DE MESA-SANCHEZ HOUSE: AN ABBREVIATED GUIDED TOUR
AND SUGGESTIONS FOR CROWD CONTROL
The role of the de Mesa-Sanchez House in our interpretive program is
twofold: (1) to present the visitor with a sampling of life in St.
Augustine during the American Territorial Period, particularly the
1830's; (2) to summarize the visitor's tour of San Agust(n Antiguo by
showing how the evolution of the house and its changing ownership
reflected the changes in St. Augustine in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries. The latter is primarily though not exclusively served
by the slide presentation and the exhibits.
The interpretation of the 1830's should be the major concern of the
guide as he or she leads a group through the furnished portion of the
house. We can allow some room for discussion of the building's history,
especially where the architectural evidence is so strong (the interior
windows, the stairs in front of the window). But our main aim is that
visitors should leave the tour with a vivid impression of life here in
the 1830's, and be able to compare and contrast it with life in the
II. DINING ROOM
Here we shall introduce the visitors to the hypothetical "family" who
have come to occupy the de Mesa-Sanchez House. You, the guide, should
move to a position roughly in front of the door leading to the stair
hall. Gathering the group around the dining table, you should introduce
the family as follows:
(1) The family consists of a father, mother, and several children,
including a baby. The number, age and sex of the children are not
important, although we do suggest the inclusion of at least one girl
because of the toy teaset upstairs.
(2) They are fairly well-to-do financially, capable of purchasing the
various items around the room. These are very up-to-date furnishings
for an up-to-date family.
(3) They employ a live-in servant (not a slave), who is minding the
baby while the family has gone sailing, picnicing on Anastasia Island,
or strolling along the bayfront. They might be attending the Episcopal
Church (in contrast to the earlier Spanish inhabitants who were all
You may choose to point out individual pieces, but remember: The more
single furnishings you itemize, the more difficult it becomes to
adequately cover the essential points we want to make. I suggest you
either select a few favorites you like and feel you know well, or that
you learn as many as you can and then alter your focus for different
groups. Please do not try to describe every piece in the house!
Before leaving the dining room (or when you first enter it), we suggest
you mention that this room was the porch shown on the Rocque,Map in the
slide show, during the Second Spanish Period. Point out the interior
windows as evidence.
III. STAIR HALL (DOWNSTAIRS)
We suggest that you continue discussing the architectural evolution of
the house here. They key point is that research indicates that this room
was probably the location of an outside stair during the Second Spanish
Period. Like the porch which became a dining room, this space was en-
closed to create another room.
When you have a large group, say, more than a dozen people, you might
find this space to be a viable forum in which to introduce the next
four rooms: the waiting room/parlor, entrance hall, office, and storage
room. Rather than attempt to cram a large group into any of these small
rooms, or to try to speak to a line of people strung out through more
than one room, you should consider interpreting the functions of those
rooms at this point (the "business-like" office, the more casual waiting
room for male enjoyments across the hall, the central hall which is
typical of American architecture of the period, the storeroom for the
family's trunks and other belongings). Here you can also describe the
size and location of the original de Mesa structure, as well as its ex-
tension to the south by Joseph Stout in the British Period.
You can also anticipate for the visitors some of the individual items
they will see by saying something like, "Notice how the sofa in the
waiting room has been slipcovered to keep off the dust." Or, "When you
pass through the office, look how the mapmaker has left off Lake Okeechobee
on his 1837 map of Florida. Although he probably knew it existed, the
area around it was then occupied by hostile Seminoles. Since he wanted
an accurate survey, he just left it out completely." Or, "Behind these
stairs, when you pass through the storage room, you will see how the
stairs were built in front of an older window." By telling the visitors
to watch for certain furnishings or aspects of the building's architecture,
you can avoid the problems of interpreting to Crunching Crowds or Strung-
Out Stragglers. You might also stand a step or two up the stairs while
you're speaking, thereby keeping people from wandering upstairs unattended,
make yourself heard and seen, and keep the crowd from dispersing throughout
the downstairs. After you're finished, then lead the group through the
four rooms, at a steady but casual pace, leaving some time for questions
if you wish.
IV. STAIR HALL (UPSTAIRS)
Again, use this space to your advantage. If you keep the doors into
the parlor and the exhibit rooms closed, and you stand roughly in front
of the hall cupboard, you should be able to see most everyone, be seen
and heard yourself, and provide a good introduction to the two bedrooms.
Suggest things for the visitor to look for: "Look at the beautiful signed
coverlet on the bed in the children's room." "One of my favorite pieces
in the house will be seen in the master bedroom up front a painted New
England potty commode that's made to appear as a small chest when closed.
It might have been used by the mother, who is sick with consumption
(tuberculosis). You can see her medicines on the chest of drawers.
She was one of many Northerners who came here for health reasons during
the Territorial Period." Give the visitors great expectations they
will pay attention when they see the objects later.
This is one of the few rooms where you can reasonably handle a large
group. Once you have adequately explained the function of the room
(and why it's upstairs) you should feel free to point out a few of the
furnishings, since these are by far the finest in the house. We again
suggest that you select one or two for close attention, but consider
describing different ones for different tours. Unless you know that
a new group isn't close on your heels (listen for the slide show), then
you should skip the balcony. Too many people will stop to take pictures
of the street!
Direct the group into the exhibit rooms and you're ready for the next
(1) Keep the tour under 12 minutes unless you know for certain
that you have more time.
(2) If there are two guides, we suggest you split up between upstairs
and downstairs. (We can, under this arrangement, handle up to three
groups, with even more wandering through the exhibit. This is
obviously not a desirable situation, but it can happen.)
(3) Change your focus for different tours, keeping in mind that we
have one basic storyline we're trying to follow. It's possible to
make the same point from different angles, using different items.
(4) Use your imagination! Be flexible! There is the need for a
stronger element of crowd control under the guided tour system,
but that should only make you sharpen your wits for an ultimately
better presentation. Necessity is, after all, the mother of
Robert C. Stewart