

It's interesting to find local stories that have an effect on other parts of our country and thats exactly what this story is about. More specifically it's about the Chippewa River Steamboat the "Phil Scheckel" and the part it played in opening up the Florida Keys to tourism.

The Phil Scheckel was built by the Lumber Company Knapp & Stout and Co. in 1878. She was captained by her namesake Phil Scheckel. During the first few years of her carreer the Phil Scheckel transported people and supplies between Reeds Landing, Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. However, with the coming of the railroad the Phil Scheckel became a tool for the logging industry. The majority of her work consisted of moving log rafts to sawmills along the Chippewa or to the Mississippi River in preparation for trips down the Mississippi. She continued to do this until the 1890's when the vast timber reserves of Northern Wisconsin dissappeared.

Phil Sheckel continued to use his ship non-stop for many more years until Knapp & Stout sold her to Captain S.R. Van Sant in 1901. Van Sant qickly sold her to Mr. Henry Flagler. It's at this point tha the story becomes interesting.

Henry Flagler was a principal partner in Standard Oil working closely with John D. Rockefeller. Flagler originally visited Florida hoping that its climate would help with health issues faced by his wife Mary. While there, Flagler noticed both the lack of services and the potential that existed for tourism.

Henry Flagler started what amounted to a second carreer by founding the Florida East Coast Railway as well as the development of resorts, industries and communities along the Atlantic Coast during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. The Florida East Coast Rairoads crowning feat was extending the railroad through the islands of the Florida Keys, all the way to Key West.

This is where the Phil Sheckel comes in to play. She was used to help build the many bridges connecting the Keys, thus opening it up to tourism. The Scheckel even survived a hurricane despite her shallow draft. Many portions of these original bridges built with the help of the Phil Sheckel are visible today as you drive along the highway that now connects the Keys. If fact the original highway connecting the Keys made use of these railroad bridges.