The museum occupies three floors of the former
Hotel Alcazar, commissioned by Henry M.
Flagler and built in 1887 to
appeal to wealthy tourists who traveled here on his railroad. Architects Carrère and
Hastings, designed the hotel as
well as the Ponce de
León Hotel across the street
(now part of Flagler
College) in the Spanish
Renaissance style. Both buildings are notable as being among the earliest
examples of poured concrete buildings in the world. These architects later
designed the New York
Public Library and the
Senate office building.
Originally the bed of Maria Sanchez Creek, Henry Flagler bought a
farm north of town and had his crews dig it up and move the earth downtown. The
farm was the site of the first Fort
Mose, the pioneer free black
settlement dating back to 1738. The hotel boasted
a steam room, massage parlour, gymnasium and sulfur baths, as well as the
world's largest indoor swimming pool. After years as an elegant winter resort
for wealthy patrons, the hotel closed in 1932. In 1946, Chicago publisher
Lightner purchased the building
to house his extensive collection of Victoriana. He opened the museum in 1948
and later donated it to the city of St. Augustine. The Museum is
housed in the former health facilities of the hotel, the spa and Turkish bath, as well as its three-storey ballroom.
The building is an attraction in itself.
The courtyard complete
with stone bridge over the fishpond
To the right as we entered the courtyard there was a pretty little chapel available for weddings
The Ground Floor:
Houses a Victorian village, with shop fronts
representing emporia selling period wares; a Victorian Science and Industry Room
displays shells, rocks, minerals and Native American artifacts in beautiful
turn-of-the-20th-century cases, as well as stuffed birds and a small Egyptian mummy. X-rays
convinced experts that this was a 4-6 year old child who died of a brief
infectious disease. Dated 500 B.C.. This “tomb” was created in 1973 by a local
artist and volunteers who copied ancient hieroglyphics for the wall paintings.
The limestone blocks, once a part of the fencing around Otto Lightner’s home in
Chicago, were brought to St Augustine in the late 1940’s. Model steam
engines, elaborate examples of Victorian glassblowing, golden
elephant bearing the world on its back and a shrunken head.
Shrunken heads were the prizes of battle of the Jivaro Indians. Stripped from
the skull the entire skin was boiled until it was reduced to about one-third of
its original size. Then heated stones were repeatedly rolled around inside the
skin to continue the shrinking process. Finally the head was hung over a fire to
be smoked and dried. The Music Room, filled with mechanised
musical instruments, player
pianos, orchestrions, dating from
the 1870’s through to the 1920’s.
The First Floor:
Has examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and
stained glass work of Louis Comfort
The Second Floor:
The ballroom's upper balcony exhibits paintings, sculpture and furniture
including a grande escritoire
created for Louis
Bonaparte, King of
Holland, Dutch in the French tradition, unknown cabinet
maker in the period 1806-1810.
Louis XV Style Bureau
Rognon. Mahogany and satinwood marquetry, rosewood cross banding and
ormolu mounts. France circa 1860. Clock by L. Marti
Lounge. Egyptian revival in the manner of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema,
mahogany-carved, inlaid, stained and painted. Reproduction velvet upholstery
circa 1870-1880. The painting above is called Arab
Encampment. Oil on canvas by the French artist Victor
Pierre Huguet dated 1870. Winged Victory is by the Frenchman Jean Leon Gerome in
gilt bronze dated late 19th century.
ALL IN ALL AN ECLECTIC MIX OF