Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida

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The excess of the Gilded Age is epitomized in the Flagler museum, known as Whitehall during its time.  The feeling I gather as I tour several Gilded Age mansions is described well by Twain’s ideals about this era, capturing well the obsession with wealth, strange extravagance and ostentatious lifestyle that is preserved by these historical landmarks, during a time when many Americans were living in poverty.  The girls do not understand why a person would want or need a home this big (this home was 100,000 square feet) and ask a great deal of questions about the time period.

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Flagler Museum, outside view

The mansion was the winter home of Henry Flagler, a partner in Standard Oil, one of the most profitable companies in history (Flagler Museum brochure, 2015).  The museum is on Coconut Row, and as your drive towards it, you pass a beautiful street with rows of Palm Trees and go over a drawbridge.

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The drive to the Flagler Museum

Walking up to the mansion, you feel you are entering an exclusive resort or hotel, more than a summer home and this was the idea, the home hosted many guests with more than 75 rooms.  A building erected behind it, actually served as a hotel for some time after Flagler’s death, before being torn down.

Flagler hired the same firm that built his Ponce De Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), to design the home (NHL Nomination, National Park Service). The home deemed “Whitehall”, was designed in the neoclassical revival, Beaux Arts style by the renowned Carrère and Hastings architectural firm, who also designed the New York Public Library in the same time period (NHL Nomination, National Park Service).

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Whitehall was built as a wedding gift for Mary Lily Kenan, Henry Flagler’s third wife. Perhaps the most bizarre room is the Organ room, where a permanent organist was employed to play music for guests.  The organist was actually the person who kept scrapbooks about his stay at the house, which left behind much information for historic analysis and helped recreate many of the details about the house (Flagler museum, audio tour 2016).

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Entrance to Flagler Mansion.

The home is significant in preserving the cultural landscape and architectural style of the Gilded Age, and perhaps reminding us that excess does not make one happy. The amount of marble used is unbelievable, and it is interesting to note that Flagler would later fall down the marble steps of Whitehall to his death in 1912 in his old age. Mary Lily is said to have died addicted to opiates, and alone looking out the second story windows of Whitehall (Mciver 1989).  The home is a reminder of this world etched with gold, and stands as a testament to the Gilded age lifestyle.

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Photo of the Grand Ballroom in its heyday.  Photo credit: Flagler Museum, exhibited in the Grand Ballroom

 

Flagler was a hard worker from humble beginnings, as the museum notes in the gallery dedicated to his life.  The work he did in Florida was the beginning of a second career, and allowed the establishment of a connected system of transportation, known as the Florida East Coast Railway.  Flagler’s idea was to allow transportation to be connected in all parts of the state, and landowners petitioned him to extend the railroad south.  After a freeze destroyed crops in the more northern areas, private landowners donated land to further extend the railroad south into the Florida Keys (Flagler Museum, Florida East Coast Railway, http://www.flaglermuseum.us/history/florida-east-coast-railway).

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Backview of the Flagler Museum

According to the Flagler museum,

“…To further develop the area surrounding the Fort Dallas railroad station, Flagler dredged a channel, built streets, instituted the first water and power systems, and financed the town’s first newspaper, the Metropolis. When the town incorporated in 1896, its citizens wanted to honor the man responsible for the city’s development by naming it, “Flagler.” He declined the honor, persuading them to use instead the native american name for the river running through the settlement, “Miama” or “Miami.” “(Flagler Museum, 2016).

The railroad’s growth lead to the development of two million acres of land and this expansion of the railroad put Florida on the map and help spur the economic growth of its tourism stronghold that it is today.

If you go outside you will find a pavilion that holds Railcar number 91, Flagler’s private railroad car.  The girls got to walk inside it and get to see the inner workings, which included a small kitchen.  This was the actual Railcar that Flagler himself road into the Keys for the first time after the seven year project was complete.

In this pavilion, you will also find an indoor cafe, which serves an era-inspired tea.  It is a fun thing to do if you have some extra time at the museum and includes an English-style tea with sandwiches, scones, and assorted pastries created by a chef.

Flagler’s vision was to create an overseas railroad, dubbed “Flagler’s Folly”, as the weather and location of the project posed significant challenges in extending the railroad into the Florida keys. The Keys held special importance during the time, as they served as Florida’s largest city and natural port, as well as were in close proximity to Cuba and Flagler understood the significance of extending the railroad to the port (Hambright, historian at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West).  During the centennial of the overseas railway, Monroe library uploaded a multitude of historic photos documenting the construction and opening of the railway.  Countless, nameless workers built the railroad and many lost their lives to the perils, such as heat, hurricanes, tides, and mosquitoes, as many islets needed to be connected to make the railway possible.  The completed project was called, “the Eight Wonder of the World” and survived until 1935 when it was destroyed by a hurricane.  Despite this, the remaining structure would later serve as the foundation for US Route 1 to Key West.

