Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine$

Thomas Graham

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813049373

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813049373.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Florida, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FLASO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 21 September 2021

Construction of the Ponce de Leon, 1885–1887

Construction of the Ponce de Leon, 1885–1887

(p.88) 8 Construction of the Ponce de Leon, 1885–1887
Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine

Thomas Graham

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Construction of the Hotel Ponce de Leon commenced in December 1885 with the laying of a heavy concrete foundation. The hotel would be the largest concrete structure built in the United States up to that time. Flagler quarried coquina shell and sand from Anastasia Island to make concrete for his buildings. William Kennish oversaw the concrete work. John W. Ingle served as supervising architect. Flagler's Standard Oil partner, William G. Warden, chartered a gas company in town.

Keywords:   Anastasia Island, concrete, Hotel Ponce de Leon, William Kennish, John W. Ingle, William G. Warden

A hundred years hence it will be all the same to me, and the building the better because of my extravagance.

—Henry Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, December 26, 1885

Henry Flagler was a man in a hurry to accomplish great things. Once he had decided to go ahead with his hotel scheme, he rushed to acquire the real estate needed for the hotel site and surrounding properties. Although he had been remarkably successful in acquiring what he wanted, the delays in getting his hands on the Anderson site and Powder House Lot frustrated him. McGuire and Mc-Donald had told him it would take eighteen months to construct a building such as the one that Carrère and Hastings envisioned. Flagler could count the months ahead and realized that this schedule would put the completion date of the hotel well into 1887—too late for that year's winter season. That meant another year's delay until the 1888 season came around. Flagler resigned himself to this situation and pushed ahead.1

In spite of the delays, progress continued toward bringing the hotel to reality. On November 7, in New York City, Hastings showed Flagler the complete plans for the Hotel Ponce de Leon. And in St. Augustine on November 10 McGuire and McDonald started preliminary work on the five-acre hotel site.2 As soon as a copy of the intricate Carrère and Hastings plans arrived, McGuire and Mc-Donald staked out the footprint of the building in the sandy soil—and found to their consternation that the plans were all out of kilter. This raised a dismaying and potentially disastrous complication, for it brought Carrère and Hastings's competence into question before the first spade of dirt had been turned.

(p.89) The builders and architects exchanged telegrams, and then Carrère and Hastings appealed to Flagler for a chance to “vindicate” their design. Quickly Carrère set off for St. Augustine carrying Flagler's letter of introduction to Dr. Anderson. From his brief experience with McKim, Mead and White, Carrère was already experienced in troubleshooting difficulties with clients. Hastings later explained the situation: “When Mr. Carrère arrived he found that in laying out the plans on the grounds, they had started at one corner of the work and followed all the way round the silhouette of the plan, each time arriving within a few inches away from the corner where they had started, so that there was naturally a discrepancy owing to the inaccuracy of the instrument and the work on the grounds. After this Mr. Carrère immediately surveyed the center lines, and figures right and left, completing the layout on the ground, showing that our work was correct, and this was the beginning of our final employment to supervise the work until its completion.”3

Thus Flagler could finally rejoice in getting down to work on the mammoth project. “On the first day of December, 1885, we commenced the digging of the excavation for the foundations of the Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine.”4 During the summer there had been considerable discussion of just what sort of foundation was required. Engineer Frederick Bruce reported to Flagler that he had been in consultation with McGuire and McDonald, and Bruce felt that wooden pilings would be useless in the sandy soil unless driven to a great depth. Bruce recommended what he called a “floating foundation,” and this was the path followed.

A building with a floating foundation “floats” upon the earth in the same way that a ship floats on water. The building displaces a weight of earth equal to the weight of the building, just as a ship displaces a volume of water equal in weight to the heaviness of the ship. Also, just as a ship must have a sound hull, the building must have a robust foundation. In the case of the Hotel Ponce de Leon the walls become thicker at their base, forming a foundation of solid concrete sunk deep into the earth.5

In order to produce the concrete that would go into the hotel's foundations and walls, two local materials were required: sand and coquina shell to serve as aggregate. Getting these required extensive, careful negotiations, land dealings, and purchases.

