Born in 1832 near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Robert R. McCormick had lived in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. He engaged in various business enterprises by 1864 when failing health made him head west to Denver, Colorado. There he organized the Denver Water Company, the St. Louis and Denver Land & Mining Company,and the Denver Brewing Company. With two partners, he built the Denver Pacific Railroad from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1880, he was involved with five large corporations beside other business interests
McCormick married Drucilla C. in Denver, and they had a son, William R. McCormick. Robert retired in 1884, and he and his family began spending winters on Lake Worth, staying at Cap Dimick’s Cocoanut Grove House.
During the winter of 1886, he looked over Albert Geer’s property in present-day Palm Beach and asked if he might buy it. Geer answered, “I’ve been here ten years. If you give me $1,000 for each of those years, I’ll sell it.”“Sold!” was McCormick’s reply. He paid Geer $10,000, setting off the first real estate boom. Seven years later, he sold the property to Henry M. Flagler for $75,000.
In those seven years, he tore down the pine house the Geers had built and erected what was the finest home on the lake. Called “Lac a Mer” and later “Sea Gull Cottage,” it was a large, white, two-story frame and shingle house, with plate glass windows, wainscoted walls and tile floors. It had a solid mahogany staircase made from lumber found on the beach, but all other building materials were brought by schooner from Jacksonville. It was said to have cost McCormick $30,000.
After selling to Flagler, the McCormicks moved south to Coconut Grove and had another fine home built. R.R. McCormick, with Brown and others, founded the Bank of Bay Biscayne. McCormick retired again about 1907 and died at eighty-three years of age in 1915, preceded in death by Drucilla. Burial was in Miami City Cemetery.
Flagler lived in McCormick’s home while he was having his own mansion, “Whitehall,” built. Then he had “Sea Gull Cottage” moved to Breakers Row on the ocean, and built the Royal Poinciana Hotel on the McCormick property. In 1984, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach moved “Sea Gull Cottage” so that it faced the lake front.