Lake Catherine Apartments
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One of Henry Flagler's many enterprises, The Chuluota Land Company, built a 2 1/2 story brick hotel on Lake Catherine in Chuluota, Florida, close to a spur of Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway. The hotel was named Chuluota Inn.
The Chuluota Inn opened for business Thanksgiving Day, 1914. It had 25 hotel rooms built around a central staircase that led to the second floor. The inn also had several fireplaces, a wide front porch, an entry lobby, and dining room with a large kitchen to support it. The innkeeper's apartment was on the third floor. Supplies needed to run the inn were brought in by a spur of Henry Flagler's East Coast Railway.
Henry Flagler was a wealthy industrialist who built several large hotels in St. Augustine, Florida. The hotels, massive structures of about 500 rooms each, were The Ponce DeLeon and The Alcazar. Wealthy northerners vacationed there after traveling down in luxury railway cars. Some stayed in these hotels for the winter.
Flagler built the much smaller Chuluota Inn for wealthy northerners staying in his St. Augustine hotels, who wanted a trip to a hunting lodge in the country. The Chuluota facility was also used as a vacation place for railroad supervisors employed by Flagler's companies.
There were major hurricanes in the early 20th century, which might account for the way the 2½ story building was constructed. It has 3 courses of brick laid side-by-side, creating walls that are 14" thick. The effect created by these heavy brick walls is like that found in adobe construction—the interior of the building stays cool during hot sunny days; then, during the night, the heat absorbed by the brick during the day, disburses. The building is remarkably comfortable and draft-free both summer and winter.
The building has large windows, which were kept open for cooling in those days prior to air-conditioning. Many of the windows still have their original "wavy" 90-year-old glass. The second story floors of hard southern pine were all built to slope slightly toward the center stairwell, to drain out of the building any storm-force rain that might blow in through the upper windows during a hurricane.
Two of the original claw-foot tubs, a large kitchen chopping block, and many of the steam-heat radiators used in the hotel, are still on the property. There are two brick fireplaces. One fireplace is located where the dining room once was, and the other fireplace is where the lounge was.
An undated old news clipping at the Seminole County Historical Society states that guests of the Lake Catherine Inn included the DuPonts, Dodges, Cabots, and Rockefellers. A 1979 clipping recalls the memories of a 1960’s real estate developer who found an old register from the hotel. The name of a count and a princess appeared in the old book. He speculated they came down on the railway from St. Augustine, "I guess they came here to see the wilds."
In the early 20th century a rural settlement of cattle ranching families and sawmills built up around Lake Mills in Chuluota. Seven sawmills thrived in the early 1900’s. The Chuluota Inn was featured in brochures promoting the town and the county in the mid 1920’s. In 1925 a room at the inn was $4.00 a day, including meals. The Sanford Herald ran ads in the December, 1928 issues, stating:
"Chuluota Inn on Lake Catherine, a quiet restful resort in the lake section of Florida, an hour’s ride by auto from the coast at Indian River City and forty minutes over paved highway from Sanford and Orlando. A modern hotel, comfortable rooms, steam heat, hot and cold running water and best of meals, fresh eggs and rich milk, cream and fresh vegetables from our own and local farms. For recreation the lover of natural sport will find good hunting and fishing at CHULUOTA and in that delightful climate the feeling of the outdoors is a recreation in itself."
In the late 1920’s, Florida’s real estate boom went bust and the sawmills closed. The trains stopped coming in the 1930’s. Soon the hotel on Lake Catherine closed. The train tracks were taken up in the 1940's.
By the late 1950's the area was thriving again when numerous retired military families built new homes in the subdivision around the inn. The hotel and dining room was reopened, now under the name Lake Catherine Inn. It became somewhat of a centerpiece for the community. The Chuluota Sportsmen's Club, the Hobby Craft Club, and American Legion Post #225 all held meetings at the inn. There were Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve parties, and dinner-dances. A monthly newsletter, "The Chuluota Challenger," which was hand-typed, mimeographed, and distributed to area residents, listed the meetings held at Lake Catherine Inn, as well as other news in the community.
