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If you’re spending time in St. Augustine, consider taking a tour of Flagler College, a liberal arts college originally known as the Ponce de Leon Hotel. This beautiful historic hotel sits in downtown St. Augustine, Florida, just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The history and architecture are worth a visit, and I’m so glad a spent a couple of hours here.

When we drive to Walt Disney World in Orlando from Joplin, Missouri, we often take a few side trips on the way home. We often go to St. Augustine after a couple of weeks in Disney to relax and get some beach time in. We love the area, and there is so much to do.

On one trip, I decided to take a Flagler College tour on my own. Family trips are wonderful, but every once in awhile, it’s okay to do something on your own. Jeff and Kristin didn’t really care about taking the tour, so late one morning, Jeff dropped me off at the college while they went to explore something on their own. Kristin has been to many historic attractions and museums, and I think she would’ve been fine on the tour. But this time, we decided to split up for a bit.

Flagler College St. Augustine

Flagler College offers a basic tour and some tours that are more in-depth. Since I’d never been before, I decided to do the basic tour. The admission was very reasonable; at the time it was $12 for adults. Current students lead the tours, and at the time, tours left every hour. This also made the tour groups small and intimate.

Flagler Collge: The History

Right out front, you’ll see the statue of Henry Flagler himself.

Henry Flagler Statue St. Augustine

Who is Henry Flagler?

Henry Morrison Flagler was one of the three founders of the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews. Flagler, of course, became very wealthy and moved to New York. When his wife, Mary, began to have failing health, the Flaglers looked for a southern retreat in Florida to help restore her. On his first visit to St. Augustine, Flagler was not impressed by the accommodations offered.

After Mary’s death, Flagler and others created The Standard Oil Trust that enabled Flagler to be free from the daily business of running the company. He remarried in 1883, and the couple began to embark on winter trips to St. Augustine following their honeymoon there. The accommodations had improved, but not to the standards of the extremely wealthy. In 1885, he bought a railroad and the land for the Ponce de Leon Hotel. The plans for the hotel were created in Dr. Andrew Anderson’s home in St. Augustine, Markland House.

Flagler College St. Augustine

The architects John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings worked on the hotel, as well. They would later go on to design the New York Public Library. Flagler told them that money was not an issue in the building of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, or The Ponce. Since he was a friend, Thomas Edison supplied the electricity for the hotel with his Edison Electric Company, which eventually would merge to help form General Electric. Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Tiffany & Co. provided the interior design and the stained glass throughout the hotel. George W. Maynard painted the murals in the dome and dining room. He would go on to paint murals at the Library of Congress.

The Hotel Opens

The hotel opened on January 10, 1888. In two years, Flagler opened another hotel across the street, the Alcazar, which is now open as The Lightner Museum. Flagler continued projects in St. Augustine and south Florida. Eventually, the ease of transportation to south Florida cities that he created caused the hotels in St. Augustine to struggle. After the Great Depression, the Ponce was the only hotel of Flagler’s in operation in St. Augustine.

Since then, the hotel has been home to an artist colony, a Coast Guard training center, and a hotel again. After the hotel closed in 1967, the building became part of Flagler College in 1968. The college is still in operation today.

Flagler College: The Exterior and Grounds

Flagler College St. Augustine

The exterior is a beautiful example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. I don’t want to reveal too much from the tour; the tour is excellent. I’ll leave the specifics of the details to the tour guides.

Flagler College St. Augustine

Flagler College: The Interior

Flagler College St. Augustine

The Dome

When you first walk in the door, you’ll find yourself in the lobby with the dome above.

Flagler College St. Augustine

Right off the lobby, there is a gift shop where you’ll buy the tickets for your tour. The tour begins under the dome. The details are fascinating!

Flagler College St. Augustine

The Flagler Room

My tour started outside in an attempt to see the details in the courtyard before a Florida daily rain. When we came back in, the first stop on my tour was the Flagler Room, also known as the Women’s Grand Parlor.

