Known as one of the top tourist spots in St. Augustine, the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum has a little piece of history with every footstep tourists and visitors take on the property.
Julia Vaill Gatlin, the museum’s executive director, said that the property is the best dug site in St. Augustine and for good reason, too.
The history of the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum goes back to its original owner, Andres Ximenez, who built it in 1798.
Ximenez, Spanish, was a father and husband with a family of seven. His wife, Juana, and Ximenez had five children.
Juana was a Minorcan in St. Augustine whose father led the group to the territory.
When he built the house, it was two floors. While the family lived upstairs, Ximenez kept a general store, tavern and billiard room on the first floor.
The house looked a lot different from what it does today.
Originally, in 1798, Ximenez built the coquina block house with two levels, tabby floors and a separate coquina kitchen building.
The side of the house that faces Aviles Street is the original portion of the house that was built. Other buildings on the property were created later.
Unfortunately, Ximenez, his wife and three of their children died and Juana’s father, Francisco Pellicer, rents the building out for the next 17 years.
The deceased Ximenez family is buried in Tolomato but their exact location is unknown.
The remaining Ximenez children were sent to live with other families.
In 1823, Margaret Cook rented the house from Pellicer.
According to a Ximenez-Fatio House Museum timeline, Cook was a bride, mother, widow and bride again all before her 20th birthday.
It was also noted that Cook was an astute business woman.
Cook originally came from Charleston with her husband Samuel. After he passed away 1826, Cook used the building as a boarding house and Eliza Whitehurst, also a widow, ran it for her.
It was called Mrs. Whitehurst’s at that time.
Whitehurst was Cook’s neighbor in Charleston.
Also at this time, people were coming to Florida to see what it was all about and when they needed a place to lay their heads, Mrs. Whitehurst’s provided food and lodging to notable travelers, according to the timeline.
Up to 24 guests could be boarded in the building. There was a dining hall and other accommodations.
Unlike today’s hotels, Gatlin said, people had to schedule in advance if they wanted to stay at a boarding house.
Rooms were specialized for visitors as tourists more frequently started visiting St. Augustine. Those with ailments such as tuberculosis and others wanting to escape cold winters visited frequently.
Whitehurst died in 1838 after a Yellow Fever epidemic hit St. Augustine.
After Whitehurst’s death, Cook sold the property to Sarah Petty Anderson for $4,000.
Sarah Petty Anderson
Anderson was raised in the Bahamas but moved to St. Augustine shortly after the Seminole War in 1835, and in 1838, Anderson bought Mrs. Whitehurst’s.
At this point, the house was still in the same orientation as Ximenez had built it, and it is unclear to the museum if Anderson ran it as a boarding house but she is believed to have lived at the house with her family.
According to the timeline, it could be assumed that she took in paying guests.
Anderson was known as Aunt Anderson to friends and family.
By the time that the second Seminole War ended, ownership had transferred to Louisa Fatio.
Before Fatio purchased the house, she was operating the inn in 1850 for Anderson before Anderson left for Tallahassee.
Fatio was a single Swiss woman who was once engaged to a British Naval officer, but he died and she never chose to remarry.
She purchased the house from Anderson for $3,000, and it is now known as Miss Fatio’s in town and to tourists.
It was at this time that the house was expanded and the second wing was added.
Now, in addition to the already established boarding house, there were extra rooms to accommodate guests.
Today, the walkway that connected Fatio’s private home to the boarding rooms is open and acts almost as a wraparound porch.
Back then, Gatlin said, it was closed off and Fatio was protected from those being boarded.
The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America
What visitors see today is the work of the Colonial Dames of America in the state of Florida.
Up until 1939, the property was still owned by Miss Fatio’s heirs.
The Colonial Dames bought it and restored it.
The organization is an unincorporated association of 45 corporate societies with more than 15,000 members, according to the museum information book.
It has been a leader in the field of historic preservation, restoration and interpretation.
When the organization purchased the house, the intent was to turn it into a museum.
The choosing of the time period, décor, and other additions to the house were all added by the Dames.
Through the use of archaeological research from historians like William Seal, the Dames were able to get solid information about the property and how it was ran as a boarding house.
In the museum, there are 16 rooms all interpreted from the period of 1823 to 1860.
This time period was chosen because it encompasses Florida’s territorial period and statehood period, Gatlin said.
The rooms consist of the formal dining room, sea captain’s room, parlors, a frail lady room, a military officer’s room and more.
All rooms are complete with relics and other things of that time period thanks to the Dames who heavily researched that time period.
Ximenez-Fatio House Museum
For those looking to see what a hotel may have been like when America was at its humble beginnings, the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum may be a very good place to start.
The museum is considered to be one of St. Augustine’s best-preserved Spanish colonial dwellings and is also one of the first museums in America to interpret 19th century women’s history.
Because of all of the history, there continues to be digs on the grounds to find more of St. Augustine’s history from way back when.
When the property isn’t being maintained or dug, it is busy hosting weddings and other events.