Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

What to do with a Gilded Age Hotel

Monday December 2, 2013
Anastasia State Park
St. Augustine, Florida




But first, David has another great vegan breakfast idea.


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David is up and out unusually quickly today.  His goal is a chocolate croissant at the French Bakery he had seen while riding the trolley yesterday.   He need not have  worried, there were hardly even any cars on the street so he gets a parking spot right in front of the door. One couple  is in the bakery when we arrive.


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Boy that chocolate croissant was huge but it sure didn’t have much chocolate inside.  I had a custard raspberry Danish.  I find I’m not  as much of a custard fan as cream cheese.

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I think we’ve had a few too many of David’s great vegan restaurant ideas.





He’s big bad Joe.


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After parking in the Trolley company parking lot we head up to wait for the next trolley.  They come every 15 minutes usually and while  we wait I spend  some  time with big Sherriff Joe Perry who was the county Sherriff for 26 years  in the late 1800’s.  He was 6’6” tall and weighed over 300 pounds.   Seems like  he always got his  man.





Ponce de Leon went from gold leaf hotel to liberal arts college.


We hop on the trolley and take it to stop number 9 at Flagler College.  We don’t always visit college campuses like Heyduke and Sharon do but this one we had to see.

Lots of folks consider Henry Flagler to be the father of Florida tourism.  Flagler was one of the original partners in Standard Oil and I’ve been told that John D. Rockefeller said really the whole thing was Flagler’s idea.  He was an entrepreneur for sure.  When he arrived in St. Augustine in 1883 he was so impressed with the charm and possibilities of the area that he had two new hotels built, the Ponce De Leon and right across the street, the Alcazar.  He wanted to create a winter Newport of the south for the very wealthy.  In order to provide comfortable transportation he also purchased the surrounding railroads and eventually extended them to Key West.   The man had unbelievable amounts of money.


To give you a sense of the scope of the building, I took this aerial shot from the Flagler College web site.  If you look hard, front and center you can see the Flagler Statue in front of the entrance gate to the courtyard.


This is the street front of the wing of the building to the left of the Flagler Statue and the entrance to the courtyard above.  The Hotel/college is acclaimed as one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in America.  It really is stunning inside and out.




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Through the gate behind the Flagler Statue is the courtyard of the main college building.  The building has two side wings.  One is a men’s and the other a women’s dormitory.  It also houses the rotunda, the ballroom and the dining room.   This is the building we will be touring.





The fountain in center court is a sundial of frogs with turtles marking the directions


The windows you see on the second and third floors are now student rooms but were once elegant suites for the very wealthy.




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Flagler’s hotels had everything. 

There wasn’t much to do in St. Augustine so Flagler made sure there was a grand dining room, a grand ball room, tennis courts, the largest indoor swimming pool in the world at that time, saunas, everything you can think of.  They had bathrooms in every room and electric lights designed by Thomas Edison.  This was in 1888.

The Ponce de Leon was THE place to be until after the depression when there wasn’t quite that much money floating around any more.   Ultimately the heirs of Flagler’s 3rd wife inherited the hotel and ran it until 1968 when the board of trustees decided that the only way to have continuing “guests” was to turn it into a college.  What a place to go to school.  You can read about Flagler College here


The front entrance into the courtyard at the street mimics this grand front entrance into the rotunda.


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Inside we buy our tickets, $8 senior rate, and meet our student guide Carson who is a junior history and drama major.  The combination makes for a great tour guide.

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The rotunda is breathtakingly beautiful.  Flagler clearly wanted to knock the socks off of the wealthy.

After telling us all about the courtyard and the college, Carson takes us back inside to talk about the gorgeous rotunda.

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Yes, it’s gold leaf on the ceiling.

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The dining room is lined with Tiffany stained glass.


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The students eat in the original grand dining room with the largest collection of installed Tiffany glass in one place in the world.  Tiffany windows all over the place.  There are original $800 dining room chairs still in use as well as copies.  Sure isn’t like any other college dining hall I’ve ever seen.





