Chapter 45 - Flagler's St. Augustine Hotels
In early October Dave and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We considered traveling to Hawaii, a place that is special to us, and even to Paris where we haven't been together. The rise of COVID cases and the rigmarole required to travel overseas convinced us to stay stateside. We headed to St. Augustine, Florida - a place we've been to a few times but hadn't spent any real time there.
St. Augustine is considered the oldest city in the United States. On the Atlantic coast in north Florida, it is only about 6 hours from North Myrtle Beach. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish who first saw land on St. Augustine's feast day, it served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years.
St. Augustine's glory days were in the 1870's to the 1920's however when it became the ultimate winter resort for the financial and social elite or the "Winter Newport". Henry Flagler, a business partner of John D. Rockefeller (of Standard Oil fame), was one of the new millionaires. He came to St. Augustine in 1870 because of the declining health of his first wife, Mary. Relatively undeveloped except for its old Spanish buildings, St. Augustine was known as a warm weather refuge for Northern invalids. After Mary died, Flagler left Standard Oil and looked for something else to invest his millions in. In the time since Mary and he had been there St. Augustine had changed into a resort area which was more like the great watering holes of Europe. He decided that someone should build accommodations for the class of people who came to enjoy the climate and had plenty of money. He then built The Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), the Alcazar Hotel (now The Lightner Museum) and the Cordova Hotel (now The Casa Monica Hotel).
Many of St. Augustine's attractions have been there a long time. We went to The St. Augustine Alligator Farm (my request) which opened in 1893 as a small reptile exhibition. It was clean and interesting with shows, feedings and plenty of animals. They have a mission of education and conservation.
We also went to The Lightner Museum which houses both a Victorian artifact museum as well as the administrative offices of the City of St. Augustine. The museum has several exhibits which show how the hotel was back in the day. It reminded me of pictures you see of the interior of the Titanic.
Another interesting place we visited was Villa Zorayda. The Villa Zorayda was built in 1883 as the winter residence of Franklin Webster Smith who used the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain as his design muse. The building has served as a family residence, a private club, a speakeasy, and a casino. The architecture is beautiful as are the furnishings and intricate tiles and moldings.
And of course we ate - The Old City House Inn and Restaurant, The Columbia Restaurant, and the Rendezvous Beer Bar were our favorites. As always, I stopped at a used book store along the way and met Carol who owns Second Read Books with her sister Susan. We talked shop, of course, and I came away with three books to add to my already large TBR pile.
If you want to learn more about St. Augustine before you visit, I'd recommend the following books.
Flagler's St. Augustine Hotels by Thomas Graham - This goes into more detail than what I have offered here.
99 Epic Things to Do in St. Augustine by Christine Benjamin - This is not your typical tourist guide but it will be clear to you after reading it, you need a lot of time to see and do everything.
St. Augustine by Maggi Smith Hall - This is a terrific pictorial history book with input and pictures from the St. Augustine Historical Society.
Have you been to St. Augustine? Let me know about your adventures!