Gayle Prevatt 7 December 1985
Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board
P.O. Box 1987
St. Augustine, Fl. 32085
Sorry to delay so long in writing back. As you and Bob have probably
surmised, my thesis is at a standstill. I'm summoning the energy to make
one last push to hand in a draft by 1 March.
I was attracted to the deMesa-Sanchez House because of its vernacular
character and its multi-cultural evolutionary history. I felt it was time to
try and examine a vernacular house alone and 3-dimensionally instead of in
large numbers from which broad general patterns of form and association could
be distilled (the usual vernacular study based largely on floor plans). I
felt I could look at the evolution of the house as an example of conflicting
notions of "house".
What I got into was confusion over the large numbers of issues pertinent
to the house in it's individual stages of evolution and thus confusion over
what I should be focusing upon as a consistent theme through all the stages.
Specifically, I've found that no one category of data is continuously repre-
sented through each stage of evolution----stair position, heat source, out-
building size, function, and placement, roofing, color palette, room function,
yard use, etc. The American Territorial Period is not as fully treated as I
would like. Vagaries of architectural remains and their associations make
everything I might conclude suspect. However, since my focus is still unclear,
perhaps these problems aren't as bad as I think.
So far, I ve nearly completed pencil drawings, to scale, of the actual
remaining fabric of each stage of evolution (at least as far as I can tell
from the architectural, archaeological, and archival work of others). I
have archival photographic inclusions, and the usual series of archival town
I've drafted the basis of a first chapter setting the historical and
physical context of St. Augustine with particular attention to the Town
Planning Ordinances of the Laws of the Indies. I believe it's important as
context even for the English and American occupations. I've applied the
ordinances to St. Augustine before 1763. As expected, there's considerable
conformance given limitations of topography and various landschape-altering
disaster. It's a point of departure for considering how different cultures
relate to a fixed town plan given what we know about Hispanic and Anglo
attitudes about house location relative to town squares and plazas.
I suppose one of my most immediate impressions was the enormous effort
put into changing the house by the successive occupants. In contrast to what
others have found at other houses in St. Augustine, the Englishman Stout had
a substantial impact on the character of deMesa's little one-room house and
subsequently the streetscape. Stout's creation of a central hall plan (and
here the archaeological evidence is tenuous) shifted the focus of the house
in a distinctly cultural way--from the private spaces in the rear (the court-
yard) to the street. With the second story addition (?) the effort seems
remarkable if one considers that this "townhouse" wasn't even the Stout's
primary residence as Mary Stout implied in her letter from Matanzas of 1783
when she described their plantation as "the land we live on". This early,
a "townhouse" would've conformed to Lord Egmont's 168 recommendation from
Ametlia Island that every plantation owner obtain a town lot "for a ware-
house or magazine"---something commercial, not domestic.
Even more impressive, was Sanchez's later gutting of Stout's work and
re-institution of a traditional Hispanic large hall plan with a small ante-
room. I'm tempted to read this as virtually a conscious, even political
statement given the xenophobia of the times. Sanchez's lovely long loggia to
the rear off the ell extension, and his sealing of Stout's service door on the
front implies a re-focusing of the house to the private rear spaces. The fact
that he didn't seal the central door is not surprising if he was conducting
commercial and official activities from his house. When Sanchez sold his
cargo schooner in 1789, he began dabbling in real estate with the purchase of
the Rodriguez-Avero House across the street, which he improved, and the deBurgo
Pellicer lot next door (1791). He sold the deBurgo lot the next year reserving
a 3-vara wide passage on the south side-further indication of a re-Hispanisizing,
Between Sanchez's death in 1802 and his heir's departure in 1821, the
loggia was inclosed. The mention of 19 persons in the household, including
10 servants, raises the possibility of increasing segregation of spaces on
The post-1821 changes in the house underscore the re-Anglo-ization of the
house during the American Territorial Period and subsequent statehood. Another,
this time tiny, central hall was introduced. The once-separate kitchen enclosed
and who knows what else. As a reflection of the transient nature of the St.
Augustine population after 1821, the house became a boarding house. This could
complicate matters in as much as I'm not aware of any study relating to how
a boarding house might physically and conceptually differ from a single family
house during the 19th century. In other words, is it still a valid comparison
between this stage and those previous?
The cultural contrasts, then, are striking---even obvious. So what's to
be made of them beyond floorplan comparisons? Rather than indulge in wild
speculation about cultural attitudes toward space based upon probably ethno-
centric assumptions, I wanted to get down to detailed evidence for each stage
in the hopes of detecting other than floor plan differences. With no archaeo-
logical evidence of room use I can't speculate on cultural attitudes toward
that aspect. Without period-by-period evidence of wood-type preferences, color
palettes, joinery, yard use, and segregation of people and things I'm a bit
lost as to another method of interpreting the remaining evidence. Some periods
are better informed than others making comparisons next to impossible without
filling in voids with data from other houses which may or may not have had
similar histories or as-well-recorded data. In most cases the data just wasn't
there, but in others it was possibly over-looked. Most of my frustrations
come from the archaeological work. Yard buildings weren't completely defined
and no artifact descriptions were put together. Oh well--not enough time or
money (I'm familiar with that).
I find myself continually dealing in (even banal) generalities. I suppose
I'm learning the hard way that History is a generality when dealing with the
vernacular. I also find myself getting obtuse. Even writing this letter I
am constantly harassed by other perspectives and angles---colonial frontier
conditions and their affect on lifestyle and thus house features, economic and
social differences between the succussive occupants and how this might condition
period-to-period comparisons, the relationship of other cultural materials and
their meanings. I had thought this last consideration could help provide an
interesting connection between what others have found meaningful in the patterns
they've seen in material culture in St. Augustine and elsewhere, and, cultural
attitudes toward space. This seems a potential-filled way to go but only for
the First Spanish Period.
So in getting to the basic question of what makes a house a house to parti-
cular cultural groups through time, I'm still grasping for ideas. There's
probably enough information to work with if I could only settle on one method.
I'ld be grateful for any insight you might have.
I'll be in St. Augustine for Christmas and will try and stop by.