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The light streaming in from all the leaded and Tiffany windows plays havoc with my camera.  The windows and ceiling are just fantastic.  The lower panes push out to allow cross breezes for summer cooling.


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How about some Tiffany windows and gorgeous stairway up to your dorm room?

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So what’s behind the locked doors??


And finally, Carson took us through the locked doors of the grand ballroom which is also still in use for special events. He says that he will defend his senior thesis here next year and invites us all to come back as all defenses are open to the public.


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  The only way you can see these two rooms or anything outside the rotunda which is amazing enough, is to take the college tour given by students which we are very glad we did.

I love this picture postcard of the Ponce De Leon Hotel in its heyday.  Thanks to the internet of course.


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This is a must see stop on a trip to St. Augustine.




Flagler built a church in memory of his daughter.


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Next we walk around the corner to Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church built by Henry Flagler in 1889 as a memorial to his only daughter, Jenny Louise who died of complications of childbirth at sea en route to St. Augustine.
The church is a beautiful example of Venetian Renaissance architecture with a dome that is more than 100 feet in height.  It was constructed in 351 days in order for a service to be held on the first anniversary of Jenny’s death.


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Henry Flagler, his first wife, his daughter and her daughter who died at birth are buried in a beautiful crypt off the main chancellery of the church.   Flagler was a very lucky businessman but his personal life was very sad.  His first wife died, his second wife had to be committed, his granddaughter died a few days after birth and his daughter died of childbirth complications shortly after that.


The crypt is down a short stained glass lined hallway. 

At the head, opposite the locked iron doors is a mirror to show the ornate stained glass domed sky light.

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The second hotel built by Flagler is right across the street from the first so that all the sporting amenities could be used by both.


Lightner Museum


Across the street from the Ponce De Leon Hotel was Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel.  It looks very different during the day light.  It was my favorite in yesterday’s Nights of Lights post.  The Hotel is now the St. Augustine City Hall and Lightner Museum.  Mr. Lightner purchased the hotel in 1947 for $150,000 to house his collection of 50,000 antique and collectables gathered from Chicago estates after the crash of 1929.  Not sure what to think about Mr. Lightner.  The building was left to the city upon his death in 1950.  He didn’t get to enjoy his spoils in this setting very long.



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The city hall occupies the front section originally hotel rooms around the courtyard.  The city counsel meets in the former ladies parlor.  The museum occupies the rear section originally the casino, salons, steam room, bowling alley and the largest indoor pool of its time 120’ long, 50’ wide with depths from 3 to 12’.    The pool now houses the Alcazar Restaurant.  You can have a nice lunch or dinner at the bottom of the pool.  Trip Advisor rates it very highly and the food I could see below me looked delicious but the afternoon today has turned out to be a very nice and eating inside didn’t appeal.  Too bad I hadn’t known about this yesterday when I nearly froze.



It’s quite different now from the original pool.

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The Alcazar too has a beautiful courtyard with a koi filled pool crossed by a bridge.


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The arched openings from the walkway around the rooms section reminds me of a cloister.

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And now for the best of the rest or at least things we meant to at least glance at this time.


We’ve pretty much used up our day at this point so we do walk bys of places we might well want to return to see.


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Like the Villa Zorayda, which was built in 1883 as the winter residence of Franklin Smith, a Boston Millionaire, who was so impressed with the magnificence of the Alhambra that he built his house 1/10th the scale of a section of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.







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We then pick up the trolley and stop off at Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  I’ve never been to a Ripley’s and only wanted to see this building because it was a hotel owned by Marjorie Kinnan (Kin-non) Rawlings and her husband just prior to their deaths.   They alternated between her Cross Creek home and his Hotel.   Ripley tried to buy it from them throughout their lives but they refused.  His estate bought it after his death and it was the first non traveling Ripley’s location.



