History of the DeMesa-Sanchez House
Today we are gathered in the courtyard of one of America's most historic
buildings. No, George Washington did not sleep here nor was an important document
signed here. This building, nevertheless, is historic because it is one of the
survivors of a great people who came to the New World, not from England, but from
Spain, the country that has settled and occupied most of the Western Hemisphere.
The Spanish founded and lived in St. Augustine for 235 years, and even the
British were here for two decades, but of this lengthy colonial era and of the
thousands of buildings constructed by the people of this colonial community, only
thirty-six are left as reminders of their makers.
This venerable building, the DeMesa-Sanchez House, belongs to this select
group, and is among a dozen which were built in the mid-eighteenth century,
decades before the English colonists up north declared their independence from
What do we know about the men and women who built, lived in, and used this
building for the last two centuries? After several years of architectural, ar-
chaeological, and historical research, we now know a great deal about this
The first known owner, and perhaps builder, of the house is Antonio de
Mesa, a Mexican who came to St. Augustine by the 1740's where he became an em-
ployee in the Royal Treasury. However, when DeMesa lived here with his wife and
seven children, the house looked very different than it does today. This large
and rambling building started as a small, one-room, one-story residence constructed
out of the durable shellstone the Spanish called coquina.
DeMesa lived in his cramped residence only until 1763, the year when England
gained control of Florida and most of the Spanish inhabitants of St. Augustine left
for Cuba. In the twenty-one year British period, the house was owned by three
different parties, the most important being Joseph Stout, a Philadelphian who came
to Florida as a planter and plantation manager. Although Stout acquired the pro-
perty in 1771, he mainly lived on his indigo plantation south of Fort Matanzas.
This house was used for his export offices and for a place to stay when he and his
family visited the big city. And to better suit his needs, Stout enlarged the
small coquina house by adding several rooms along the street.
Shortly after making these improvements, Stout learned that Spain had re-
gained control of Florida, and, like the Spanish before, the English settlers of
St. Augustine abandoned the city to the new rulers. In 1784, Stout sold his house
to one of the first arrivals to the town, don Juan Sanchez, the royal master caulker
who had the all-important job of preventing the ships from leaking.
Sanchez was one of the leading Spaniards in the community. He had all the
right family and personal connections. His daughter was married to an official
on the governor's staff, and his ties with the Royal Treasurer led to the relocation
of the Florida Treasury to a part of the building in the mid-1790's.
Sanchez also had some money, and as most homeowners of means, he enlarged
his house to his liking. The building took on much of its current appearance by
1803. Sanchez built an east wing, added a second floor over the entire structure,
and constructed a detached one-story coquina kitchen to the rear of his residence.
Members of the Sanchez family lived here until the United States acquired Florida
in 1821, although they did not sell it until 1832 for the sum of $1,000.
The 1830's were a boom period for St. Augustine as many visitors and new
residents sought refuge here from cold northern winters or to recover from a
lingering illness. One such newcomer was James Lisk, a carpenter from upper
New York state who bought the house in 1835 and who proceeded to change the
Sanchez building into its present size and appearance. He enclosed several
porches and integrated the detached kitchen into the house, but he also did
something that brought some color to this increasingly American town: he added
a new layer of stucco over the coquina, scored it, and painted it pink. Who said
our ancestors were dull people?
Since the late 1830's, the house has had twenty different owners, most of
whom altered the building in some way, and it has been put to many diverse uses:
a boarding house, barber shop, restaurant, cigar and music shops, newspaper office,
antiques shop, and a museum.
In 1965 it was acquired by the St. Augustine Restoration Foundation which
transferred the house to the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board twelve
years later. Since 1977, the Preservation Board has been conducting research
and restoring the DeMesa-Sanchez House to its 1830's appearance since a restoration
to this period enabled us to retain much of the original and thus historic fabric
of the building.
It is gratifying for me to know that this four year intensive effort to be
as accurate as possible is recognized today by the Woodmen of the World. I am
sure Antonio de Mesa, Juan Sanchez, and James Lisk would also be pleased.
Dr. Michael C. Scardaville
Woodmen of the World Presentation
May 2, 1981