When visiting St. Augustine, history and architecture buffs shouldn’t miss tours of Flagler College.
The sprawling Spanish Renaissance-themed building in the middle of the town’s historic district opened in 1888 as the Hotel Ponce de Leon and was the brainchild of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. During its nearly 80 years as a hotel, “The Ponce” welcomed America’s elite along with notable celebrities, including baseball player Babe Ruth, author and humorist Mark Twain as well as Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president.
While a popular getaway for the wealthy during the first half of the 20th century, the hotel’s popularity waned during the early 1960s and the property became the centerpiece for newly-formed Flagler College in 1968.
For the most part, much of the building remains as Henry Flagler envisioned it more than 125 years ago. The majority of the former guest rooms have been converted into female dormitories, while an opulent dining hall, featuring stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany, continues to be enjoyed by all students and staff members of the college.
The public is welcome to take in the beauty of the manicured grounds and is encouraged to step inside the imposing Rotunda with its 80-foot domed ceiling.
To view the dining hall requires a student-led guided tour, which costs $10 a person. It’s arguably the best guided tour in all of historic St. Augustine and well worth the money. Be sure to check the official tour schedule before you go.