Below are some photos from this exhibit which you can find here.

The museum credits Flagler with inventing or establishing the vision of modern day Florida, as a tourist haven.  As I look at the many lavish artifacts left behind, I begin to have a revelation that what Flagler is most remembered for is not his wealth, but the good he did for the state of Florida, particularly of using his wealth to connect Florida to the rest of the US, and in realizing his dream of expanding the railroad while building hospitals, schools, systems of electricity, water, and transportation.  You can stop to view some of these extravagant artifacts, like a solid gold tea set and you come away with a sense of thinking about what is important and what is left to the waste side looking back.

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Today, the mansion is almost a reminder of the excess and extremity that wealth can bring, reminding us that perhaps what one does in life is more important than what one accumulates.

A visit to the Flagler museum will provide a good window into history and give you a great deal to think about.  As Mark Twain said in critique of this time in American history,  “What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”— Mark Twain-1871

Links: 

Flagler Museum website, http://www.flaglermuseum.us/ Accessed April 27, 2016

Hambright, S. quoted in `Flagler’s Folly’: An `Overseas’ Railroad To Key West, Chicago Tribute.  March 08, 1998|By Luann Grosscup. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-03-08/travel/9803080050_1_flagler-s-folly-henry-morrison-flagler-florida-keys  Accessed April 27, 2016

Mciver, S.  July 2, 1989.  The Tragic Mistress of Whitehall.  http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1989-07-02/features/8902190293_1_robert-worth-bingham-coffin-henry-morrison-flagler  Accessed April 27, 2016.

National Historic Landmark Nomination, Whitehall, National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/nhl/find/statelists/fl/Flagler.pdf  Accessed April 27, 2016.

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Maple Weekend, Dutchess County, NY

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Lineup of our maple tour breakfast, Cronin’s Maple Farm, Crown Maple, and Soukup Farms Products

This weekend our drive focused on touring the sugar houses in our area for Maple weekend. Agricultural tourism is a great way to appreciate nature and support local vendors.    You can make maple weekend an annual tradition, and visit some of the farms that are open during the year, as some remain open after maple weekend or host special events during the year.  All the farms we visited also have websites that sell their products and will gladly ship them to you directly.

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My mom’s French Toast recipe, passed on to me, with New York Maple, Powdered Sugar, and Strawberries.  More maple was added later 🙂 

During maple weekend, many host pancake breakfasts and allow you to sample their products.  The thing I love about maple weekend is seeing the pride the farmers take in producing these wonderful products, and knowing this in turn protects beautiful natural areas and wildlife, among other benefits.  My girls enjoy learning where their food comes from, and it is something that has been such a good experience for them to make healthier food choices.   As you taste all the products, you can select your favorite products to make some amazing gift baskets. Best of all, if you buy a sampling, you will have maple syrup for awhile.

Last year, maple syrup production in New York state reached the highest rate in 70 years, despite the season being reduced to a mere 26 days. Currently, NY is the second largest maple syrup producer in the nation after Vermont (Governor’s Press Office Release, 2015).  According to the press release, the growth is due in large part to modern vacuum systems which replaced the more labor-intensive tree taps with metal buckets, which has helped increase production per tap.

SAMSUNG CSCThe drive through Dover Plains to visit the maple farms.

First, the number one site you should visit to plan your maple weekend is www.nysmaple.com The site allows you to search maple farms across New York State plan your tour using an interactive tool.  The site also provides educational resources, such as videos for each grade level, and lessons with materials for students to learn about maple syrup production which tie into science, social studies and math. In addition, there is a section that provides recipes for all that maple syrup you will bring home.

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The girls excited to try more maple syrup at Cronin Maple Farm, Hopewell Junction, NY
Our tour began at Crown Maple, one of the larger maple farms.  Driving up to the farm provides a beautiful, picturesque view of typical Dutchess county scenery.  The girls stopped to enjoy smores in the outdoor firepit and a sampling of maple popcorn, granola, and maple cotton candy.  All of these products give me really great ideas about how to use maple at home, as it is better to use natural sweeteners.  What I most love about Crown is the grounds, as they provide a seasonal trail for walking around the farm and a gift shop that is really beautifully decorated.  The tasting room is very elegant, it is set up much like a wine tasting room, and the employees are very friendly and provide us some of the details about their seasonal maple production. My favorite product from Crown is probably the light Amber Syrup, as it is very golden in color, it has a more delicate flavor, especially for cocktails and things that require a lighter maple flavor.  Crown is open year round.

