Tag Archives: Henry Flagler

2018 Florida Road Trip Part 11(Continued – 3)

27 Mar

A slice of Life

Bill Lites


Note to our readersI uploaded part 12 last week in error, so this week, we back up a day. My apologies-Onisha


Day 11 Monday 10/29/2018


The Hotel Alcazar lay unoccupied until 1947, when it was purchased by Otto C. Lightner to house his extensive collection of Victorian Era pieces.  The museum was opened in 1948, and consists of Gilded Age displays of the Lightner collection on three floors of the original hotel, including the three-story Ballroom (capable of holding 350 wedding guests).  The first floor houses a Victorian village and a music room filled with all types of musical instruments, including player pianos and orchestrions dating from the 1870s.  On the second floor visitors will find a large collection of Victorian glass items displayed, including stained glass works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.  On the third floor (Ballroom) there are displays of Victorian furniture, fine art paintings, and sculptures by famous Victorian artists dating from the early 1800s.



Across Cordova street from the Lightner Museum is the Casa Monica Hotel.  The hotel was built in 1888 by Franklin W. Smith, who also designed the Hotel Alcazar for Henry Flagler.  In fact, Smith was instrumental in convincing Flagler that the St. Augustine area was the perfect location to begin building the “American Rivera” down the east coast of Florida that Flagler dreamt of.  Not to be outdone by Flagler, Smith decorated and operated the Casa Monica Hotel as a showplace for the rich and famous.  However, soon after the hotel opened, Smith began to run into financial trouble that became so bad that he finally had to sell the hotel.   In 1902 Smith sold the hotel to his friend/competitor Henry Flagler. By the time of the sale, Henry Flagler had already completed two hotels there in St. Augustine (the Hotel Alcazar (1887) now the Lightner Museum and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (1888) now part of Flagler Collage).  This put Henry Flagler at the top of the heap as having a monopoly of the luxury hotels in the city of St. Augustine.

Trivia note: Did you know that Saint Monica (322-387) was the North African mother of St. Augustine (354-430), who was Bishop of Hippo Regius (395-430), in North Africa, and who the city of St. Augustine was named for.






Across King Street from the Lightner Museum is the Flagler Museum. Originally built in 1888 by Henry Flagler as the Ponce de Leon Hotel, this elegant hotel was another tribute to the entrepreneurial character of Henry Flagler.  At the time the luxury hotel business, in the St. Augustine area, was at an all-time high. It’s hard for me to imagine the opulence that adorned these luxury hotels.   They were so far ahead of their time that, for instance, Flagler had to hire additional staff to turn the electric lights on and off for the guests, because they were afraid to touch the switches.  As a part of Flagler’s dream to build the “American Rivera” in Florida, over the next several years, he began expanding what would become, the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC), south to eventually reach Key West.  But, Flagler overlooked the fact that this new railroad would allow some northern tourists to by-pass St. Augustine for the warmer climates of places like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.




The Ponce de Leon Hotel survived the depression and WWII, but after a long downturn period, the hotel finally closed in 1967.  Then in 1968 Flagler College was founded on 19 acres behind the hotel and the Ponce de Leon Hotel became the centerpiece of the newly established college.  (Check out interior photos on the internet of this luxury hotel that students are surrounded by on a daily basis – e.g. Dining Room with its stained glass windows by Tiffany).  Also go to Wikipedia and click on Henry Flagler (1830-1913) for many more interesting facts about the man and his adventures.



While Franklin Smith was in his architectural prime designing and building luxury hotels, he also designed and built his own winter home there in St. Augustine (1883) just one block west of the current location of the Casa Monica hotel.  Smith built his home in the Moorish Revival style and named it Villa Zorayda.  It has sometimes been called the first example of “fantasy” architecture in Florida.   Henry Flagler visited St. Augustine in 1883 and was so impressed with Smith’s Villa Zorayda that he tried to buy it for his wife, but Smith wouldn’t sell.  Smith finally did sell the Villa Zorayda to Abraham Mussallem in 1913. After having been used for several different businesses, over the years, Villa Zorayda was finally opened to the public, as a museum, in 1936.



As I mentioned at the first of this day’s blog (Monday 10/29/2018), there was so much to see there in St. Augustine that I ran out of time to see it all, up close and personal.  Some of those places I saw from the trolley, but didn’t have time to go thru were:


“Gonzalez-Alvarez House” (1723) or “The Oldest House”

     The Ximenez House (1798)


             The Oldest Drugstore (1886)


                                                                                                   Potters Wax Museum (1949)


            Black Raven Pirate Ship (1720 replica)

              Colonial Corner (1740)


With the help of Greta (my Garmin) I finally found my way to the motel, just outside St. Augustine, and got checked in.  Once I got unpacked, I warmed up those wonderful Fish Tacos from the Sandollar Restaurant, and enjoy them anew.  Yummm!



