Monday, October 6, 2014

Elegance for sale: Ferncourt in San Mateo Florida

I recently read the following passage in "Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine" by Thomas Graham.
Below Palatka, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, a handful of hearty pioneers had established extensive orange groves. They shipped their fruit out by way of steamboats, but they also wanted a link to Flagler's railroad. Back in March a group of San Mateo citizens had called upon Flagler in St. Augustine and invited him to come down to see the extent of their enterprises. Flagler took them up on their offer, and when they petitioned him for a rail extension and offered to give him land for a right-of-way, he agreed to run a four-mile spur to their village. 
Flagler was so enamored with the little settlement of San Mateo that he purchased two orange groves there, and according to Graham, on New Years Eve Flagler brought the entire population of the town to St. Augustine to celebrate at his ornate Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Florida East Coast Railroad engine #10 and crew, State Archives of Florida

Ralph Crosby, Martha Webster Crosby, maid, and dogs, State Archives of Florida

Railroad freight depot, circa 1891, State Archives of Florida

View in grove of San Mateo Fruit Co., State Archives of Florida

Some facts about San Mateo:
• Located 5 miles south of Palatka on the east side of the St. Johns River, it is the highest point on that side of the river at 85 feet above the waterline
• The town was named after the first settler Mateo Simeon Solana, a Minorcan from St. Augustine
• In 1880 San Mateo had 400 acres of citrus groves
• San Mateo's biggest proponent was Henry Flagler, who supposedly started the San Mateo Cigar Company and offered free lots in San Mateo to anyone who purchased 1,000 cigars*

* From “A Historic Tour Guide to Palatka and Putnam County Florida” written and compiled by Susan Clark

There were three hotels in San Mateo, and my trip to this now unincorporated area in Putnam County was to see the one known as Ferncourt. Ferncourt was built in 1889 by Massachusetts residents Henry B. Bailey and Larkin Trull. Bailey, who was involved with the Boston and Lowell Railroad, helped talk railroad magnate Henry Flagler into running the railroad spur into San Mateo. Bailey was a broker for citrus grown in the area and both shipping and packing of citrus occurred in close proximity to Ferncourt.

Ferncourt was the center of social activity in San Mateo with a large third floor ballroom, perfect for formal dances and spectacular parties, plus it had the area's only tennis courts. The elegant mansion even hosted President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
After World War II, Ferncourt was divided into several apartments and later became a retirement home. After more than a decade of sitting vacant the Victorian beauty was restored in 1989 by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Morgan. It was most recently a bed and breakfast, (see photos below), but it is currently for sale. Anyone out there wanting a 7 bedroom, 9 bathroom piece of Old Florida history should jump on this opportunity!

Much thanks to our Florida Road Trip guide Phil Eschbach and Amanda Baird Schmidt for their assistance in creating this post.


  1. Ferncourt is a gorgeous house!

    1. Pass Tense ... A wonderful Brit bought it, kept it in the best condition until about 2014 when he returned to his islands. It became a poorly maintained rooming house

    2. scratch 2014 .. must have been 2015 and these photos from the 'for sale' by the Brit who was a realtor.

    3. The Brit is Dave Kovar .... yes delete my ramblings but retain the info

  2. One of the best posts I have ever read. Interesting and educational. Thanks for sharing.

  3. My grandparents(Jack and DeeDee Morgan) owned this from 1991-2004. Good memories

    1. ..and your grandparents did the most wonderful job of restoring Fern Court Victorian Inn to its former glory. My late wife and I were indebted to them for all the information they gave us about The Inn when we bought took over running it in 2005.

  4. I grew up knowing the desendants of mr baileys. Went to church and school with them and have always loved this house

  5. My mother owned this house when it was a nursing home. Love the renovations.

  6. This house has many memories. Mary Wells was my Granny. How I miss those days. Cindy Wells Keffer.