 

We continued down the road on our tour to find Soukup Farms, a family owned operation. There we were warmly greeted by Jennifer Soukup, who gave us a wonderful tour.  Soukup has been in business for 61 years, and recently her son left corporate America to join the family business. Originally a dairy farm, the farm recently added a new sugar house and has been growing.  I really enjoyed seeing how the boiler is operated, as they have a traditional, wood-burning boiler for the sap, and it really makes you appreciate the process.

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A traditional, wood burning boiler being loaded at Soukup Farms, Dover Plains, NY

Soukup has some really delicious maple products and our favorite is the maple hot sauce- it’s amazing. smokey, maplely and then the heat hits you.  They have an array of unique, elegant maple bottles, probably my favorite selection of bottles of the whole tour. I loved the gingerbread shaped maple syrup bottles, perfect for holiday gifts. I also loved the flavor of their syrups, they are earthy, sweet, and perfectly balanced.  It is evident that they are very knowledgeable about maple production, and it comes through in the quality of their products.

Maple syrup comes in four grades, Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark.  All are equally delicious.  I had a conversation with someone at the counter, and he felt that maybe with the dark you need a little less, because there is more maple flavor, and the lighter ones are a bit more delicate in flavor.  Whichever you choose, they are all great.

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Maple tree in front of Soukup Farms, Dover Plains, NY

The farm has benefited from the new system of vacuum extraction, instead of metal buckets as the owner explains these required being emptied up to twice a day.  The farm continues to grow.  Ms. Soukup explains to my daughters that the new tubing system needs to be checked for visitors like squirrels, who also love the sweet taste. 🙂   My daughters really enjoyed watching the traditional boiler with the wood burner being loaded to boil, the smell is smokey and sweet.  I was highly educated at this farm and really got to see an in-depth view of the process from start to finish.

Also worth making note of was JSK Cattle Company who made an amazing London Broil and were giving samples during our visit.  We ended up buying a roast and brisket, all pasture raised and horomone/antibotic free beef, and it tastes so delicious, really like restaurant quality beef.  JSK Cattle is a family farm and provides a CSA for those local in the Hudson Valley.  They are trying to expand their business to include Hopewell Junction, for those neighbors who might be interested.

Our last stop of maple weekend is Cronin’s Maple Farm.  This farm is actually owned by one of our neighbors, right here in Hopewell Junction. We’ve been eating their maple syrup throughout the year, delivered to our door, and my favorite is the dark amber on pancakes, it is dark and rich, viscous and just the right amount of sweet.  They also making an amazing maple cream that comes in large jars, as well as maple nuts and candies.  Their maple cream is probably my favorite because it tastes like maple caramel, it would be great as an icing or on cookies. I also picked up their Maple Bourbon, which I am planning to make some deserts with.

As we entered, we could see someone creating art out of the tree stumps right before our eyes, a very interesting hobby.  It was pretty amazing to watch how quickly he carved the bear out of nothing but a tree stump with an electric saw, and made it look like a work of art. The girls sat there about 10 minutes observing the process. These beautiful wooden sculptures are available for sale.

Our Maple Tour Breakfast

To end our tour the next morning, we made a breakfast with all the new ingredients we collected on our tour.  One fond memory I have of my childhood is of my mom making French Toast and Pancakes.  It was one of our traditions.  In our house, Adam now makes the pancake mix from scratch, and I make the French Toast; it’s our little deal to take turns making breakfast.  We usually have pancakes more often.   The French toast is very easy to make. I first soak the bread in plain milk and then dip the bread in beaten eggs with all the ingredients I feel like using that day. Today I opted to use natural, bourbon vanilla flavor, pumpkin spice, maple sugar, and a little cinnamon inside the french toast batter.  It looks like adding the maple sugar helps caramelize the toast, just keep a close eye on it.

The hot sauce from Soukup Farms went great on the eggs and sausage.  We put the maple we already had open from Cronin Farms.  We also used some of the maple sugar from Crown Maple in our French Toast batter.  We will probably be comparing all the different maple syrups throughout the year, and using them in different recipes, all are slightly different but all equally good.  The NY state maple website I mentioned above has some recipes worth a try.

The best part about maple week, other than eating great food, is providing this experience to our kids. The girls really take pride in supporting local farms, as they should, and I am just proud we can provide them the opportunity to understand the work that goes into making natural foods, and have them pass on this tradition to their families.

Upcoming Events: 

Some of the farms had flyers for upcoming events, so I will list these below, so check out their webpages for more details.  All the pages are linked above in the article if you want to buy syrup from them directly.

Links:

http://www.nysmaple.com/

Governor’s Press Relsease, June 23, 2015, Accessed 4/3/2016  https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-maple-syrup-production-new-york-hits-70-year-high

http://www.croninsmaplefarm.com/

http://www.soukupfarms.com/

https://www.crownmaple.com/

http://www.jskcattlecompany.com/