Flagler had three options as sources for coquina. His preference was simply to take coquina from the federal government's old King's Quarries south of the lighthouse. Visitors can walk into one of these quarries today near the entrance to Anastasia State Park. The Spanish had used blocks of solid stone made from the naturally compacted shells of thousands of tiny coquina shellfish to build the Castillo de San Marcos. Flagler, on the other hand, needed just loose coquina (p.90) shells for his concrete. His second option was a quarry owned by a descendent of Francisco Xavier Sanchez, progenitor of the oldest surviving European family in the United States. The third was the land of the Aspinwall family.

From the beginning of this enterprise Flagler realized that taking free coquina from the government's quarries presented difficulties since the War Department had recently frowned upon such giveaways. He wrote to Franklin Smith instructing him to investigate the Aspinwall quarry as an alternative source for coquina should the War Department prohibit them from exploiting the King's Quarries.6 However, a month later things began to look up for the government option. James McGuire wrote to Flagler: “I have been to the Island today. Arranged with W. A. Harn for shell.…He will look after our interests on the Island.…I see no trouble about the shell; believe it will be all right.” William A. Harn had been stationed in Fort Sumter during its bombardment in April 1861 at the onset of the Civil War. A few years after the war he became keeper of the St. Augustine lighthouse, with the honorary title of major. In addition to maintaining the light, his responsibilities extended to overseeing all government property in its vicinity. Flagler reported this development to Anderson, writing offhandedly, “I am glad to know that McGuire has ‘captured’ the Major, and unless the theft reaches the ears of the Sec'y of War, I guess we are all right.”7

Unfortunately for Flagler, that was just what happened. Flagler soon learned that “certain parties” in St. Augustine were raising objections to his “foraging on the coquina beds,” and he presumed that their objective was to force him to purchase private land in order to obtain the shell he needed. He instructed McGuire to investigate the opposition discreetly and, at the same time, to explore the purchase of private land as a fall-back option should the government's quarries be closed to him.8

It turned out that one of the men objecting to Flagler's removal of government shell was Venancio Sanchez, an old man who offered to sell Flagler his quarry lands for $20,000. Flagler considered this price far too high, particularly since Sanchez's title to all the land he claimed remained suspect. Flagler thought $10,000 came closer to the property's real value. As often happened, Anderson acted as his go-between with Sanchez. Flagler explained to Anderson: “Mr. Sanchez can make more money out of me by being friendly, and not interfering with the removal of the shell than by taking the opposite course—I hope he will be wise enough to act friendly.”9

As it happened, just as negotiations with Sanchez stalled, the Aspinwall property became available, and Flagler turned to this third option to get his shell.

William H. Aspinwall, the old merchant captain and Panama railroad builder (see chapter 2), had passed away ten years earlier in 1875, and his widow Anna had recently died in January of 1885. Following her death the Anastasia property (p.91)

Construction of the Ponce de Leon, 1885–1887

The Aspinwall quarry stood on the beach side of Anastasia Island just north of the site of the old lighthouse, which appears in this 1870s vintage engraving. Today, homes stand on the quarry site along the east side of the Lighthouse Park neighborhood. From the collection of the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library.

passed to their son, Rev. John A. Aspinwall, a New York minister who still maintained the winter home on Bay Street just a few paces south of the Plaza. Then, in September, John Aspinwall sold his twenty-nine-acre tract to Moses R. Bean, who intended to turn the land into a subdivision called Anastasia. Bean's partners in this venture were Milo Cartter of St. Louis and Dr. Charles Carver, a local dentist who resided in what had long been known as the “Oldest House” on St. Francis Street. Carver opened his residence as a curiosity for tourists, and it has remained such ever since.10

McGuire made a deal with the new owners to mine coquina shell from the Aspinwall quarry, a turn of events that, as Flagler triumphantly reported to Anderson, made him “independent of Sanchez.” Flagler formalized the agreement with the partners on November 19, assuring himself the right to transport coquina on a tramway across their property to a dock on the Matanzas River. As part of his dealings with Carver, Bean, and Cartter, Flagler bought lots number 1 and 2 in their Anastasia development, placing his property right under the (p.92) shadow of the lighthouse. The purchase also put him on top of and adjoining the island's northernmost vein of coquina shell and stone, a seaside quarry familiar to many strangers who walked the beach to view the picturesque outcroppings of this unusual stone.11

