St. Augustine, America’s First City, is a community of historic homes.
There are about 30 colonial period dwellings in the streets around the Plaza de la Constitucion. Numerous residences in North City, the neighborhood bordering the Castillo de San Marcos, date from the late 1800s.
Victorian homes abound in Lincolnville and many beautiful domiciles from the Flagler era surround Memorial Presbyterian Church.
On Anastasia Island visitors can see the Lighthouse Keepers’ House, now a museum, and view several impressive homes in Lighthouse Park.
The most visible, visitor-friendly buildings are the Oldest House (14 St. Francis St.), Pena Peck House (143 St. George St.), Ximenez-Fatio House (20 Aviles St.), O’Reilly House (32 Aviles St.) and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (14 St. George St.).
All these buildings fit into the category of Colonial Period heritage. Colonial Period is considered the First Spanish Period (1565-1763), the British Period (1763-1784) and the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821). Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821.
From 1978 to 1981, the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board did a significant study of historic buildings. The criteria were any building more than 50 years of age at the time of the survey and located within delineated districts. These buildings were visited, documented, and forms were filed for future use.
Dr. William R. Adams, director of the St. Augustine Preservation Board from 1977 to 1985, wrote in a St. Augustine Record article May 16, 1981, that preservation efforts began in the 1930s with “the State of Florida’s endorsement of restoration efforts.” Adams said, “The preservation of historic buildings logically begins with their identification and description.” A large staff roamed the streets with clipboards and cameras describing all these buildings. The files are available in the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library and in City Hall.
St. George Street is peppered with historic buildings, but it is necessary to read the bronze plaques to ascertain the historic value. Buildings constructed for the 1965 celebration of the 400th anniversary of St. Augustine dot the corridor.
The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse is a verifiable Colonial Period building (though maybe not a schoolhouse) but it doesn’t have a plaque. Known as the Genopoly House for its builder Juan Genopoly, it is the only known surviving Second Spanish Period frame building in the oldest city.
Walk a little further and you can see the Rodriquez-Avero-Sanchez House on the right. Across the street is the Avero House incorporating St. Photios Shrine within its walls. Bronze plaques verify their authenticity. Beside the Avero house is the DeMesa Sanchez House, an excellent example of the evolution of colonial construction.
Head down St. George Street and cross the plaza. Facing the entrance of Trinity Parish is the home of two governors named Horruytiner. It dates back to our earliest Spanish period and was home to an uncle and nephew who were governors of St. Augustine. It has always been a residence and never a tourist attraction. It remains one of our finest examples of Colonial Period architecture. A parking lot separates the Horruytiner house from another historic home. The Paredes-Segui-MacMillan house is a First Spanish Period reconstructed and restored building.
Just past those Colonial Period buildings one can find early 1900s structures in Palm Row, a block of 1900s residences stretched between St. George and Cordova streets. Further down the road sits The “Painted Lady,” a beautiful Queen Anne building on St. Francis Street used by the Florida National Guard for offices. Beside that is the Fernandez-Llambias house representing the Minorcan heritage. The contrast of the old Colonial and the later Victorian is eye-catching.
Although no longer a home, the St. Francis Inn is one of St. Augustine’s finest and oldest building serving the public as a bed-and-breakfast for decades. All these structures can be seen in a small area between the bayfront and Maria Sanchez Creek.
The largest concentration of Victorian Era homes is in Lincolnville, and it is worth the drive up and down the streets to see the stately residences. An elegant pink home on Bridge Street reflects the beauty these homes bring to the area. Also in Lincolnville is Yallaha on Bridge Street, a plantation home dating to the 1840s and still a residence.
Lesser known historic structures are the Abbott Tract houses constructed between 1872 and 1894 by Lucy Abbott during her reign as the first female developer. Abbott Mansion on Joiner Street is a three-story structure currently functioning as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Originally built with a Mansard roof and two-story, wrap-around porch, the structure dominated the view of North City for years. At the north end of Water St. is one of the oldest brick houses. The elegant Queen Anne residence was built around 1890 for bank president John T. Dismukes.
The Lighthouse Keepers’ house, built in 1874, is now a museum and incorporates the earliest years of our town in its history by virtue of the fact that the earlier watchtowers preceded the guardians of the town on that site.
Charles Tingley of the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library located in the historic Segui Kirby-Smith home on Aviles Street said, “Many people come in here researching historic homes.” The files for the homes are available. He commented that most people come in to ask about the history of a house they bought. “They want to know who lived there and what changes had been made.”
Paul Weaver, a member of the staff during the historic survey, operates Historic Properties Associates and said there are “Many new National Register districts since the survey: Lincolnville, North City, Nelmar Terrace and Fullerwood.”