INTERPRETIVE FURNISHING PROPOSAL FOR
THE DE MESA-SANCHEZ HOUSE
The restoration and the interior re-creation of the De Mesa-Sanchez
House will be the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board's first effort
at interpreting the domestic life of Florida's American Territorial Period.
Although the fabric and history of the building envelope much earlier periods,
the surviving structure is more representational of the 1830's and 1840's.
Since the evolution of the house is a textbook example of how an early
buildings' physical growth parallels the history of our nation's oldest city,
the Board of Trustees have mandated that much as possible of the existing
fabric of the house should be preserved, rather than to strip it back to a
conjectural version of an earlier period.
Research, both archaeological and documentary, explain the rich history
of this site. In the late 1st Spanish period, 1760's, Antonio De Mesa, a
minor treasury official, owned and lived in a simple 2 room "common plan
house" on this site. During the British occupation, 1763-1784, a series of
British owners, particularly an indigo planter and merchant, Joseph Stout
of Philadelphia, made substantial additions and alterations to the Spaniards
humble shelter. Later, Juan Sanchez, the master caulker to the royal works,
acquired the property during the 2nd Spanish period, 1784-1821, and modified
the house even more. Although Sanchez was a Spaniard, his architectural
preference apparently was more in sympathy with the Anglo traditions of his
The last significant chapter in the architectural evolution of the De
Mesa-Sanchez House occurred during the American Territorial period, 1821-1845.
During this time the total value of the property almost'doubled. Cartographic
records indicate an expansion of the east wing to incorporate the once separate
coquina kitchen to the main body of the house. Reasonably we can assume that
major renovations took place at this time. Title research indicates that
the house was purchased by James C. Lisk from New Baltimore, New York in
1835. Preliminary investigation has found that Mr. Lisk was a Quaker and
he was probably suffering from tuberculosis. The size of his house and the
amount of money he expended are significant indications of his economic
status. It is doubtful, however, that Mr. Lisk ever occupied his house
since he died in 1836. Individuals like Lisk, however, were typical of the
new Floridians moving to St. Augustine in the 1830's. The lure of a warmer
climate and the prospect of new business opportunities made territorial St. ,
Augustine attractive to many.
A rapid succession of owners and tenants will occupy this house through-
out the duration of the territorial period. Among them was Charles Loring,
son of a local innkeeper and brother of American war hero, William Wing Loring.
Unfortunately no wills or inventories have yet been discovered which relate
directly to any single occupant of this house. Other reliable resource
materials do exist however, which will help to establish a basis in recreating
an historic interior of this early American Territorial period. Wills,
inventories, newspaper accounts and contemporary descriptions, both literary
and factual can be used to substantiate the interior decor. In accordance
with accepted professional practice, interpretation of the De Mesa-Sanchez
house will not be based on any single individual, but will be a re-creation
of life in St. Augustine based on the styles and tastes prevailing in the
American Territorial period. In general terms, interpretation will reflect
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,the domestic life an an Anglo-American family which has-been transplanted
to St. Augustine for reasons of health or economics. Since their new home
is larger than the typical domestic structure at the time we will assume
that part of their building was devoted to some commercial venture and that
one or more of the rooms was probably occupied by an extension of their
family or boarders. Newspaper accounts show situations such as these were
common to St. Augustine in the early 19th century. Although it was, by some
standards, a backward town, people with the means and the inclination to own
fine furnishings were living in St. Augustine in the 1830's. Few communities
of its size could boast the presence of a Napoleonic prince, a prominent New
England essayist and several well to do northern.physicians. The surviving
decorative mouldings, doors and mantles in the house give testimony of a
pre-occupation with the neo-classical and "Grecian" architectural modes and
we assume that the furnishings would have complimented the style. However,
because of the tremendous expense involved, the difficulty of procurement,
and the high degree of sophistication implied, it would be unrealistic to
think that anyone in Frontier St. Augustine would have been willing or able
to furnish completely a house in pure Grecian decor. A blend of late 18th
and early 19th century pieces with an emphasis on the 1820's and 30's would
be a more accurate description of the De Mesa house furnishings at this time.