To handle his mining operations Flagler erected a boarding house in the area and brought in a gang of Italian workers who would excavate coquina and haul it to lighters that ferried the material across the bay to town.12 There is no precise record of just where Flagler mined his coquina shell, but the most likely area is the land just north of the lighthouse along what is today called Salt Run. A newspaper story from 1898 refers to this general area as the “Ponce de Leon quarries.” Before Flagler's time, large outcroppings of coquina could be seen there, but today that land is flat, suggesting that Flagler's quarrymen stripped a layer of coquina off the top of the terrain.13

To haul the coquina shell from the quarry site to Matanzas Bay, Flagler built a tramway along what is today Old Quarry Road to Quarry Creek. From this landing, which the Spanish had probably also used in earlier days, flat-bottom lighters that McGuire and McDonald had built, pulled by a steam tug, ferried the coquina across the bay to the seawall at the Plaza.14

During his complex negotiations Flagler discovered that ownership of most of Anastasia Island remained an unsettled question. Back in Spanish colonial days a local entrepreneur named Jesse Fish had obtained a grant from the king of Spain for most of the island south of the Rodriguez and Sanchez grants. Fish built a plantation home on a point across the bay from the town and raised oranges on the site. In Flagler's time the ruins of Fish's homestead were a popular winter visitor destination known as Fish Island. After the transfer of Florida to the United States, Fish's heirs, who lived in South Carolina, did not take steps to confirm their claim with the U.S. government until interest in the land picked up during the 1880s. Flagler invested in extensive tracts of property on the island, claiming that the land belonged to the U.S. government. Thereupon a Fish heir named Charles M. Furman brought suit to set aside the purchases made by Flagler and others.

As the Furman suit dragged on for years, Flagler lost interest in Anastasia Island and turned his attention to Palm Beach and Miami. Eventually in 1901 the Supreme Court of the United States declared the Fish grant invalid. Flagler's Model Land Company was confirmed as the owner of large tracts of property on the island, and the suit also opened the way for others to develop modern Anastasia Island.15

While his extended search for coquina was going on, Flagler looked to Moultrie Creek about two miles south of town to obtain sand for his concrete mix. The coarse-grained sand on this site was deemed suitable for use in concrete. Flagler (p.93) built a wharf on the south side of the creek near its tall bluffs to ship out the sand. Robert Oliver, whose father operated a sawmill on the creek, gave this description of Flagler's sand removal operations: “To get the sand Mr. Flagler put in tram-cars, running on narrow-gauge tracks, he built a pier and carried the sand to lighters, which, without power, and taking advantage of high tide, steered them to the seawall at the foot of King Street and then hauled to the construction site. Then at rising tide the lighters were steered back to Moultrie Point to reload.”16 Flagler's barges ferrying sand and coquina shell over the waters of the Matanzas River became as familiar a sight to St. Augustine residents as the gravel trains hauling fill dirt to the marshes.

To receive Flagler's lighters and move the sand and shell from the seawall to the hotel lot, McGuire and McDonald built a dock at the foot of the Plaza and ran a tramway along King Street. This dock and railway would also be used to transport other building materials, such as the thousands of red bricks that came in on seagoing schooners from the North. McGuire and McDonald built another temporary railway from George W. Atwood's property on South Street, near the mouth of Maria Sanchez Creek, up to the hotel property, running along the eastern side of the marsh.17

To oversee the concrete work that went into his hotel, Flagler hired the country's foremost expert on concrete, William Kennish, who had just supervised the concrete construction of the large pedestal building upholding the Statue of Liberty. Kennish's father had been chief engineer for one of the companies involved in the French attempt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama to supplant Aspinwall's railroad. Kennish himself had built two huge concrete dry docks on Lake Erie. He went to St. Augustine, where he found McGuire and McDonald already busy collaborating with Franklin W. Smith on experiments to determine the strength of concrete. They cast a large number of concrete bricks of various compositions and tested their capacity to withstand pressure. A brick would be placed on a stage and then barrels of dry cement would be stacked atop it until the brick crumpled. Some of the world's most innovative experiments in concrete construction were being performed in the tiny, remote village of St. Augustine, Florida.18