They have a nice Santa on their roof and a great happy frosty in their side yard.  :-)   Because I didn’t take the Holly Jolly Trolley last night, I don’t know if Ripley’s had everything including ‘David’ lit up.  But I’m guessing they must have.

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About that David not this David.




I’ve never particularly even wanted to go to a Ripley’s but if we come back to St. Augustine I just might after seeing this exact copy of Michelangelo's David behind some hedges just below Frosty.   The statue is one of only two copies made to the exact specifications as the original -  17’ tall, weighing 10 tons and from one solid piece of Carrara marble excavated from the same quarry in Tuscany as the original.

It’s huge.  Look at me in the background.   And those toes.  The artwork is amazing.  You can see the veins in his hands.   But it’s a hoot that they had to grow the hedges to put around it because when Ripley first got it, it stopped traffic on King street.  LOL

How about the size of that foot??


So what other things could Ripley have inside? 



If I’m going in for hokey, maybe I’ll even check out the Fountain of Youth next time. 

I’m convinced that the myth was perpetrated by a clever marketing con man.  The fountain claims are all over Florida.   But here they do have what is apparently a very respected archeology project going on that might be worth seeing I hope.  A little more investigation may be warranted.

The entrance with its lights and that sign are so tacky it may be hard for me to pay up.  But those are plans for the future. 

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The perfect spot to unwind after a hard day of touristing for those unused to such things especially two days in a row.


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For today, I find the perfect way to end our stay in St. Augustine.  We take the trolley to almost its last stop before returning to the parking lot, Mission de Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of our Lady of Le Leche. 

This lovely quiet haven on the water in the city traces its origins to the founding of the city in 1565.  St. Augustine proudly proclaims the first permanent settlement in what became the United States,  42 years before Jamestown and 55 years before Plymouth.





The story is that on September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church. It was here that Menéndez knelt to kiss a wooden cross presented to him by Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of his expedition. It was on these grounds that Fr. López would celebrate the first parish Mass and begin the work at America’s first mission. It was at this spot that the Spanish settlers would begin the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche that continues into the present.  The present statue of Lopez and the giant cross were gifts of various founding anniversary celebrations.


There is a water front alter here for saying mass outdoors as was done by Menendez and his crew.  St. Augustine continues to have a large Catholic population and a lovely basilica which we also did not have time to see.   Put it on the list!

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In the early 1600s, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Virgin Mary in the United States. The original chapel and several reconstructions were damaged by storms and attacks. The chapel was rebuild in 1875 by Augustine Verot, first bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. It too fell to the ravages of a major hurricane.  The present chapel was reconstructed in 1915.  It is a wonderful place to sit and contemplate one’s blessings in the beauty and quiet of candle light.  I love tiny quiet meditative spots like this and wish I could have stayed longer.  I will definitely revisit this spot.

The area is really very lovely and tranquil amid the bustle of the city just beyond and a nice refreshment before taking the trolley back to our car.


On the way out of the city, as the very last thing, we drive down Magnolia Drive.  At one time the street was lined with Magnolias which did not fare well this close to the salty ocean.  The city fathers replaced them with Live Oaks which have thrived and the street became locally famous.  You can see why.


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I’m apologize for such a long post but I really do want to remember all of this.  It was a wonderful day in an interesting city to which we will certainly return.  My advice, if you are  a walker,  is to get a copy of the 5 walking tours brochure.  $2.95 from the National Park Service book store at the Castillo.  I didn’t see it any other place including the visitor’s center.  If you are here long enough to do all 5 of those you will see nearly everything and have a wonderful time in St. Augustine.


  1. Wow! Such elegant construction details! I can't imagine what buildings like this would cost today, if you could even find talent to build them. Money well spent. You certainly enjoyed your tours. :c)

  2. Jeeeeeeeezus… first Gypsy and her BLT and now your chocolate croissant… man? hard being a fat person … not for sissy wimps

    gold leaf … beautiful… you been to Hearst Castle? the tour guide said.. if it looks like gold? it is. …

    Gorgeous place… for sure ~ glad you took us on this tour … I'm too cheap to pay for tours… I did Hearst but that was it.

