Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida

The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine is truly a treasure. It bills itself as “splendors of the Gilded Age,” and it is — with all the beauty and quirks of the era. It is housed in the former Hotel Alcazar, built in 1887 by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler in the Spanish Renaissance style. After the resort hotel closed, Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner purchased the building to house his extensive collection. He opened the museum two years later.

Exterior shots of the former luxury hotel:

Entrance courtyard:

As you can imagine, the interior is just as grand; this was the largest indoor swimming pool in the United States when it was built. Those steps leading to the lowest level were the steps into the water; now they lead into the cafe. Daredevils dove off the top balcony into water that smelled a bit of sulphur:

Here’s the ballroom; the balcony you see overlooks the swimming pool. There would be a band at this level at each end of the pool taking turns playing so that there was always music for the dances.

Here’s an interior shot of one of the public rooms:

The room from which I’m taking the photo is the glass room. Here it is from above:

In the center are the two tables of cut glass and all along the periphery is various art glass:

Look at these Venetian bangles!

A room adjacent to this room contains beautiful stained glass, such as this Tiffany window:

The first room when entering the museum is much less grand in style, but probably the most fun:

Yes, that’s an alligator hanging from the ceiling. There’s mineral and shell collections, a shrunken head, a collection of typewriters:

There was a small Native American collection:

I enjoyed seeing the Italian shell cameos. Here’s Medusa:

And I believe these depict the Muses?

Here’s sand art bottles, made by a gentleman from Iowa; these are natural colors of sand he painstakingly sorted and then places in a bottle to make the picture:

And my last photographs from this room are of a blown glass steam engine:

And a detail:

This room could be an entire museum!

The music room was also on this level, and contains many working mechanical musical instruments from the Gilded Age. I timed my visit to be there during the demonstration of all of them (check with the museum for times), which was a real treat. Here’s one of the more elaborate ones:

Housed by the former baths (there was a sauna, etc) was this toaster collection, among other things:

And elsewhere, some examples of hair art. Here’s flowers made with human hair:

And jewelry made with hair as well. Look at the netted-looking piece, it looks like that metal mesh tubing that can be purchased now!

There were many needlepoint samplers, collections of buttons (brass, mother-of-pearl, etc.), and things made out of the buttons, such as this teapot:

Of course, there was ornate furniture, statuary, portraits, and at least one tapestry. There was art made out of shells, cigar bands, and more. I saw collections of hats and shaving mugs — and one of the collections I most enjoyed was the beaded purses. I would estimate that there may have been 100 of them in various display cabinets. The lighting in the museum is varied, so I’ll close with a few pictures of those purses:

This museum is very much worth a visit if you are anywhere near St. Augustine!

4 Replies to “Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida”

  1. This is a breathtaking museum. And thanks for the great sampling of its wonders. I had never heard of this place, now it goes on my list of things to do in Florida as number 1. The Miser’s Purse with all the beadwork is an exceptional piece. The glass collection is fabulous. I am so glad you posted these photos.

    Those railroad barons knew how to live.

    1. Sylvia, I hadn’t heard of it either until I started researching St. Augustine. I have read of it as the Smithsonian of the South (or the Little Smithsonian, something like that), and that’s how it felt: “Our Nation’s attic” with the great combination of things. I love museums that are more than a collection too, when they’re housed in amazing buildings. I would definitely go back.

      James J Hill is our local railroad baron — his house is fun to tour, but unfortunately not furnished.

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