We recently spent time exploring St. Augustine Florida, a city that Henry Flagler basically built after the start of his 1912 Florida East Coast Railway and subsequent hotels, hospitals, schools, churches, and farms. (Read more about our adventures in St. Augustine in these posts). So, it was fitting when we also traveled to the West Palm Beach area of Florida in the same trip, we spent the morning at Flagler’s “winter cottage” Whitehall on Palm Beach Island.
Palm Beach Island is part of The Palm Beaches area, covering cities from North Palm Beach all the way down to Delray Beach, on the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida. The area is filled with family friendly activities and places (we’ll have a full City Guide in the coming weeks) but The Palms website is filled with inspiration and recommendations.
Henry Flagler was successful in the grain and salt mining industries before he helped to found the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews in 1867. When he married his third wife, Mary Lily Flager, in August 1901, he promised her a “waterfront winter cottage” and had “Whitehall”, as it was named, built in a record 18 months. The Flaglers spent approximately two months there each year until Flagler’s death in 1913.
Mary Lily Flagler willed the 75 room estate to her niece Louise upon her death in 1917. Louise, later allowed developers to turn the mansion into a hotel in the 1930s until Flagler’s granddaughter saved the mansion and turned it into a museum in 1960.
Since then, over five million people have toured Whitehall and its grounds, including the 2005 addition of the Flagler Kenan Pavilion. Thousands of pieces in the museum’s collection are displayed throughout two floors open to the public and include period furnishings, clothing, textiles, and housewares. The museum also offers special seasonal events, programs, and exhibitions,.
Playing “I Spy” at the Flagler Museum:
10 Things to Find throughout the Mansion:
- The bust of George Washington in the Library.
- The custom organ (with 1249 pipes!) in the Music Room. It was very popular for wealthy Gilded Age homes to have an organ; so much so that the Flaglers had an organist who lived on site when the family was in town.
- The Skittles game, situated between two Billiard tables in the Billiards Room (can you tell the difference between a billiards table and a skittles table?)
- The wheelchair on display in the Flagler Kenan Pavilion. Flagler did not like horses or cars to be used on the island and preferred to be pushed by hired men on wheelchairs- over 200 “chair men” were employed on the island at any one time.
- Mrs. Flagler’s spinet piano and other instruments like a Thomas Edison gramophone in the Morning Room. Mary Lily Kenan was an accomplished pianist and vocalist.
- The matching wallpaper and furniture fabrics in the Yellow Rose Room. It was the height of fashion during the early 1900s to have furniture and wallpaper match and the Marechal Niel rose pattern was especially popular.
- Examples of five types of 18th, 19th, and 20th century lace in the Lace Exhibit, all collected by the Flagler’s granddaughter, and museum founder, Jean Flagler Matthews.
- The telephone in the shared master bathroom (with two sinks!). It was unusual to have a telephone inside a house at the time, and even more opulent to have one in the bathroom.
- The silhouette of Marie Antoinette above each door and mirror in the Drawing Room, used by Mrs. Flagler to welcome her guests. Marie Antoinette was considered a role model by society women of the Gilded Age. (Bonus: check out the Steinway grand piano in the room)
- The sleeping alcove (the only one in the house) in the Colonial Chamber, the best “guest room” in the mansion.
10 Things to DO in the Mansion:
- Count the number of mirrors in the Grand Ballroom, the second largest room in the mansion. The ballroom was used for the famous George Washington Ball that the Flaglers hosted each February.
- Walk through the 1886 Railcar No. 91 and see the sleeping quarters, sitting rooms, and kitchen in the Flagler Kenan Pavilion. Flager traveled in this railcar to check in on his Florida East Coast Railway system.
- Look for clues in the rooms that they could belong to the servants- there were 12 servants rooms just on the second floor (today two rooms are displayed as servants rooms and other quarters are used for exhibitions) and ten more rooms on the third floor for the servants of visiting guests.
- Count the number of chairs in the massive master suite.
- Choose a favorite outfit (Mrs. Flagler sometimes changed up to 7 times a day!) in the Walk in Closet. Mrs. Flagler had three servants devoted just to her wardrobe.
- Count the number of glasses at each place setting in the Dining Room.
- Look for the hidden door for servants in the Breakfast Room that is attached to the butler’s pantry.
- Choose a favorite china pattern in the butler’s pantry. The Flagler’s ledger records over 1,000 plates and 500 glasses in its collection. The original kitchen was demolished in 1925 to build the hotel addition.
- Check the time on all ten period clocks throughout the mansion, all of which must be reset and wound up by hand each week!
- Attend a special program, like organ and piano demonstrations on Sunday afternoons, or special events on holidays.
Disclosure: Our family was given a media pass to explore the Flagler Museum. All opinions expressed are my own.