From his office in New York City, Flagler took a direct interest in the process. He wrote to McGuire and McDonald: “Mr. Hastings brought in here today a model for the forms in which to cast the concrete walls. The thing was gotten up between Kennish and Carrère and Hastings.” Flagler hoped that the procedure of building the walls could be speeded up and offered some ideas for McGuire and McDonald to consider.19

To mix his concrete Flagler was required to design and build his own cement mixers, most likely the largest in the world up to that time. In September (p.94) architect Hastings and builder McGuire accompanied Kennish to the Statue of Liberty, where they watched a revolving cement mixer at work. Using Kennish's design, Flagler ordered construction of two giant steam-powered mixers, each capable of holding a ton of material. Kennish felt that concrete should be used as quickly as possible after mixing, and these machines would accelerate the process. By December the mixers were on the ground in St. Augustine.20

The blend of concrete that went into the foundations of the Hotel Ponce de Leon consisted of a particularly strong mixture made up of one part Portland cement, one part sand, and three parts coquina shell. This ate up an enormous amount of expensive cement at a staggering rate: more than twelve thousand barrels by the middle of March 1886. The day after Christmas, Flagler wondered in a letter to McGuire and McDonald if he could afford to complete the hotel at the rate they were consuming cement. Then he added, “I think it more likely I am spending an unnecessary amount of money in the foundation walls, but I comfort myself with the reflection that a hundred years hence it will be all the same to me, and the building the better because of my extravagance.”21

The letter reflected Flagler's deep yearning for permanence, even as he admitted his own mortality. But he was correct about the strength of the foundations; after more than a century they stand as solidly as granite, and the building continues to “float” on an absolute even keel.

Fortunately for Flagler's pocketbook, the blend of concrete used in the upper walls required less Portland cement: one part cement to two parts sand and four or five parts shell aggregate. This concrete was not as strong as that in the foundation, but it did not need to be. Each of the giant concrete mixers had its own supervising engineer to oversee the mixing process. The freshly produced concrete would be poured into wheelbarrows and rolled to a large steam-powered elevator that had been erected inside what would become the hotel's courtyard. The elevator would lift four wheelbarrows at a trip. Then workers pushed the wheelbarrows around the walls to the point where pours were currently being made into the wooden forms fixed atop the previous pours. Each new course of concrete would be allowed to cure for two days, and then the wooden forms were removed and reassembled at the next higher level to receive another layer of fresh concrete.

Compared to modern concrete, Flagler's mix contained less water. McGuire later explained that their experiments had shown that when wet mixes dried out, air pockets would be trapped inside. Flagler worried that unless the concrete formed solidly, water would seep into the walls, giving the hotel a damp atmosphere. To eliminate these voids, Flagler's men used a relatively dry mix, followed by vigorous tamping of the fresh concrete to ram it into the bottoms of the wooden forms. Once the walls were up, workmen fixed eight-inch wooden (p.95) studs along the interiors and covered these with lath and plaster to create an insulating air pocket that would keep moisture out.22

We do not have an account of the laborers doing the tamping work on the walls, but this description from a few years later must catch the spirit of the workers: “Scores of visitors stopped in their daily walks near the Ponce de Leon yesterday to listen to a weird negro chorus of about twenty voices, the men being engaged in pounding down the concrete mixture used as a base for the asphalt pavements on King street. They kept perfect time with the ‘thump, thump’ of their mauls, much after the manner of sailors in ‘getting the anchor’ and could be heard distinctly several blocks away.”23

In contrast to modern concrete buildings, Flagler's hotels and churches used little iron reinforcement. For the most part they stand simply on the strength of their thick, massive walls. However, Carrère and Hastings were familiar with the innovative use of iron in building construction, and they employed some iron reinforcement. Over windows, doors, and arches the builders would drop three-quarter-inch round iron rebar into the wet concrete mix to add strength. Since Flagler also had lots of lightweight railroad track iron on hand, salvaged from his railway, McGuire and McDonald sometimes substituted railroad track for the round rebar. It worked quite well. Twenty-three years later James McGuire sent Carrère and Hastings some iron removed from a wall during renovations. The iron showed virtually no rust.

