Every inch of St. Augustine, Florida, founded in the 16th century, is filled with something of historical import. Each home, street, and block has a rich past underneath its surface. Although St. Augustine offers “modern” attractions like any good tourist town, its best attractions are undoubtedly the old homes that dot the city. Most date from the 18th or 19th centuries and are great places to soak in St. Augustine’s past.
Some visitors come to St. Augustine specifically to stay in a bed and breakfast that has stood for 200 years, or to study an architectural style not found in their own hometown. Part of what makes St. Augustine special is the style and material of many of its historic homes. Although many are reconstructed, most were fashioned after the house that originally stood on the site. Spanish-style homes are difficult to find and almost impossible to find on the East Coast, unless of course it is a modern reproduction.
To see what kind of houses Spaniards would have occupied in the 1700s, stop by Spanish Quarter Village in the quaint shopping district of St. George Street. Here you will find a number of small houses made to look as they did in 1740. Many homes in the “Village” can be toured for an admission fee. Of special interest is the Gonzales house, a short whitewashed home like many that still stand in Spain, and the Gomez house, a wooden structure. On the opposite side of the street you will find the white Ribera house with its blocky exterior and high garden wall typical to Spanish homes.
One of St. Augustine’s most famous architectural assets is the abundance of balconies that make it a unique city. Many older houses along St. George Street have these wooden Spanish balconies, as do many homes throughout the “Ancient City.” If Spanish houses aren’t your thing, the colonial-style homes built during the 1700s and 1800s are of equal beauty.
Stop by the Tovar House, a lovely red home on St. Francis Street constructed throughout the 18th century. Across the street you’ll find the military barracks that once housed Spanish monks during its days as a monastery. Next door to the Tovar House is the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, known as the “Oldest House” to locals and tourists alike. A tour inside the Oldest House will enlighten you to St. Augustine’s many building styles. The bottom floor, originally the only floor in the house, was the Spanish area where the first family lived in the early 1700s. The second floor, added later during the 1760s, is where an English woman and her husband lived when St. Augustine was given to England. The furnishings here are distinctly more elegant than the sparse items found downstairs.
The Ximenez-Fatio House has been home to both European and American families since the last years of the 18th century. During the decades before the Civil War, it gained a reputation as one of the area’s best inns, and has been restored to appear as it did then. A tour will give you appreciation for the many finely-appointed rooms and outdoor kitchen. You’ll learn that many guests came from up North to partake of St. Augustine’s healthful climate, and numerous visitors chose the Ximenez-Fatio House as their lodging. This is (in my opinion) of the most beautiful houses in St. Augustine.
Located on tiny, narrow Aviles Street, crowded between high fences, other historic homes, and modern boutiques, the Ximenez-Fatio House is a tall white multi-story home. It is much younger than the “Oldest” House but still well over 200 years old.
Stop by the Father Miguel O’Reilly House for another historical tour. Opened a few years ago after a complete renovation, the O’Reilly House is a cheery home on Aviles Street and is also a great stop for a historical house tour. Visitors can see the garden and tour two floors of the house. During the 1700s, a priest called Father O’Reilly occupied this large home and gave his name to the property.
The St. Francis Inn is your best bet if you want to combine visiting a historic home with exploring the world of “ghost hunting.” Begun in the 1790s, the house was completed decades later when a flat roof known as a “mansard roof” was placed on top. You can stay here for a lodging experience you won’t soon forget, and you might see something out of the ordinary if you keep your mind open!
By Lacie Schaeffer