ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Industrialist Henry Flagler made his money in the oil business. In the early 1880's he devoted his time to building the Ponce de Leon resort in St Augustine. He claimed it would be a hotel that would rival the best in New York City.
"Welcome to Flagler Legacy Tours," said Archie Josie, a senior at Flagler College. Tourists from around the world come to tour the Ponce de Leon which has been Flagler College since 1968. Flagler students lead groups through a resort built during the gilded age of growth and prosperity. "They literally put a light bulb anywhere they could because that's how amazing it was for them," said Josie.
The ceiling in the grand lobby is layered in gold. The floor is imported African mosaic tile. The hotel was built in less than 2 years entirely from poured concrete. There's no steel in the structure.
The hotels' towers, designed to look like bell towers, were actually water towers. "Flagler had a seven mile pipeline outside of town that would pump fresh water into these towers so he would have fresh water for the guests all the time," said Josie.
The fountain in front looks as though there's a concrete sword being stabbed right in the middle of it. The most impressive part of the tour is the cafeteria where students dine in the world's largest collection of in-use Tiffany glass. "These are our cafeteria windows. So that's pretty neat," said Josie. All of the Tiffany glass is shatterproof on the inside and bullet proof on the outside. The Ponce de Leon is also a Hurricane shelter for the people of St. Augustine.
Some of the old chairs in the dining hall have rollers on the two front legs. That's by design. "So when the women sat down they would push them right on in," said Josie.
The Flagler Room was the grand parlor of the hotel. It was a place where women could call their own. Jacksonville resident Jacquelyn Bates remembers coming to the Ponce de Leon in the 1960's. "We use to come down here on New Year's Eve to spend the evening because it was a very festive occasion. They had a little orchestra so we would have a lovely dinner and dancing."
Henry Flagler built the The Ponce de Leon to last centuries. 125 years later this landmark legend is still educating students and tourists about its rich history.
Flagler tours of the Ponce de Leon are $10. The tours are free for St. John's County students.