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From the Father of Modern Florida to Art After Dark – Culture in West Palm Beach Florida

Experiencing West Palm Beach, home to Florida Huddle 2023, ITTN’s Shane Cullen toured the exuberant excess of the Whitehouse Mansion. This is the home of the Flagler Museum. It showcases Henry Morrison Flagler’s history. Furthermore, it highlights his extensive legacy in Florida. When built, the estate is described as “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world” by the New York Herald.

Also located in West Palm Beach, Shane soaked up the art, photography and sculpture collection left by American industrialist Ralph Hubbard Norton and his wife as part of the recently expanded Norton Museum of Art.

Gilded Age – The Whitehall Mansion

The Flagler Museum was originally home to the father of modern Florida, Henry Morrison Flagler. It is a decadent Gilded Age mansion originally a wedding present for his wife. Shane toured the 75 rooms of Whitehall that covers a massive 100,000 sqft space. This does not even include the extensive six acres of gardens on the lakeside.

Flagler – The Father of Modern Florida

Henry Morrison Flagler (1830 – 1913) was an American industrialist and a founder of Standard Oil. He is also the founder of Miami and Palm Beach in Florida. With an ill wife and a recommendation from her doctor to head to the healing warmth of the sunny South, a New York-based Flagler moved to Florida. Here he believed the area would attract tourists and set about building a number of hotels. To further support this venture, he invested in rail which would become known as the Florida East Coast Railway.

An Industrialist & Hotelier

Notably, in 1894, Flagler built The Hotel Royal Poinciana which became the largest resort in the world. Two years later, the Palm Beach Inn (now The Breakers) joined his empire. Alongside this expansion, he extended his railway further south. The railway reached Biscayne Bay by 1896. Accompanying the transport links, he built streets, water and power systems and the town of Miami was incorporated. 

Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Flagler Museum, Florida
Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Flagler Museum, Florida

Transforming the Landscape of Florida

In less than 20 years, the railway continued a further 156 miles of track, impressively much of this was over water – extending the line to Key West. Completed in 1912, this formed a rail link to one of Florida’s most populated cities at the time, Key West. This was the most ambitious engineering project undertaken by a private citizen.

Florida Flourishing from Flagler’s Vision

As part of the tour, it was fascinating to find out that when Henry Flagler began his work in Florida, it was one of the poorest states in the Union. Today, Florida is the third largest state in the Union with an economy larger than 90% of the world’s nations, which they explain, is significantly due to Henry Flagler and the indelible mark he made in creating modern Florida – “The transportation infrastructure and the tourism and agricultural industries he established remain, even today, the very foundation of Florida’s economy”.

Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Flagler Museum, Florida
Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Flagler Museum, Florida

Dining at Flagler Museum

Afternoon Tea as well as dining in the gardens, “Picnic in the Cocoanut Grove” is on offer to guests of the Flagler Museum. The picnic offering is open noon to 3 pm Tues to Sun. For something or someone special opt for the Museum’s Café des Beaux-Arts. This is open seasonally, Tues to Sat (11.30 pm to 2.30 pm) and Sun (noon to 3 pm) and can be pre-booked on the Flagler Museum website.

Café des Beaux-Arts for Gilded Age-style Tea Service

Shane Cullen was treated to the Flagler Museum’s Café des Beaux-Arts for a Gilded Age-style Tea Service. If this doesn’t raise your pinky to the crystal chandeliers, nothing will. Overlooking Lake Worth and the skyline of West Palm Beach, the Florida sunshine flooded through the full-length floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the Pavilion. The dainty delicacies on tiered trays were served with tea and pink lemonade. The menu includes sandwiches, scones and desserts with tea and pink lemonade. This can be booked for $60 per person (¢47 for children up to 17) and includes admission to the museum and taxes.

Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Afternoon Tea during visit to Flagler Museum, Florida
Shane Cullen (ITTN) at Afternoon Tea during visit to Flagler Museum, Florida

Visiting the Flagler Museum

Located a few minutes from West Palm Beach, drive (parking available at the museum) or get the Tri-Rail (train) or Palm Tran (shuttle bus) – for more, see here.

The museum is open Tues – Sat (10 am to 5 pm) and Sun (12 to 5 pm).

Admission is $26 for adults / $13 for children (aged 6 to 12).

Shane Cullen at Flagler Museum, Florida
Shane Cullen at Flagler Museum, Florida

The Norton Museum of Art

Founded by American industrialist, Ralph Hubbard Norton who headed Acme Steel Company in Chicago and his wife, the Norton Museum of Art was established in 1941. It houses over 8,200 pieces of art, photography and sculpture in its permanent collection in West Palm Beach.

Besides the extensive main gallery that was extensively expanded in 2019, check out Friday evenings for “Art After Dark” experiences or explore their “museum in a garden” with lush landscape home to outdoor sculptures. 

Iconic pieces include art from Monet to Matisse and Picasso to Pollock.

During Shane’s visit, an insightful exhibition “A Personal View on High Fashion & Street Style: Photographs from the Nicola Erni Collection, 1930s to Now” captivated culture and the changing tastes of fashion through the decades.

Norton Museum of Art, Florida
ITTN at Norton Museum of Art, Florida

Visit the gallery or sign up for some fantastic workshops such as the “Make art a family affair!”. Families can participate in a gallery experience followed by a related art workshop ($3 per family & includes admission to the museum – pre-book as spaces are limited).

Admission & Opening Hours

Opening hours are Mon-Thurs and Sat (10 am – 5 pm); Fri (10 am – 10 pm); and Sun (11 am – 5 pm). 

Admission is $18 for adults with children 12 and under free.

ITTN at Florida Huddle 2023

Shane Cullen visited both museums as part of a fam trip during Florida Huddle 2023 with Visit Florida and Discover The Palm Beaches. For more coverage on Florida Huddle, check out:

Shane Cullen
Shane Cullen
Shane Cullen has been managing director of a media production studio for nearly 20 years working on projects for a global clientele. He has worked in the travel industry for over a decade and as a travel journalist since 2015. He is passionate about travel, film & photography. He also has a keen interest in emerging technology.

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