The overall tone of the interior will reflect the combination of very fine
as well as vernacular furniture. The variety and quantity of household
possessions will also mark a complete departure from the austerity of the
Spanish and English periods.
Changing seasons or a temporary activity often dictated furniture
placement. Furniture was usually structured to serve function rather
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'than please the eye. Therefore configuration of the individual pieces will
seem clumsy and awkward by 20th Century standards.
The visitor will enter the house through the six panel street door into
a small central hallway. This practice is a complete departure from the Hispanic
houses which rarely had street doors and never had halls. This space will be
relatively bare with the exception of either a small bench called a "settle"
or a console table a large shelf like piece which is usually fitted with a
mirror at waist level. On the walls a long peg rack hung with an assortment
of hats, parasols, or shawls would be typical. If the console table is used
a large gilt frame mirror should hang over it. A hall lamp, an inverted glass
bell-like affair, suspended by small brass chains and fueled by either a candle
or an oil lamp will provide the appropriate lighting. Since this will be a .
high traffic area, floors might be left as bare scrubbed boards. The walls,
ceilings and woodwork should be painted in accord with the results of the
paint analysis and the doors might be wood-grained a dark walnut shade, a
common practice of the time both in St. Augustine and elsewhere.
To the south of the front hall is the entrance to the Downstairs Parlor,
where the emphasis is on comfort and utility. Across the north wall a large
lumbering federal style sofa will be placed. Its uncomfortable hair cloth
upholstery will be covered with a baggy slipcover of striped cotton or calico.
An equally appropriate substitute for a sofa would be a "banquette", which
is a type of home-made couch which fits against the wall. The center of the
room will be dominated by a small vernacular drop-leaf table covered with a
fringed cloth. On it will be a few books, an Astral lamp, and perhaps a-few
sewing things. A pair of painted Windsor chairs will flank the fireplace while
a rocking chair and some painted "fancy" chairs will be sprinkled about the
room. A guitar, chess or card tables and other amusements of the day would
add greatly to the "family room" atmosphere. The walls will be decorated with
groups of prints depicting national heroes (i.e. George Washington or Andrew
Jackson) or sporting prints such as cockfights or hunting scenes. A set
of deer antlers over the mantle would also be typical. The window should be
curtainless except for a panel of mosquito netting. Floor covering will be
strips of grass matting laid wall to wall. Lighting, in addition to the
previously mentioned Astral lamp, will be provided by candles in brass candle-
sticks or pressed glass oil lamps. Candlesticks are often covered by glass
"hurricane shades" which prevent drafts from affecting the efficiency of the
In addition to the basic furniture, floor covering and lighting, the
room should be provided with many objects of a transitory nature which reflect
and personify the everyday lives of the occupants. The mantle shelf might hold
a small vase filled with fresh flowers, waxed flowers or peacock feathers.
Palmetto fans which are mentioned in newspaper advertisements might be sprinkled
about the room to remind the visitor of the discomforts of pre-climate control
living. Partially finished needlework or some other handcraft would address
one part of a woman's role in the 19th Century home life.
The Back Stair Hall, probably once an open area during Spanish times, is
now a passageway to the upper floors or the dining room. Here might be placed
a plain table with a large assortment of candleholders. Often an area such as
this was set aside to clean brass candlesticks and lamps during the day. They
were eventually carried back to their individual rooms in the evening. We shall
use this space to lead the visitor to the office or library.
This room should contain the plainest furnishings'possible with the
exception of a large desk placed at an angle to the window to-ta-ke advantage
of the available light. In this area the master of the house would conduct
his business affairs. It should convey a rough and ready ambience with a
minimal of refinements, one of those being perhaps a decanter of liquor for
the pleasure of his associates. The previously mentioned desk should be a
large clumsy affair with its many drawers and compartments filled with sheets
of writing paper, quill pens, bottles of ink, and assorted books and ledgers.
