One of St. Augustine’s most eclectic lodging properties has been named one of the “15 Best Resorts in Florida” by readers of Travel + Leisure.
This isn’t the first time The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens has made the annual list, and it’s just one of many accolades the hotel has racked up since opening in 2017.
Ask General Manager Charlie Robles what he attributes to the resounding success of the property and he’ll tell you it’s definitely its uniqueness and history.
“I always like to say you’re two blocks from downtown but two centuries from everything else,” Robles said.
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The Inn encompasses a city block with nine distinct buildings of varying architectural periods and styles centered around a grassy courtyard that is lush and features fire pits, a pool, statues, a koi pond, and fountains.
Thirty units (including 20 suites) are available, and Robles said The Collector is over 90% occupancy year-round.
A past full of stories
The story of how the nine historic structures were tied together in a kind of enclave is as fascinating as the houses themselves.
Kenneth Worcester Dow, the sole heir to the Dow family’s lucrative lumber business, bought the neighborhood’s oldest home, the 1790 Prince Murat House, in the 1930s after falling in love with St. Augustine during his trips.
The structure is made of coquina and, apart from some restoration work, looks very much like it did when Dow and his wife Mary hosted regular guests, including famous writers and actors of the time. .
The Dows were avid collectors of artwork, furniture and other antiques,
“They went to Europe about three or four times a year and brought back all kinds of stuff,” Robles said.
By the early 1950s, Dow had acquired all nine houses on the site, some of which include a former boarding house; a general store; the home of famous writer William Dean Howell; and the Rose House, so named because former resident Jean Gordon, a renowned floral expert, ran a “rose museum” on the property.
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Surrounded by history
In addition to the houses, the 1 acre they sit on has been the site of several important chapters in St. Augustine’s history, including its use as a 16th century hospital (where amputated body parts were known to be thrown out of windows, noted Robles) and cemetery; an 18th century Spanish defense line; and the setting for reading the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that freed Florida’s slave population. Markers around the property offer more information, as does a free guest tour led by docent Melissa Stuart.
In 1989, an aging Dow offered to donate its entire collection to the city of St. Augustine; surprisingly, the city refused it.
Instead, he donated the site to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in 1989. After an 11-year restoration, the Dow Museum of Historic Houses opened in 2000, showcasing the extensive collection.
In 2013 the property was put up for sale, before being bought by David Corneal for $1.1 million, according to Robles, who noted that it was in very dilapidated condition at the time.
“It took almost five years and $9 million to restore it, because so many things had to be repaired and replaced,” Robles said.
The hard work has obviously paid off.
Room rates, which include amenities like kitchenettes, turndown service, daily breakfast and snacks, start at $229 (suites and peak times drive the price up.)
The inn is popular with couples seeking a romantic getaway, family reunions, corporate escapes, and travelers seeking a unique historical experience. Robles, who has a license to marry people, has officiated quite a few small weddings (six guests maximum).
The only 4-Diamond hotel in downtown St. Augustine, Robles said The Collector prides itself on the personalized and hospitable experience its staff provide.
The recent Travel + Leisure award is just another feather in its cap. The Collector took fifth place in the Top 15 Best Hotels in Florida, along with heavyweights like the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island and the White Elephant in Palm Beach.
The grounds of The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens, at 149 Cordova St., are open to the public every first Friday of the month, with live music and refreshments available.