Friday, August 27, 2010

Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida

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Flagler College is a four year liberal arts college in St. Augustine, Florida. The focal point of the campus is the Ponce de Leon Hall where the female dormitories and dining hall are located. The history of this astounding college begins when the college started out as a luxury hotel built in 1888 by Henry Morrison Flagler.

Henry was an industrialist, oil magnate, and railroad pioneer. He started his early career as a store clerk where he learned how to be a business man. In 1868 at age 37, he joined forces with John Rockefeller to form the Standard Oil company and gained his fortune. In 1877, Henry traveled to Florida because the winter climate was better for his wife. In 1881, his wife died of what was believed to be tuberculosis. 

With Henry Flagler’s fortune and a newly formulated vision, he set out to begin the design of his first luxury, winter hotel on Florida’s east coast. He hired architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings to assist him in this expedition. In 1885 the construction was ready to begin. Craftsmen were hired for the interior design and intricate work. Elaborate materials were used in construction such as, imported marble, Tiffany glass, and 24 carrot gold leaf for the painted details.

All the latest technical advances were included to make this luxury hotel top notch in the upper class society. It had its own telegram room and The Edison Electric Company powered the building with steam heat and 4,000 electric lights. Flagler’s hotel became one of the nation’s first electrified buildings! Just this one detail was enough to peak the interest of paying individuals.

Henry Flagler died in 1913, but his legacy continued as Florida grew into a prosperous state. His grandson, Lawrence Lewis Jr. had a vision to create a private liberal arts college on the grounds of the hotel. In 1967 the hotel’s doors were closed, but in 1968 the doors reopened as Flagler College.


Above is the Ponce de Leon Hall which is now the focal point of the campus. When the hotel was originally built, it had 3 themes which stood out. The first theme was Spanish through the use of terra cotta roofing from Spain and lion statues. Second was the religious theme and third was the use of aquatic objects such as mermaids and sea shells.

The centerpiece of the courtyard is a fountain which functions as a sundial. Frogs surround the fountain along with four turtles to represent the seasons. Another important detail at the hotel was how to bring clean water into the hotel. This was solved by the use of sulfur water that was pumped from 7 miles out of the city and into the hotel. It must of taken a lot of water to supply the 350 rooms which each shared a bathroom!


When entering the lobby, prepare to be left breathless. Looking up to the ceiling you can see why when your gaze lingers to the details painted with 24 carrot gold leaf. Take time to glance underneath your feet and you will discover hand laid African mosaic flooring. The flooring is almost perfect accept for the one piece that was moved by Henry Flagler who believe that only God could display perfection.


In the dining hall Tiffany glass is displayed and the ceiling is ornately decorated with painting which were stenciled on. The dining hall is used by Flagler College for events and other occasions.


In the ballroom take time to look up and you will see the balcony overhead which was used for the orchestra.


Along the various hall and stairways, you can see more Tiffany glasswork. With such luxury, you can only imagine the price of staying at such a hotel when it was first opened. During the day it was up to $90 dollars a night. Today that would be the equivalent of a quarter of a million dollars to stay for three months. The payment also had to be paid in full for the whole winter season in cash when they checked in. The women were sent to the Grand Hall (which was the women’s lounge) because it was believed that if women saw money they would go blind! For that reason the men did all transactions behind stained glass.


Our tour ended with the Grand Hall. The light shades of blue and white give the room an elegant feel. The ceiling is decorated with Italian plaster and the main attraction of the room is a series of 18 Australian crystal chandeliers worth $1 million each! Back in the day when the hotel was still open, this room was where the ladies would have socialized.

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tips: Flagler College is best enjoyed with a tour guide. You can learn more about the college at their website.

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