Portions of the walls will be fitted with primitive board bookshelves. These
would be filled with leather and cloth bound volumes interspersed with stacks
of old periodicals and newspapers. Several territorial period inventories
list the contents of personal libraries and would be a valuable source in
re-creating one in this house. Two or three roller maps of the Florida
territory or the United States should fill the other walls. Seating should
be limited to two or three painted Windsor chairs and even a stool made from
a broken chair. Straw matting should cover the floors while the walls and
trim will be painted in accordance with the paint survey.
The east door from the office leadsto the Museum Room. This area will
be a blatant departure from the furnished rooms of the museum house. Here
exhibit panels and artifact cases will be used to explain the architectural
and historical development of the site. Modern graphics, lighting and
display techniques will be used in this room.
Through the south door of the museum room is the Dining Room. This
large sunny room probably has functioned for the purpose of dining since
Spanish days. Rational for this being its close proximity to the kitchen.
The long hall-like properties of this area will be broken by large mahogany
pedestal type dining table. It should be covered with 'a long white cloth and
set with an array of silver and ceramics known to have existed in St. Augustine
at this time. Findings of the archeological report will be helpful in securing
precise information but most likely transfer printed and painted pearlwares
as well as simple federal style coin silverware would be the choice. Dining
chairs around the table should be the painted and stenciled "fancy" sort which
usually come in sets of six or eight. Extra seating could be provided by
similar but not necessarily matching chairs lined along the walls. A large
mahogany sideboard would be necessary for storage of china, silver and table
linens. A simple wooden case filled with straw and wine bottles might be found
beneath or beside the sideboard or in an out of the way corner. Over the side-
board a large gilted mirror would be customary. This mirror will be draped wi,h ,
cheesecloth in the summer to protect it from fly specks. The remainder of the
wall decoration will consist of a few cheap prints. A tub for washing dishes
is a common item in the dining room since kitchen help would not be trusted to
the care of finer things. Along with the straw matting a painted floor cloth
or "oil cloth" would be appropriate here. It should be large enough to accommo-
date seating area of the table and chairs. These cloths which were practical
as well as decorative were often painted in a black and white diamond pattern
and were bordered with a stenciled design. Since the light is adequate in this
room, potted vines growing in the windows would be a typical practice. These
vines can be trained to grow over the entire surface of the window. Lighting
needs could be satisfied with the use of candles and oil lamps and it would
not be unlikely that the parlor Astral lamp might be brought in and placed on
the sideboard, if needed.
Through the east door one enters the Kitchen. Once a separate building
this room has served the same function since Spanish times. Empahsis here,
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like the "office", will be one of pure function. A large vernacular table
will be placed in the center of the room near the window. Its legs will be
set in pans of lamp oil to discourage insects. If bowls of food are simulated,
they will be covered with a veil of cheesecloth. Seating will consist of a
few painted chairs and a stool made from a backless chair. On the east wall
in the reveal of the fireplace simple wooden shelves will be built. They
will be draped with cheesecloth and filled with crocks and food stuffs. The
mantle shelf might hold a broken cup filled with flowers and one or two
"Japaned" tin candleholders. The fireplace itself should have an iron crane
with a large assortment of pot hooks and two or three cast iron cooking pots.
Hanging from the shelf might be a grill or a frying pan.
pie safe will garnish the east
as coffee, tea or sugar. From
assortment of dried herbs and
hold aprons and cooking rags.
window curtainless except for
The Storeroom to the east
holding barrels of flour, tins
serve as the servants bedroom.
to the warmth of the kitchen.
hung with plain clothing will
A lockable press or
wall. It will contain costly provisions such ,i~-
the whitewashed ceiling joists will hang an
smoked meat and a peg rack will be needed to
The floor will be bare in this room and the
the usual panel of mosquito netting.
of the kitchen will serve two functions. Besides
of other staples, bedding, etc., it will also
In the winter the servants cot might move out
A small cot, a broken chair and a peg rack
figure into the furnishing of this room. This
catch-all space would be a logical place to store the family bathtub.
