Stand in the rooms where students and visitors passed their time more than 250 years ago.
If you have ever taken a stroll down St. George Street you may have seen the two story, aged, wooden building just south of the city gates. I've passed the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse myself a number of times but somehow never noticed the huge anchor and chain that wrap the building. The chain and anchor were installed in 1937 to prevent the building from floating away in a hurricane. The exact year of construction is unknown but it is boasted as the oldest wooden school building in the United States. Some people in New York however claim this is incorrect and point to the Voorlezer's House in Staten Island as the oldest; I will let you decide which building you think is the true title holder.
The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse with the huge anchor holding the building in place.
Not only had I missed the massive anchor on St. George Street I also had never seen the garden or realized you could go inside of the schoolhouse. The automated student and teacher mannequins inside the schoolhouse gave us a short history lesson on the building dating back to 1716. There was an area below the steps referred to as The Dungeon where students were put in timeout if they were a disruption to class, definitely not a place you would want to be.
The students and teacher in the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse.
You can take a peek up the steps to the living space the teacher had for his family, a small space compared to most homes today. He had what he needed though and with a detached kitchen there was little worry of a fire starting. The garden area behind the schoolhouse is peaceful and serene, I could imagine students sitting out there finishing their homework or maybe playing a game of hide and seek. I was thinking how pleasant it would be to read out there on one of the benches, that is until my husband crashed into my thoughts with the loud bell. Apparently it was time for class.
My husband thought he was hilarious when he scared me by ringing the bell.
A short walk down St. George Street and across the square led us to the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum, another historic landmark where you can really feel the history. So many travelers have come through this old boarding house and walked up the same set of stairs to reach the second story. There was an interview process with the lady of the house that required a letter of recommendation to become a guest at the Ximenez-Fatio House -- only upstanding individuals were accepted. Once accepted, they were treated to fine dining multiple times a day and elegant lodging that included water for as many baths as you would like. I imagine many took advantage of multiple baths in the brutally hot summers here without any fans.
A view of the Ximenez-Fatio House from the courtyard area.
There are different rooms set up for the various guests welcomed over the years ranging from ship captains and military leaders, to families and naturalists. I was stunned when we entered the naturalist's room to find a rifle leaning up against a desk set up with paint and art supplies. A gun is not an item I would have expected to see in a wildlife expert's supplies. The tour guide explained that the birds would fly away, or the deer would run off before the artist had a chance to capture their beauty. Therefore the artist would have to kill them and bring them back to be properly depicted in the artwork; thank goodness today we have the technology to take photos.
The naturalist's room at the Ximenez-Fatio House.
Along with the age of these two historic sites, they also have detached kitchens in common. With a retired fire marshal as a father I was really impressed with the thought process behind this. If there was a fire in the kitchen there would be less worry that the whole house would burn down by having the kitchen separate. The kitchen at the Ximenez-Fatio House even smelled like food when I walked through, I think it was the rosemary hanging from the ceiling that was so enticing.
The most valuable item in the kitchen at the Ximenez-Fatio House was the box of spices set out on the table here. This was locked up nightly to prevent a theft.
The Colonial Dames have maintained the Ximenez-Fatio House as the most authentic historic house in the country. Since its inception as a boarding house it has been owned and operated by only women, an impressive feat dating back to the early 1800's. I really enjoyed how the rooms were kept alive, it felt as if an 1800's guest would walk in the door and the inn would be ready to properly host them.
If you are looking for some history in St. Augustine without the huge crowds and the rushing around, visit to these two historic places. The most hurried I felt on Saturday morning was when we were ordering our breakfast at a cafe before going on the tours. The guide at the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum allowed for plenty of time in between rooms to take pictures and fully get into the story being told. And with The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse being a self guided tour, we could take as long as we wanted looking at the statues and flowers in the garden.
If you are going to check out both tours, make a trip out of it! Here are my recommendations for food, drinks, lodging, and more history near by:
Florida Cracker Cafe: You can stop by here on your way to the Ximenez-Fatio House, it's right on St. George Street. Grab a cup of chowder, some datil pepper chicken wings or conch fritters in between tours.
Mill Top Tavern: Take in a view of the Matanzas River over a cold drink with live music playing in the background.
Flagler's Legacy: Explore the old Hotel Ponce de Leon now home to my alma mater, Flagler College.
Colonial Quarter: Get hands on with history and interact with colonial actors to see how people lived in St. Augustine many years ago.
Pirate & Treasure Museum: Located right along the bayfront, stop by here to view their collection of pirate artifacts dating back 300 years!
St. George Inn: This elegant 25 room inn is right on St. George Street and is the perfect place to stay if you want to immerse yourself in St. Augustine's history.
Local St. Augustine blogger Meaghan Alvarado is a Flagler College graduate who writes on many topics ranging from fashion and food to crafts and local St. Augustine happenings. Check out her personal blog at http://justmeaghan.com/.