McGuire and McDonald even thought of using concrete in the floors of the loggias surrounding the hotel's courtyard. They made a slab of concrete with a grid of flat iron slats molded inside to test the practicality of the concept. When the slab had cured, the builders suspended it between two supports and piled barrels of cement on top of it to measure its strength. The concrete sagged only one-quarter of an inch. Ultimately, however, they decided to construct the floors of the loggias, as well as the floors in the rest of the building, from conventional wooden beams.24

The end of the year arrived with work well under way, and Flagler looked forward to finding great progress when he arrived for the 1886 winter season. “As soon as the foundation walls are completed,” he wrote to McGuire and McDonald, “I shall be disappointed if I do not see the best part of Anastasia Island on the hotel site, when I come down.”25

Anderson did his part to smooth Flagler's path in St. Augustine by getting himself elected mayor in November. He defeated the sitting mayor John Long by a vote of 652 to 480. In the previous year's election the total vote for all candidates had amounted to only 570 votes. Anderson called attention to this increase in population in his inaugural message to the city council: “During the past two years our population has probably doubled and the city has spread in (p.96) every direction.” He laid out a program for the town that addressed three primary needs: a new city jail, street improvements, and an enhanced fire department. Of streets he said, “It appears to me this problem has but one answer, ‘Asphalt.’ It is almost indestructible in this climate and will last for years without repair. It is as smooth as a floor and is superior to any other pavement from a sanitary point of view.” He issued a prescient warning about the city's fire-fighting capabilities: “In case of fire, the machinery is not efficient and the water supply is reported inadequate.”

Anderson offered a challenge and a vision for the future of St. Augustine: “The past year has witnessed a revolution in our City which no one could have anticipated. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent and are being spent in our midst.…The crowning enterprise, the building of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, will make St. Augustine famous.…Our city bids fair therefore to become the Nice, as well as the Newport of America.”26

As mayor, Anderson could act to further Flagler's good relations with the St. Augustine community. When one of Flagler's wagon drivers was accused of beating a mule to death, Flagler thanked Anderson for appearing in the mayor's court to defend his employee, and added, “Under no circumstances would I uphold overworking a beast.” He advised McGuire and McDonald: “As a matter of principle, as well of respect to the sentiment of the community, I desire that you should do no Sunday work about the hotel grounds. If it is absolutely necessary to make any repairs on that day, try to do it as it will not be observed.”27

Then matters took a potentially serious turn.

In January 1886 tempers boiled over at the construction site, causing Flagler to wonder if he would have to make drastic changes in the team managing his building project. Franklin W. Smith and Kennish, who both regarded themselves experts on concrete construction, became embroiled in an argument. McGuire and McDonald took Kennish's side, and in trying to smooth over the controversy, Anderson fell into the wrangling as well. From his isolated vantage in New York City, Flagler fired off a series of letters aimed at either mollifying the combatants or eliminating some of them. First he wrote to Smith to say that he valued Kennish and wanted to continue to engage him in future building projects. Flagler attempted to soothe Smith's feelings by saying that Anderson had perhaps made a simple blunder in taking sides with McGuire and McDonald.

To Anderson he wrote that Smith seemed to have the better side in the argument on the concrete, and he even wondered if perhaps McGuire and McDonald lacked the executive capacity to handle such a large undertaking. Finally, he wrote to John Carrère telling him to investigate the situation on his next trip to St. Augustine. Flagler suggested that in dealing with Smith, “we should make (p.97) considerable allowance for our friend's idiosyncrasies, yet it will not do to ignore his practical knowledge.” He added that if Carrère found Kennish to be in the wrong, he had Flagler's authority to fire Kennish.28

Fortunately, the controversy seems to have passed without further incident, and Flagler's team continued their work. However, Flagler found other issues to worry about. He asked Smith to check into the drinking habits of two contractors, and when Smith returned an unfavorable report, Flagler responded: “I regret exceedingly that the brothers of this firm are addicted to the use of liquor. Unless this is corrected, I will make short work of them when I arrive.”29

