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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 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.
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.
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
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: The Interior
When you first walk in the door, you’ll find yourself in the lobby with the dome above.
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!
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.
This room contains items that belonged to the Flagler family and furniture that is original to the hotel.
It’s easy to lose yourself in your imagination in here.
How cool is the Louis XV chaperone chair?
Here is the Thomas Edison Day Clock created from the largest piece of intact White Onyx in existence.
The chandeliers in the Flagler Room are Tiffany.
Here is a closeup.
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!
The paintings on the ceiling are stunning.
The best part about this room is the Tiffany stained glass windows. Simply gorgeous!
Here is a closeup. I love how you can see a glimpse of the tree outside.
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.
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/.