Weather permitting, the visitor should exit from the kitchen into the
"swept yard" of the patio. Here will be explained the plantings and the
outbuildings which would be found in this area.
At this point the visitor ascends the back stairs to the gallery or
,piazza, which will be furnished with a few chairs and a'simple pine table.
On the table will be a mirror, bowl and razor to allow for shaving in warm
weather. The first door on the piazza will open to the "bed-sitting" room
furnished to characterize the occupancy of an-invalid. Assumptions about the
occupant of this room will be interpreted by the placement of personal artifacts.
Medicinal items such as patent medicine and other potions will be evident on
the dresser or mantle shelf. Other i-tems will certainly include newspapers,
palmetto fans, a walking cane or crutch, a spitoon, a chamber pot, a bowl and
pitcher, towels, etc. In warm weather the mosquito net draped bed will be
placed in the center of the room. Several straight chairs and a rocker will
comprise the seating. Trunks or hat boxes will be tucked under the bed while
a wardrobe, dresser, and a wash stand will be lined along the walls. A simple;--.
press with a glazed door will be built into the reveal of the fireplace, as
is evidenced by the paint line and nailholes in the woodwork. The floors should
be covered with matting and walls painted according to the paint survey. Along
with the mosquito netting the windows might be equipped with linen window shades.
Modern spring rolled shades can be easily adapted to resemble their 19th century
counterparts. On the walls a few prints, of perhaps a religious nature, framed
with simple black moulding will be the only decoration.
Beyond this room is a wide hallway-like area. This serves as the passage-
way to the back bedrooms and gallery. This space will depict a general purpose
room which might include handwork, storage and even sleeping. Furnishings
will be minimal and functional arranged in a make shift manner about the room.
In the center, close to the window, might be a large quilting frame supported
by four chairs with additional chairs placed around it, dining room style. The
frame will hold a semi-finished quilt copied from a documented pattern from the
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1830's. A large wardrobe and a small day bed or "MexiCan cot" will complete
To the north of this area is a smaller room. To develop characterization
here the furnishings will suggest a young man's or boys room. Along with the
usual bed, wash stand, wardrobe, etc., smaller objects will personify the
occupants identity. A diminutive felt covered table at the window will be
used as a desk, littered with school books, quill pens, chalkboard, and perhaps
a small chalkware bust of George Washington or perhaps some other revolutionary
war hero. On the walls a few sporting prints either in simple black frames or
nailed directly to the walls would be suitable. A small shelf will be hung
over the door or fitted into a corner. It will contain the simple treasures
of childhood such as a small animal skull, fossils or shells, a wooden top or,.
other amusements. The floors will be covered with matting while the windows
will be curtainless except for the mosquito netting.
Entry into the upstairs parlor is gained by passing through the second
floor stair hall. It is interesting to speculate why second floor parlors
were common in St. Augustine during the 19th century. Perhaps the higher
elevation provided more comfort in the hot summer months or since buildings
were so close to the street the upper floor would certainly offer an escape
from the noise, dust and prying eyes of the 19th century St. George Street.