Flagler, along with Alice, Harry, and Harry's tutor, came to St. Augustine in mid-February and took a suite of rooms in the San Marco. He immediately set about impressing his will on the situation. He was by no means a novice at major construction projects, having overseen construction of the Standard Oil headquarters building at 26 Broadway a few years earlier. Flagler and Rockefeller had become famous for the efficiency of their oil refinery operations, and Flagler wanted the same standards upheld in Florida. A few days spent in St. Augustine, he told Anderson, convinced him “that there is a great lack of system; that more intelligent driving foremen [are] essential, and that with them very much more work can be obtained from the day laborers.”30

When Flagler arrived in St. Augustine the foundation walls were nearly completed, and between three hundred and four hundred men swarmed over the construction site. Along Tolomato Street winter guests paused to inspect progress, as a correspondent for the local press reported: “The busy scene of work on the new Ponce de Leon draws the attention of all our visitors, who watch with wonderment the multifarious kinds of work continuously in operation.”31

On the west side of this activity McGuire and McDonald had erected a large wooden building as their headquarters, with space for Carrère and Hastings as well. Hastings came down a few weeks later in February to walk around the grounds with Flagler, although usually it would be Carrère who visited to watch over the interests of their firm. John W. Ingle, an architect with a degree from Columbia University, remained on site constantly as the supervising architect representing Carrère and Hastings. At one end of McGuire's building Flagler set up an office for himself where he could issue commands and act as the final court of appeals for any of the parties engaged in the enterprise. Workmen built a wooden walkway from the back door of Dr. Anderson's Markland home to the headquarters building. This feature suggests that Flagler spent a good deal of time at Markland during his visits to St. Augustine.32

In the midst of this major building project, John Carrère took time to attend to a personal matter. He married Marion Sidonia Dell of Jacksonville. Her father, (p.98)

Construction of the Ponce de Leon, 1885–1887

This photo of the Hotel Ponce de Leon under construction, taken from the corner tower of the Hotel Casa Monica, shows a locomotive parked at the intersection of Cordova and King streets. Flagler ran temporary tracks over his property to haul in fill dirt and building materials. By permission of Flagler College.

Colonel Charles Dell, had served in the Second Seminole War. Marion had grown up in Texas and California, but evidently she had returned to Florida, where she met Carrère during one of his trips to St. Augustine.33

On the last day of February, Henry and Alice attended a ball at the San Marco Hotel with Franklin W. Smith, his wife, and their daughter Nina, who was just as beautiful as her mother. They were also accompanied to the dance by William G. Warden and his wife. Warden was an oil man who had run Philadelphia's largest refinery until 1874, when he was prevailed upon to enlist in the Standard empire. Flagler seems to have inspired Warden to join his St. Augustine venture: in the summer Warden and Anderson went in together with another investor to form the St. Augustine Gas and Electric Company to furnish gas for the city. In years thereafter Warden and his family would become leading citizens of the town during the winter season, erecting their own Moorish castle of concrete just north of the Fort Marion reservation.34

By the time the Flaglers departed for New York at the end of March, work had (p.99) commenced on the second story of the hotel, and carpenters had moved in to initiate framing of the woodwork of the ground floor.

Across King Street the major task of filling in the southern reaches of Maria Sanchez commenced. Flagler emphasized to his builders: “It is quite important for the future reputation of the hotel, that we remove, at as early a day as possible, every vestige of the marsh near King St.”35

McGuire and McDonald extended their temporary railroad all the way across the hotel lot and over King Street to the proposed site of Hastings's casino. By the summer of 1886 what for centuries had been Maria Sanchez marsh, on both sides of King Street, had become an expanse of white sand on which Flagler erected a bustling warren of workshops, built warehouses, and kept construction equipment.36

April 1886 found Flagler back in Florida. The walls of the hotel continued to rise quickly, with the red brickwork around windows and in arches adding color to the mass of concrete. People wondered if the hotel might be completed in time for the next winter's season. A reporter for the Florida Times-Union managed to extract a few comments from Flagler as he stopped in Jacksonville at the Windsor Hotel. Flagler averred to the newspaperman that he hoped the hotel would be finished in time to open in 1887. He added that the “work was growing on his hands” and that he was obliged to give a great deal of his personal attention to details of construction. At the same time, privately, he confirmed his earlier estimate that the building would not be ready until the 1888 season. “I have decided not to undertake the completion of the ‘Ponce de Leon’ until a year from next winter,” he wrote to a friend in New York.37