Flagler College St. Augustine

This room contains items that belonged to the Flagler family and furniture that is original to the hotel.

Flagler College St. Augustine

It’s easy to lose yourself in your imagination in here.

Flagler College St. Augustine

How cool is the Louis XV chaperone chair?

Flagler College St. Augustine

Here is the Thomas Edison Day Clock created from the largest piece of intact White Onyx in existence.

Flagler College St. Augustine

The chandeliers in the Flagler Room are Tiffany.

Flagler College St. Augustine

Here is a closeup.

Flagler College St. Augustine

The Dining Room

The next room on the tour was the Dining Room. I thought it was pretty amazing that the current students take their meals in this beautiful room every day!

Flagler College St. Augustine

The paintings on the ceiling are stunning.

Flagler College St. Augustine

The best part about this room is the Tiffany stained glass windows. Simply gorgeous!

Flagler College St. Augustine

Here is a closeup. I love how you can see a glimpse of the tree outside.

Flagler College St. Augustine

One thing that was noted in the tour that I’ll share–  Tiffany was still perfecting his use of stained glass. This glass is not as vibrant as his later works because he was still working on his technique. It’s a nice reminder for creative people that we don’t have everything all figured out all at once; it takes time to develop art and create masterpieces. This is not to diminish the beauty of the stained glass at Flagler College. It’s certainly beautiful. But it’s nice to know that great people worked on creative endeavors over time, and that this work only led the creator on a journey of discovery. A great lesson, indeed.

Flagler College St. Augustine

This concludes the basic tour of Flagler College. Once you take this one, you may want to take another that goes into more detail. I’m certainly keeping that in mind for my next trip!

If you’re interested in a dolphin cruise in St. Augustine, click here to read about our adventures!

Source to help me remember the history of Flagler College:

Flagler College. “Who Was Henry Flagler?” Who Was Henry Flagler? – Flagler College, Flagler College, 2017, www.flagler.edu/about-flagler/history/who-was-henry-flagler/.

Flagler College St. Augustine
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20 Comments

  1. I love finding historic buildings to tour, you gave an awesome overview of the history and I love the architecture. It makes me want to go there next time I go to Florida!

  2. Oh my. The Alcazar in Spain is on my bucket list. I had NO idea there was this similar style of beautiful Spanish architecture here in the US. Gorgeous pics. And I want those dresses. Ha!- Rebecca

    • Stacey Reply

      I know! It’s gorgeous! I want the dresses, too.

  3. We were down that way last Spring Break and visited St. Augustine and Daytona but not Flagler – I’ll just have to go back!

    • We absolutely love St. Augustine and haven’t heard of this college before. It’s now on our list of places to visit.

  4. The architecture is beautiful. I love touring old mansions and other buildings. I especially love the fountain with the frogs.

  5. I love St. Augustine! I will have to set up a tour of Flagler College the next time we drive down to Florida.

  6. Lisa Manderino Reply

    I love those dresses. When I was in 7th grade I was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and had my mom make me a dress. Loved it!

  7. I’ve visited St Augustine but didn’t see this gorgeous building! I’d love to tour it. I enjoy historical sites.

  8. I love the history of this college! And I adore everything about this era, especially the dresses!

  9. Wow! This is amazing. I never would have thought to go here but I can see it is well worth it!

  10. I’ve only been to St. Augustine for a much-too-quick overnighter and love historical building tours so this sounds perfect for me the next time I visit.

  11. What a beautiful campus! I would love to tour this college. I went to college north of Tampa but never made it over to St Augustine. It is at the top of my Florida bucket list!

  12. I love learning history. Those dresses were beautiful. I visited a museum that had a traveling dress show. It is great to see the designs over time.

  13. WOW!! My mind is completely blown by the architecture! I love history and this looks like a must-see place to visit! Just beautiful!

  14. I would love to tour the Ponce de Leon Hotel! Absolutely beautiful. I plan to visit St Augustine this summer and we will for sure stop by and check it out.

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