Flagler Museum Tour

Take a ride to Palm Beach Island where you will be greeted by a tour guide to learn the history of Mr. Flagler and how the railroad came to Palm Beach. (Includes ticket and transportation) Tuesday 9:30 a.m. pick up time. When it was completed in 1902, the New York Herald proclaimed that Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s home in Palm Beach, was “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.” As wonderful as Whitehall was in 1902, and remains today, it was built to be and has always been, so much more than a house. Unlike any of Flagler’s other homes, Whitehall was a literal manifestation of Andrew Carnegie’s admonition, in his essay titled The Gospel of Wealth, to his fellow titans of business that, “It is well, nay essential, for the progress of the race that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, and for all the refinements of civilization…” Carnegie’s description of the kind of houses the business leaders of the Gilded Age should build, is a near-perfect description of a museum. After all, the word museum literally means “a home for the Muses of arts and literature and their works.” And, build a museum, Florida’s first museum, is exactly what Flagler did.

Having given Beaux Arts trained architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings their first big commission, the Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine a decade and a half earlier, Flagler again turned to them for the design of Whitehall. By then their career had taken off and they were in the midst of designing the New York Public Library. Thomas Hastings would later become one of only four Gilded Age American architects to receive a gold medal from the Royal Institute of British Architecture. Carrère and Hastings designed many houses for the wealthy during their careers, but no doubt they understood the commission to design Whitehall was not about just designing another house. They believed architecture was the highest form of artistic endeavor and a powerful cultural influence, and their designs for Whitehall were the fullest expression of that conviction. In fact, John Carrère made perfectly clear his belief in the power of architecture to instruct and influence culture when he said, “The amount of art education which a building can disseminate among the masses is far beyond what we realize.”Typically, in the private house museums of the Gilded Age, the facade and first floor were filled with symbols. In fact, the main purpose of the facade and first floor of these house museums was to serve as an elaborate communication device. The message communicated was that these buildings did, in fact, represent the highest and best in literature and the arts and that their builders were not simply business titans, but society’s leaders, or as Carnegie pointed out in the same essay, society’s “trustees.”

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