The Parlor will be the most "furnished" room in the house. Its woodwork,
principally the door and window surrounds, document a pre-occupation with
classical modes. The builder has evidently adapted the teachings of 19th
century architect, Asher Benjamin, in a crude vernacular manner. The mantle,
however, is a more developed piece which was quite possibly imported. Like
the woodwork the furnishing and decor should reflect the same makeshift
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attempt at elegance. The configuration of furniture will be arranged with the
major pieces lying flat against the perimeter of the room. A notable exception
to this is the center table and the chairs pulled up around it. Throughout the
19th century the center table was the nucleus of family life and the artifacts
placed on it reflect this tradition. Around another Astral lamp will be
placed a Bible and other books, some unfinished fancy work in a small basket
and perhaps some natural items such as shells or fossils. The chairs accom-
panying this table will be simple machine made types pulled up in a conversational
manner. The sofa will be a large hair cloth upholstered Grecian model. It will
be set against either the northeast or southeast walls. In the summer this
piece, as well as all the upholstered pieces throughout the house will be covered
with baggy slipcovers of either white linen or striped cotton. The presence,pf
a small square piano set at an angle to a window will help interpret-home
entertainments in frontier Florida. Flanking the fireplace will be a pair of
card tables of the popular mahogany lyre base or pedestal type. An easy chair,
a rocker, and assorted fancy chairs scattered around the room will provide the
balance of the seating. In addition to the chairs and sofa one or two tabourets,
a type of upholstered footstool, would be used here. To emphasize the attempt
at fashion and refinement in this most elegant room of the house, a rug of
ingrain or Wilton carpeting will be used instead of the usual matting. Window
coverings will also be a departure from the other rooms. Here again will be
an attempt at style utilizing ingenuity and available materials. These drapes
will be of a semi-sheer cotton material trimmed with brightly colored silk
fringe and tied back to one side. They will hang by rings on wooden rods which
will be painted gdldto emulate more expensive brass ones. On the walls will be
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.groups of prints dealing with natural history, literary themes or national
heroes. Needlework pictures and oil paints were also popular. Over the mantle
a gilt mirror will be appropriate. In the summer this piece, like others in
the house, will be covered with chessecloth. In addition to the basic fur-
nishings, other objects of a seasonal or transitory nature will be scattered
about the room such as palmetto fans and fly brushes in the summer and shawls
or laprobes in the winter. In the windows where the light is adequate, potted
plants will be placed, to emphasize the ubiquitous 19th century pre-occupation
with natural history and gorwing plants.
Through the north door is the Master Bedroom, a room which maintains some
of the parlor's refinements in the quality of furniture and accessories. The
bed will be the "french" type which are.mentioned in inventories. It, like ,/
the other dresser and a washstand, all of good quality, will complete the
inventory of this room. A few floral prints or a mourning picture will adorn
the walls while the floors will be covered with the usual matting.
Access to the Nursery is gained through the east door of the master
bedroom. This room will be the feminine counterpart to the young man's room
and is furnished with a youth bed, a cradle or crib, a rocker, and a washstand.
Scattered about the matted floors will be children's furniture, clothing, toys
and other 19th century trappings of childhood. Here a vivid calico will be
used for curtains which will be nailed to the top of the window frame and
tied back. A few inexpensive prints, somewhat sacchrin in nature, will be
tacked to the walls without frames and will be the only decorative accessories.
At this point, the visitor will be led downstairs to exit through the front
door to complete their tour.
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In summary, the artifacts chosen to furnish the De Mesa-Sanchez House
will reflect material culture of an Anglo-American family living in St. Augustine
during the early 19th century. In the absence of a grand personage or specific
inventory of pieces known to have been used in the house, interpretation will
focus on the general characteristics of life in frontier St. Augustine in
the Territorial period. The collection, therefore, will emphasize domestic
life styles and will display a blend of fine and vernacular furniture of the
ROOM USE FOR DE MESA SANCHEZ HOUSE
Room 101 Parlour
Room 102 Entrance Hall
Room 103 Office
Room 105 Stair Hall
Room 106 Museum Room
Room 107 Dining Room
Room 108 Store Room
Room 109 Open Porch
Room 110 Kitchen
Room 201 Parlour
Room 202 Master Bedroom
Room 203 -
Room 204 Stair Hall
Room 205 Nursery
Room 207 Work and General Purpose Room
Room 208 Boy's Bedroom
Room 209 Piazza or Gallery
Room 210 Bedroom (Invalids Room)