Two Iconic Hotels in St. Augustine, Florida Now House a Museum and a College #VisitFlorida

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Dressing Downton at The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine Florida

St. Augustine had been on my bucket list for years.  I had heard about its beauty and history but I was not prepared to be won over by the Spanish colonial architecture, the museums and the refined culinary palette!  It is a spectacular city that is well preserved and prides itself as the oldest incorporated city in the US or oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America. 

The city was founded and established in 1565 by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés – that is 43 years before Quebec City was founded! There is so much to see in St. Augustine, Florida that you will be hard-pressed to do everything in a short stay.  Definitely allot between 5-7 days for a successful trip to this beautiful city on the east coast of the Sunshine State.  You may find, like myself, needing to return as soon as you have left.  This city holds many treasures from its historic Visitor’s Centre to the massive Castillo de San Marcos (1695).

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Two of the most appealing attractions will be Flagler College which use to be the luxury Ponce de Leon Hotel and the  Lightner Museum which was the former luxury Alcazar Hotel and Casino.

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Henry M. Flagler commissioned architects Carrere and Hastings to construct this architectural masterpiece in 1888. Built to accommodate wealthy northerners who would winter for the season in the hotel, it house what was the world’s largest indoor swimming pool at the time, the grand ballroom, Turkish baths, a Russian steam room, massage parlour, a gymnasium, a bowling alley, archery ranges, tennis courts and a bicycle academy. 

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In its heyday, it hosted over 25,000 guest but the Alcazar eventual closed during the Depression.  In 1948 the building was purchased by Otto C. Lightner as the perfect place to house his Victorian-era collection of antiques. Buying entire collections for pennies on the dollar after the depression, he soon opened it as a museum two years later and turned the building over to the City of St. Augustine. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and today is home to the Lightner Museum.

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His collection was the perfect compliment for the Dressing Downton exhibition currently running until January 7, 2108.  You will not want to miss this incredibly curated exhibition of the fashion worn by the characters in the critically acclaimed show on PBS – Downton Abbey. 

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This show ran for 6 seasons and had a large cast of characters.  Their stories are kept alive by this exhibition!  You will see the dress that Lady Rose wore to débuted at court, the uniform worn by the debonair Matthew Crowley as well as the maid’s outfit worn Anna Bates (see below)  and the conservative dress worn by  Mrs. Hughes.

The Lightner Museum has an eccentric collection of 19th century artefacts collected by Otto C. Lightner a wealthy Chicago publisher.  He loved to collect what others collected be they costumes, furnishings, decorative and fine art and statues.  I absolutely loved the exhibition because the museum’s curator’s use of furniture, decorative accessories, china, crystal and ceramics was exceptional. 

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The well curated vignettes helped you imagine the characters in the show sitting down for tea, assembling for a party or watching over their babes in a period pram.  Many pieces that had been in storage were brought out and some even restored to compliment the Downton Abbey Exhibition.  The attention to detail was exceptional and the information boards were very helpful in placing the pieces into context within the show.  It was easy to imagine the glory of the gilded age right up until the mid 1920s.

The setting for this show in the former Alcazar Hotel lets you imagine what life would be like in this luxurious hotel.  Exquisite Victorian art glass and stained glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany are around every corner. Paintings from around the world are also on display. Each room is restored to its original beauty so guests can feel like they are walking back in time.  When you tour the museum you will see the Russian steam baths and if you are really luck you may see the servants quarters on the top floor. 

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The museum has private tours that you can request to see where the many employees lived.  The rooms have simple beds, a dresser and a few pictures cut out from magazines that the servant girls surely put up to showcase the hairdos and clothes that were in style at the time.

The exhibition also has various events associated with the exhibition including a lovely high tea in the Cafe Alcazar.  We enjoyed lunch here and I would recommend it for the atmosphere alone.  The museum pipes in the music from the show and you could swear you were sitting in the library having tea with the Dowager Countess Lady Violet and Lady Grantham. At the very least you can have a walk down memory lane with this little clip of great Lady Grantham Sayings.

Be sure and walk the grounds so that you can see the courtyard and the elaborate fountains in front of the museum.  Next, walk over to Flagler College to see the enchanting frog fountain and the most beautiful student dining room that you’ve ever seen in your life!  Tours of the college are given by resident students.  This building is the women’s residence for the college and also houses the school shop and library.  A liberal arts college it is considered one of the most prestigious small private colleges in the state.

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Be sure and walk the grounds so that you can see the courtyard and the elaborate fountains in front of the museum.  Next, walk over to Flagler College to see the enchanting frog fountain and the most beautiful student dining room that you’ve ever seen in your life!  Tours of the college are given by resident students.  This building is the women’s residence for the college and also houses the school shop and library.  A liberal arts college it is considered one of the most prestigious small private colleges in the state.

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Disclosure: I was the guest of Visit St. Augustine, The Lightner Museum and Flagler College as part of a Visit Florida Girls Getaway trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and all opinions are my own.

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.

1 thought on “Two Iconic Hotels in St. Augustine, Florida Now House a Museum and a College #VisitFlorida”

  1. I cannot get over the student dining hall that is decked with Tiffany stained-glass windows! I will willingly go back to school if it meant I could live amongst that kind of historical architecture and design, lol.

    For someone who hasn’t watched Downton Abbey (yet), the exhibit was still pretty enthralling. The costumes gave each furniture installation a bit of life. As if you could almost see people from each time-period actually interacting with the setting around them. It was beautiful to see! 🙂

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