Whitehall, Palm Beach, Florida's First Museum

Lorea Thomson
Posted by Lorea Thomson
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Published in Communities

Whitehall, Florida’s first museum, was built in 1902 as a seasonal home of Mr. Henry Flagler, cofounder of Standard Oil and son of a struggling Presbyterian minister. He married his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan, he presented Whitehall to her as an extravagant wedding gift. The home was designed in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. Whitehall was meant to rival the extravagant mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Flagler induced influential people like the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Firestones and the Du Ponts to vacation in Florida, 

1n 1902 a New York Herald wrote a story about the mansion. The Standard Oil Company co-founder's beach home was described as, "More wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world..." Flagler built the 75-room, 100,000-square-foot which the Flagler’s used as a winter retreat thusly establishing Palm Beach as a winter destination for the wealthy.

Built in just 18 months, Whitehall was envisioned to be a monumental illustration of high culture and high technology. The original property was purchased for $50,000, He induced influential people like the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Firestones and the Du Ponts to vacation in Floridia. In 1900, when construction began, Palm Beach was one of the least developed and isolated locations in the United States. Flager was 72 and in failing health.  He decided to spare no expense and spent $3,000,000 to build it quickly and $1,000,000 to furnish it.  That money in current times would be approximately $112 million.! Nevertheless, “with 22 bathrooms, electric lighting, central heating, and a telephone system, Whitehall was an impressive statement of high culture, but perhaps the most technologically advanced home in America. As huge crews worked around the clock to complete Whitehall in such a short time, Flagler wrote to the furniture and decorating firm of Pottier and Stymus saying, "I too wonder how you have accomplished so much in such a short time... but I trust that when it is finished, you will have the satisfaction of contemplating it as the greatest job of your life."

Take a look  a tour of Whitehall, spanning over two floors and over 100,000 square feet, is decorated in many styles, from Louis XIV to Swiss chalet. The mansion is built around a large open-air courtyard modeled after palaces in Spain and Italy. It was beyond opulent!

Today, Whitehall is a National Historic Landmark and a public museum that has been visited by millions of guests from around the world and a monument to America’s Gilded Age.  For more information, please see https://www.flaglermuseum.us/.

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