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Published: June 12th 2015
Flagler College, a National Historic Site, is ultimately the product of one visionary man … the “gazillionaire” Henry Flagler (1830-1913), who epitomized the lifestyle of the ultra rich before the advent of Income Tax. One of the world’s richest men, he played a key role in Florida’s history, and the college which now bears his name is but a small testimony to his vast influence. Almost single handedly he launched the tourist industry that brought Florida from being a sleepy quasi-backwater to its present role as one of America’s foremost tourist destinations.
Since his first wife was in poor health he brought her south, where he soon realized that Saint Augustine would make an ideal vacation place for other wealthy people fed up with northern winters. Since there were no appropriate facilities, in 1885 he undertook to build the Ponce de Leon Resort, then went on to travel the entire length of the State, building a railway and more luxury hotels and establishing cities as he went (e.g. Miami). No “robber-baron”, Flagler was kind and generous to his staff, provided living quarters and recreation facilities for them, and he gave them pensions when they retired. He spared absolutely no extravagance
to make the Ponce de Leon one of the world’s most luxurious and opulent resorts, which would cater only to ultra-rich friends and other persons of great influence or renown by invitation only (e.g. Rockefeller, a few US Presidents, Mark Twain).
In 1968, after more than $54 million in restoration and preservation work, the former Ponce de Leon Resort became Flagler College, a small selective liberal arts college, which accepts only about 2,600 students. It offers 24 majors and 29 minors mostly in business, education and communication, as well as two pre-professional programs. Most of the former resort’s buildings have been refurbished to form its campus, so that they have created an extraordinary legacy and testimony to Flagler’s vision and extravagance.
Flagler and his resort were “larger than life” with an incredible history, far greater than I can tell in this blog. These sites will answer all your questions: http://www.drbronsontours.com/bronsonponcedeleonhotel.html http://www.photographium.com/parlors-of-the-ponce-de-leon-hotel-saint-augustine-florida-1880-1897
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