The general public knew nothing of this timetable and, instead, marveled at the rapidity with which the work progressed. “Surprisingly easy does the mammoth structure rise heavenward,” declared the Times-Union, “and in each angle and curve is seen that proportion of artistic beauty and design that the plans are developing.”38 By the first week of June the walls of the second story were almost up. By the third week of July the third story neared completion. The middle of August found carpenters framing in the roof, while others were beginning to bring the Dining Room area into shape. The New York City firm of Pottier and Stymus surfaced the floor in a kiln-dried white oak known as “Fifty year old oak.” In December window frames were being placed into the window openings. The pace had been fantastic, yet by the end of the year it had become obvious to all that there remained much still to be done—and the winter season had arrived.39

In November Flagler came down from New York in a private car, accompanied by Carrère and Anderson, who had spent some time in the North as Flagler's guest. Saying he was pleased with progress on the hotel, Flagler returned to New York to spend the Christmas season at home.40 In January and then again (p.100) in March 1887 Flagler returned to St. Augustine to check up on advances in the building. While in town he consulted with O. D. Seavey on matters relating to the interiors of the hotel.41

Even though he had known all along that there was little hope of opening in 1887, it must have been disappointing for him to wait another whole year. After all, time was flying, and as Flagler held, “time is life.”42

It may have been during this visit when a little incident occurred that has become part of the Flagler legend in St. Augustine.

His chief builder, James McGuire, a crotchety bachelor, employed an old black woman as his cook and her daughter as his housekeeper. The daughter had a son named Amos Phillips, who became at first McGuire's errand boy and eventually, over the years, something of a surrogate son.

Phillips had gone on the payroll of the hotel company on November 28, 1885, just days before work began on the foundations of the Ponce. At the age of seventeen he assumed whatever duties McGuire assigned to him.43 At some stage of work on the hotel, McGuire stationed his young major domo Amos in a room of the Ponce de Leon where some valuable materials had been temporarily stored, instructing him to keep everyone out of the room and by no means to allow anyone to smoke in the vicinity. While Amos was on duty at his sentry post, an important-looking gentleman wandered up smoking a small cigar, and Amos promptly informed him that he must get out immediately and take his smoke with him. “Who gave you these orders, boy?” asked the man calmly. “Mr. Mc-Guire,” answered Amos, vowing with all the heat he could muster that he aimed to see those orders carried out.

The man was, of course, Henry Flagler, and he went to McGuire's office and asked, “Who is that young Negro working at the hotel?” McGuire answered, “That's Amos Phillips. I brought him from Magnolia Springs with me. Why, has he done something wrong?” “Wrong!” replied Flagler, “He's the best worker we have, and I want to see that he gets paid for his efficiency and trustworthiness.” Flagler would come to know Philips well over the years, and on one occasion, Phillips recalled, Flagler took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves to demonstrate the proper technique for “laying a fire” in one of the hotel's fireplaces.44

Phillips would continue to be employed by the East Coast Hotel Company for fifty-one years, retiring in 1936 to great acclaim for his service.45


(1) . Flagler to William Crafts, September 1, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(2) . Flagler to Anderson, November 7, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; “St. Augustine Locals,” Florida Weekly Times, November 19, 1885, 3.

(3) . Flagler to Anderson, November 27, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; Hastings, “Letter,” 3.

(4) . “Mr. Flagler's Fine Address,” St. Lucie County Tribune, February 9, 1912, 1.

(5) . Bruce to Flagler, June 12, 1885, Bruce Letterbook, SAHS; “Ponce de Leon,” Florida Weekly Times, January 19, 1888, 1.

(6) . Flagler to Smith, August 27, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(7) . Flagler to Anderson, September 25, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(8) . Flagler to McGuire, October 8, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(9) . Flagler to Anderson, November 5, 12, 16, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(10) . St. Johns County Deed Book EE, 566–69; St. Johns County Deed Book FF, 122–24.

(11) . Flagler to Anderson, November 16, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; St. Johns County Deed Book FF, 357–59; Albert Manucy and C. Raymond Vinton, “The Coquina Quarries,” Castillo de San Marcos, 1945, copy of typed manuscript, SAHS.

(p.509) (12) . “St. Augustine News,” Jacksonville News-Herald, October 17, 1887, 1.

