Whitehall: Where Muses of Literature and the Arts Reside

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages

Whitehall’s main façade, facing the rising sun, is defined by six massive Doric columns that were typical of temples of Apollo. The design emulated a temple where the Muses of arts and literature reside. (Flagler Museum)
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By James Howard Smith

In 1883, Henry Morrison Flagler was charmed with his visit to Florida, and he imagined others would also find delight there. With that thought, five years later, he began construction of the first of many hotels in the state. To provide a path for others to enjoy the gifts of Florida, Flagler also established the Florida East Coast Railway leading deep into the state. After a significant over-sea engineering feat, eventually the railway reached all the way to Key West.

Due to his dedicated efforts, Flagler had a significant and lasting effect on establishing Florida as a holiday destination. Twenty years after that fortuitous first visit, he built his winter residence, Whitehall. His new home almost came as a reward, a place to enjoy the Florida he had helped create.

Whitehall was designed during the Gilded Age, a time of expansive technological development and cultural enrichment across America. It was influenced by the origins of Western civilization, that of Classical Greece and the Roman Empire. Whitehall was designed in Beaux-Arts style, which draws upon these periods. The partnership of architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings helped to advance the cultural heritage of the time. Whitehall was completed in 1902, the same year their design of the New York Public Library began construction.

Upon arriving in Whitehall, guests gaze in awe as they enter the Grand Hall. Looking upward into the lofty painted clouds, the Oracle of Delphi appears surrounded by the Muses of literature and the arts. The Muses aim to share the wisdom of Apollo, the Sun God, and by doing so, inspire and illuminate humanity. This grand arrival sets the tone for the rooms of Whitehall and their various uses and decorative details.

Knowledge of Western history, literature, and art—playing the role of imparting wisdom and broadening minds—was thought to be essential by those entrepreneurs who considered themselves leaders. They felt a responsibility to translate this gained wisdom into action, and thus Flagler and his contemporaries bore great influence on the men, women, and families of America.

Whitehall, then, provided an apt environment for this philosophy, with the Muses for inspiration, and rooms such as the Library, the Drawing Room, and the Dining Room offering spaces to learn, share insights, and strategize various projects.

To find out more about Whitehall, which is now the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, visit FlaglerMuseum.us.

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The ornate cast-iron fence of Whitehall lines Palm Beach Street. (Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Rich Andrews
 

Located at Palm Beach Florida and sitting amid a Coconut Palm Grove, Whitehall’s rear façade fronts onto Lake Worth, seen here at sunset. (Rich Andrews/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Flagler Museum
 

The two large marble urns greet guests and lead them to the massive bronze doors, which are imprinted with two lion heads. Lions are ancient symbols of the sun, representing Apollo, the sun god. (Flagler Museum)

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The architecture is detailed with a refined cornice. Rosettes can be seen between the curved corbels. The terracotta roof tiles enliven the white and green palette of the surrounding landscape. (Flagler Museum)

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The Grand Hall: The New York firm of Pottier & Stymus designed the interiors of Whitehall. The bold marble columns and ornate plaster moldings on the ceiling, highlighted with gold leaf, define the Grand Hall and welcome guests upon arrival. (Flagler Museum)

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Designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance, the Library was a place for cultural enrichment. Portraits of great Americans such as George Washington line the walls to offer inspiration and to remind guests of the wisdom and virtues employed while forging America. Flagler received guests and business associates here. (Flagler Museum)

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The Drawing Room is decorated in the Louis XVI style. The light tones and refined finishes create a harmonious atmosphere that was suitable for Henry Flagler’s wife, Mary Lily, who would gather guests here for music and conversation. The painting on the piano lid is of Erato, the Muse of love poetry. (Flagler Museum)

Flagler Dining Room
 

The Flaglers would host large dinner parties that would often include prominent men from financial, literary, and legal circles. The Dining Room was designed in the French Renaissance style. The ceiling is cast plaster painted to look like wood. The fireplace mantle incorporates elaborately carved culinary touches such as shells, crabs, and fruit. (Flagler Museum)

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Decorated in the Louis XV style, the Master Suite is adorned with gold-colored silk fabric, creating a nourishing haven that almost glows. (Flagler Museum)

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The Kenan Pavillion was designed in the style of a 19th-century railway palace. It was an addition that came later, designed by the Smith Architecture Group. It officially opened in 2005.(Flagler Museum)

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The Kenan Pavillion holds Henry Flagler’s private Railcar No. 91. The railcar was built in 1886 for Flagler’s personal use. Flagler traveled by this railcar at the completion of the Florida East Coast Railway from St. Augustine to Key West. (Flagler Museum)

James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.

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