Inspired by the fabulous fashion, graceful art and elegant architecture of that enterprising, creative, reach-for-the-stars time in history, I will take you on a virtual journey through this architectural icon of The Gilded Age. This grand estate is the epitome of this unique period in U.S. history.
America's upper classes and even the merchant classes, traveled the world, visiting the great European cities and the ancient sites of the Mediterranean, as part of what was called the “Grand Tour” collecting art, china, crystal, fine lace and decorative items, paying homage to their western cultural heritage. When they returned to the states, they recreated the elegance of Europe in their own lives, while utilizing the best of modern American ingenuity.
The grand homes built during this period were an expression of the owner’s wealth and status in society and most were built by architects trained at the “Ecole de Beaux Arts” in Paris. They were furnished with antiques coming into America from France, Spain, and Italy through dealers and auction houses in New York.
I must say, as we viewed the beautiful mansion, I could easily imagine what would have been the United States’ “royalty”, the kings and queens of capitalism, gracing the tall porches. I could imagine ladies draped in silk dresses, and adorned with costly jewelry, fur and feathers. Stiffly starched men would have been standing proud in fine linen and tuxedos, sporting cigars and top hats as they greeted each other and were ushered in for entertainment.
He went on to found a salt mining company, invested further in the grain business, and finally formed an oil company with John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) accumulating great wealth along the way.
Mary’s poor health brought Henry and his wife to Florida in search of a better climate, but she did not recover and died a short three years later. With a young son to raise, Henry remarried to Ida Shourds, the woman who had nursed his sick wife.
The couple used the home as a winter retreat from 1902 until Flagler's death in 1913, establishing the Palm Beach season for the wealthy society of the Gilded Age.
Facing the east and a rising sun, Whitehall’s façade, with its massive Doric columns, is intended to convey the sense that you are approaching a Greek temple to Apollo, the sun god, home of the Muses of Arts and Literature. The large marble urns on the steps are carved with Bacchanalian Scenes.
You can easily imagine the grand balls, elegant teas, garden parties and weekend house parties held at the beautiful home. With this image in mind, we climbed the stairs to spend a few short hours investigating what would have been the exclusive and affluent life lived at Whitehall.
Carrère and Hastings designed the entryway to be the largest and grandest of any room in a private home built during the Gilded Age. Seven varieties of marble were used in creating the floor, walls, stairs, furniture, and sculpture for the Grand Hall. The ceiling is highly decorated with plaster figures and objects and its central dome depicts Pythia, the priestess of the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The painting was done on canvas and then fitted into the ceiling space. The room is filled with antiques, paintings and sculptures from around the world as befit Henry Flagler’s image.
As we progressed from room to room, the wealth and privilege of these titans of business was displayed before us.
The Steinway grand piano was made specifically for this room and its decorative details match the details of the room and incorporate the theme of Love and Poetry.
Originally, this area which is to the west of the Grand Ballroom was a columned, marble floored veranda which overlooked a small garden and provided a commanding view of Lake Worth.