(13) . “St. Augustine,” Times-Union, April 3, 1898, 2.

(14) . “Aladdin's Art Outdone,” Harrisburg Telegram, June 1886, clipping, HMFP; Flagler to Smith, September 1, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, September 29, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(15) . Flagler to John Flagg, September 12, 1885; Flagler to W. W. Dewhurst, November 27, 1885; Flagler to John Flagg, January 18, April 7, 1886; J. C. Salter to John N. Austin, August 27, 1901, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; Knetsch, “One of Flagler's Men,” 21–22; “Anastasia Land Titles,” St. Augustine Record, April 9, 1901, 2–3.

(16) . “Will Make Lots of Wine,” Times-Union, January 31, 1893, 6; Robert Oliver, “Reminiscences,” typed manuscript, SAHS.

(17) . City Council minutes, October 16, December 14, December 28, 1885; Flagler to F. W. Smith, December 19, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(18) . “Coquina and Concrete,” Jacksonville News-Herald, September 25, 1887, 2; Flagler to Smith, August 27, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; Flagler to McGuire, February 6, 1905, HMFP.

(19) . Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, November 14, 1885, HMFP.

(20) . Flagler to Smith, September 11, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(21) . “Ponce de Leon,” St. Augustine Evening News, March 22, 1886; Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, December 26, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(22) . Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, January 26, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; “Ponce de Leon,” St. Augustine Evening News, March 22, 1886; McGuire to Carrère and Hastings, July 15, 1910, McGuire Letterbook, Flagler College Archives (hereafter cited as FC); “Hackmen Humbug Tourists,” Times-Union, March 15, 1897, 7.

(23) . “News from St. Augustine,” Jacksonville News-Herald, January 1888, 2.

(24) . James McGuire to Carrère and Hastings, June 15, 25, 1910, McGuire Letterbook, FC.

(25) . Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, December 28, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(26) . City Council minutes, November 15, December 10, 1886.

(27) . Flagler to J. A. McGuire, January 7, 1886; Flagler to Anderson, February 3, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(28) . Flagler to Smith, January 21, 27, 1885; Flagler to Anderson, January 26, 1885; Flagler to Carrère, January 28, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(29) . Flagler to Smith, January 15, 21, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(30) . Flagler to Seavey, January 20, 1886; Flagler to Anderson, January 26, 1886; Flagler to E. T. Postlethwaite, February 4, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(31) . “St. Augustine Dots,” Times-Union, January 11, 1886, 1.

(32) . “St. Augustine Locals,” Times-Union, February 18, 1886, 3; “Ponce de Leon,” St. Augustine Evening News, March 22, 1886; “Diagram Showing Proposed Enlargement of Grounds,” HMFP.

(33) . Ossman and Ewing, Carrère & Hastings: Masterworks, 10.

(34) . “St. Augustine Locals,” Times-Union, March 1, 1886, 1; “Construction Department,” Baltimore Manufacturers’ Record, July 3, 1886.

(35) . Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, November 2, 1885, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(36) . Flagler to McGuire and McDonald, January 21, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM; “Ancient City Locals,” Times-Union, March 18, 24, 1886, 3; “St. Augustine News,” Jacksonville Morning News, July 22, 1886, 1.

(37) . “Finest in the World” (quoting a Times-Union article), St. Johns Weekly, April 24, 1886, 3; Flagler to John T. Devine, April 22, 1886, Flagler Letterbook, HMFM.

(38) . “Ancient City Locals,” Times-Union, June 25, 1886, 4.

(39) . Jacksonville Morning News, June 5, July 22, August 10, 1886; Times-Union, August 17, 25, December 24, 1886; McGuire to C. D. Boice, April 15, 1914, McGuire Letterbook, FC.

(40) . “St. Augustine Locals,” Times-Union, November 2, 19, 1886.

(p.510) (41) . “St. Augustine Notes,” Times-Union, January 18, March 13, 1887.

(42) . George Morgan Ward, In Memoriam, 14.

(43) . McGuire to “To whom it may concern,” April 30, 1915, McGuire Letterbook, FC.

(44) . McGuire, “My Family.”

(45) . “To Whom It May Concern,” January 7, 1937, William Dewhurst Papers, SAHS.