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West Palm Beach Point of Interest: Henry Morrison Flagler Museum

Whitehall, a 75-room, 100,000-square-foot house from the Gilded Age in Palm Beach, Florida, is available to the public. It was planned by Carrère and Hastings for Henry Flagler, a renowned captain of industry in the late nineteenth century and a key developer of Florida as a tourist destination, and it was completed in 1902. The structure has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. government. It is currently home to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, which bears his name.

One of the Standard Oil founders Henry Flagler constructed Whitehall for his third wife Mary Lily Kenan, who was the inspiration for the design.

Flagler paid $50,000 in 1893 (around $1,197,562.39) for the land on which the house now stands. In July 1900, the site was surveyed in preparation for building, and the house was finished in time for Flagler and his wife to move in on February 6th, 1902. For Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel and numerous other St. Augustine structures, architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings were hired to construct the new structure. Henry gave Mary Lily Whitehall as a wedding present, with the intention of using it as a winter abode. For their winter trips to Palm Beach, they traveled by private railcar.

In 1913, at the age of 83, Flagler died as a result of injuries he received after falling down a flight of marble steps in Whitehall. Four years later, Mary Lily passed away, leaving the house to her niece Louise Clisby Wise Lewis, who eventually sold it to a group of investors. In the process, they demolished Mr. Flagler’s offices and the housekeeper’s apartment and altered the original kitchen and pantry area. The 300-room extension was built on the west side of the structure. Architects Carrere and Hastings were in charge of the 1925 re-design. It was characterized as Palm Beach’s second-largest hotel in 1939 as a $4,000,000 structure.

One of Henry Flagler’s grandchildren, Jean Flagler Matthews, fought to keep the property from being demolished in 1959. She created the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum non-profit company, which bought the building in 1959 and opened it as a museum in 1960. In order to make room for the museum’s opening to the public, the hotel’s top 10 floors were destroyed in 1963.

Today, Whitehall is a National Historic Landmark and home to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, which offers guided tours, exhibitions, and special events. Many of the museum’s programs are only available from October to January since they are seasonal. The Flagler offers the Whitehall lecture series, which features “experts and best-selling writers to explore Gilded Age subjects, events, and local history,” in addition to an annual chamber music series.  In the past, historical lectures have included topics such as progress in the Progressive Era and the First World War, as well as Gilded Age presidents and technical achievements.

An annual special exhibition is also held at the Flagler. These exhibits frequently feature Gilded Age works of art, sculpture, photography from the golden age of Hollywood glamour, or objects of material culture, such as board games, jewelry, cartoons, and Tiffany & Co. silver (including pieces on display at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair). Throughout the year, it also organizes a number of local galas and balls. In Palm Beach, the Museum may be found near the intersection of Cocoanut Row and Whitehall Way.

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