    LOVE the reclining Frosty! and Santa on the roof! and that's a big foot all right …. beautiful City … and you always have long posts … so do I… I do not understand apologizing for such… one blog I read apologizes for her subject matter!

    She lives on a farm and I read her blog because I love to read about a life that would wear me out … 66 years old! I lose weight reading about her day.

    I'm unfortunately, living vicariously through blogs such as yours these days … I'm not apologizing for my long comment either… it's what I do… Hahaaa? before I die? … I want just one more fresh out of the donut oven … chocolate croissant… just one

  3. Having been fortunate enough to see the real David this year I can honestly say that the veins you saw are very prominent on the original. It actually have me goose bumps.
    How cool that there are exact replicas.

  4. Daughter of good friends went to Flagler. They told us about the beautiful campus and buildings, but had no idea it was like that.
    We stopped for pie after a hike last week. I'm sure it was about as vegan as your breakfast rolls!

  5. What an excellent tour! Great job!! Now,,,,I really want to go to St Augustine.

  6. Glad you enjoyed St Augustine. My granddaughter went to school at Flagler. It is a beautiful campus. You've convinced me that we need to go see the lights next week!

  7. Flagler is really a beautiful campus. I wonder how it would feel to live and study in such surroundings.

  8. And to think the only thing I saw was the fort. What an amazing place to go to school. Love that the students give the tours. Drooling over all that Tiffany glass. And the idea of having lunch in the bottom of the pool seems divine. Never visited a Ripley's either but might consider it if I could touch 'David's' toe. Is there ever enough time to see it all. Great post. I like going places with you, even if only virtually. BTW, do you have any furniture for our house on the rock? ;)

  9. I recently read a biography of Robert Ripley called "A curious Man" by Neal Thompson. It is very good. I have never been to one of the museums either but his story is interesting.

  10. Thanks for a wonder tour. St. Augustine will be on our TODO list!! Can't imagine going to college in such a grand location!!!

  11. Wow,I've loved reading your St. Augustine posts and came to the conclusion that I've been there so many times, I had begun to take its beauty and history for granted. We've been everywhere you talked about EXCEPT that amazing looking park with the shrine towards the end of the trolley tour. For a park loving, crowd detesting person like me, how in the world have I missed that??

  12. Yep, I knew you would enjoy Flagler's campus and so glad you took the time to take it all in... a must see indeed!

  13. I am sorry we missed the tour of Flagler College. I can't imagine being a student in such opulent surroundings. Also missed the replica of David. I wept when we saw the original in the Uffizi.

    A chocolate croissant with a shot of espresso is one of my favorite indulgences. A small taste of chocolate inside is the classic recipe.

  14. Impressive and detailed - great post! I learned a lot in that blog. Flagler College is amazing. What beauty. I also liked the David. That is hilarious that it would stop traffic. I can see why :) Beautiful buildings all around. I loved visiting there. And, I too love the quiet meditative places that shut out the world. What a cool city!

  15. Beautiful area, and campus. There is a lot of things named after Flagler. The beach in New Smyrna is Flagler beach! Now I know why :-)

  16. Can't imagine going to college with such a beautiful housing and campus.Thanks for the wonderful tour of St Augustine, looks like it will make our to do list now, whenever we get back to FL, reminded me of Newport.

  17. well, now I'm convinced. I will need to return and tour the College. . .just seeing that Tiffany Glass would make it worth it to me. . .what a beautiful place!

  18. Beautiful pictures, and wonderful text, Sherry. It was a pleasure to read.

  19. Great tour! We liked the student dining room the most:)

  20. Fabulous post! However, IMHO you cannot have too many vegan breakfasts when they include an authentic French chocolate croissant and real French dark roast coffee.


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