To Be Continued



Bill is a retired Mechanical engineer living with his wonderful artist/writer wife, DiVoran, of 61 years in Titusville, Florida. He was born and raised in the Southwest, did a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy, attended Northrop University in Southern California and ended up working on America’s Manned Space Program for 35 years. He currently is retired and spends most of his time building and flying R/C model airplanes, traveling, writing blogs about his travels for Word Press and supporting his wife’s hobbies with framing, editing and marketing.  He also volunteers with a local church Car Care Ministry and as a tour guide at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum there in Titusville.  Bill has two wonderful children, two outstanding grandchildren, and a loving sister and her husband, all of whom also live in Central Florida, so he and DiVoran are rewarded by having family close to spend lots of quality time with.




One of Bill’s favorite Scriptures is:  John 10:10

2018 Florida Road Trip Part 11(Continued – 2)

13 Mar

A Slice of Life

Bill Lites


Day 11 Monday 10/29/2018


I hopped on another Trolley and made the short trip down the road to visit the Fountain of Youth and Archaeological Park.   This is one of at least three known locations in Florida that claim to be the site that Juan Ponce de Leon named  during his 1513 search for what the local Timucua natives referred to as the Fountain of Youth (I don’t think he ever found it).



Excavations of this area (1909-1977) have produced much evidence of the existence of Timucua native communities dating from as early as 2400 BC, but no actual proof of Ponce de Leon or his party.  The site has been a tourist attraction since 1927, when Walter B. Fraser purchased the property.  The attraction consists of several exhibits, including The Spring House, where I was able to sample water from “The Fountain of Youth” (I don’t feel any younger), a Timucua native village, a 1585 Spanish Menendez settlement, a chalupa boathouse, and a blacksmith shop, just to name  a few.



Next stop turned out to be a major Trolley stop where the Old St. Johns County Jail (Oldest Jail) was the centerpiece for the Oldest Store Museum, Gator Bob’s Cracker Trading Post, and the Florida Historical Museum.  The jail was built in 1891 by Henry Flagler in this location to keep it away from the downtown St. Augustine area.  It was designed to look like a hotel, so Flagler’s prospective investors would not be put off by its presence.  With room for 72 inmates and warden’s quarters, the jail was used until 1953, when it was closed and became a museum.  The museum displays prison articles, exhibits, and memorabilia explained to visitors, during their tour, by costumed actors relating tales of the jail and its occupants.



The Oldest Store Museum is a re-creation of the original 1908 general store that was operated by Mr. C. F. Hamblen.  The store is filled with turn-of-the-century “modern living” items that are demonstrated to visitors, by period dressed “clerks” and “salesmen” as part of their tour of the store.



Gator Bob’s “Cracker” Trading Post is your typical Florida tourist trap, with everything imaginable the visitor could be looking for as a souvenir.  I have to admit, this store has the most complete size range of alligator heads I believe I have ever seen.  Since I didn’t need an alligator head for my man-cave at home, I just took the next trolley back to downtown.



The next hour was a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and information about the many interesting places there in St. Augustine by our Trolley driver.  It would have been smart of me to have a tape recorder, so I could have recorded that wealth of information.   But, of course, who thinks that far ahead when on a road trip?  I got off the Trolley at the Plaza de la Constitucion park (1573), and began taking a closer look at some of the points of interest we had just driven past.



The Governor’s House is on the west side of the Plaza de la Constitucion, and served both the Spanish and British Governors, who ruled St. Augustine, during the First Spanish Period (1565-1763), the British Period (1763-1784), and until 1812 in the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821).  The building now houses the Cultural Center and Museum (click on Wikipedia for Governor’s House & Government House for more interesting information about early St. Augustine).



The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine (1565, 1586, 1605, 1707, 1793-1797) is located on the north side of the Plaza de la Constitucion, and represents the oldest Roman Catholic parish in the United States.  The placement of the church facing the Plaza de la Constitucion follows the tradition of siting religious, government, and commercial functions around the central plaza, as dictated by the 1573 Laws of the Indies for Spanish Colonial town planning.

The original commercial stores, and more modern tourist shops, are situated on the south side of the Plaza de la Constitucion, satisfying the 1573 Spanish decree.  I looked up and down the west side of King Street for the Lyons Maritime Museum, but to no avail.   I continued a short distant west on King Street to visit the Lightner Museum.  This museum was originally built in 1887, as the Hotel Alcazar, by Henry Flagler (1830-1913) for wealthy northern tourist traveling south for the winter on Flagler’s railroad (1885).  Flagler spared no expenses on this magnificent hotel, which was far ahead of its time in amenities, including being one of the first hotels in the U.S. to incorporate electric lights designed by Flagler’s friend Thomas Edison. However, many of the rich and famous people in America were not exempt from the dreadful effects the depression years had on this country, and the hotel ended up closing in 1932.


—–More of this day’s activities will be continued next week—–





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