By the early 1970’s the inn closed again. This time the building was converted to another use, and operated as a nursing home for several years. Although the configuration seemed well-suited for this use, there apparently was not enough business to support it, and the business closed. By the 1980's, the building’s use changed again, this time to apartments.
A building contractor owned it during the 1990’s.
He made some changes and improvements to the apartments. The current
owners, who are antique lovers, purchased it in 2001. We have been catching
up on maintenance, while trying to preserve as much as possible of the
original construction and character of the building. We would like to
think Henry Flagler would be proud of it.
Henry Flagler was born in 1830 in New York. With an eighth-grade education, he moved to Ohio where he worked in a grain store, being promoted to sales staff by 1849, and becoming a partner in 1852. In 1853 he married Mary Harkness.
In 1862 Flagler founded a salt mining business in Michigan, but the end of the civil war caused a drop in demand and the company collapsed. Flagler reentered the grain business as a merchant and met John D. Rockefeller. Cleveland was becoming the center of the oil refining industry in America; and Rockefeller left to start his own refinery. In 1867 Rockefeller approached Flagler for venture capital. They formed a Rockefeller, Andrews and Flagler partnership. In 1870 the partnership became a joint-stock corporation named Standard Oil, which led the American oil refining industry by 1872. Henry Flagler moved his family to New York City.
By 1878 Flagler’s wife was very ill. On advice from Mary’s physician they visited Jacksonville, Florida during the winter. She grew worse, and died in 1881. Two years later Henry Flagler married Ida Alice Shourds. The couple traveled to St. Augustine. They found the city charming but the hotel facilities and transportation inadequate. However, Flagler recognized Florida’s potential for attracting visitors.
In 1885 Henry Flagler returned to Florida to begin construction on the elaborate 540 room Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, where wealthy northerners would stay in the winter. Recognizing the need for better transportation if his hotel ventures were to be successful, Flagler purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax Railroad (the first of what would become the Florida East Coast Railway in 1895). The Ponce de Leon Hotel was an instant success when it opened in 1888.
Two years later, Flagler built a railroad bridge across the St. Johns River to gain access to the southern half of Florida, and purchased the Hotel Ormond. By 1894 he had extended his railroad to West Palm Beach and built the 1150-room Royal Poinciana Hotel on the shores of Lake Worth in Palm Beach. Then, in 1896 Flagler built the Palm Beach Inn, renamed in 1901 as it is known today--The Breakers, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
After severe freezes hit the Palm Beach area in 1894 and 1895, Henry Flagler decided to extend his railroad 60 miles further south. He was offered free land in exchange for laying rail tracks. His railway reached Biscayne Bay by 1896. Flagler dredged a channel, built streets, began the first water and power systems, and financed the first newspaper. When the town incorporated in 1897 its citizens wanted to call it "Flagler" in his honor; but Henry persuaded them to use an old Indian name, "Miami." In 1897 Flagler opened the exclusive Royal Palm Hotel there.
Flagler’s second wife Ida had been institutionalized for mental illness since 1895. Incurable insanity was grounds for their divorce. Flagler married his third wife Mary Lily Kenan in 1901. Whitehall, built in Palm Beach in 1902, was Flagler's 60,000 square foot wedding present to her. The 55-room mansion was their winter retreat. It established Palm Beach as a winter resort for the wealthy members of America’s Gilded Age.
Henry Flagler decided to extend his East Coast
Railway to Key West, Florida’s most populated city (20,000) at the time.
It was 128 miles past the end of the Florida peninsula, but a gateway
to trade with Cuba and Latin America. The last portion of the railway
was completed in 1912, the same year he started construction on a small
hotel in largely undeveloped Chuluota, Florida, for people who wanted
the experience of a stay on the frontier.
A Standard Oil Company document signed by Henry M. Flagler and John D. Rockefeller Dec 23, 1857
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