Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Mesa Plans
Title: Interpretive furnishing proposal for the De Mesa - Sanchez house
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: Interpretive furnishing proposal for the De Mesa - Sanchez house
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Mesa Plans
Physical Description: Report
Language: English
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
43 Saint George Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
de Mesa-Sanchez House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 43 Saint George Street
Coordinates: 29.896429 x -81.313225
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00091264
Volume ID: VID00021
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier: B7-L6

Full Text


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

British predecessor.

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

- 3 -

,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

- 4 -

'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
sr- C
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

candle. ,/-

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

- 7

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,

- 8 -

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

-9 -

,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

- 10 -

1830's. A large wardrobe and a small day bed or "MexiCan cot" will complete

the setting.

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

- 11 -

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

- 12 -

.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.

- 13 -

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 101 Parlour

Room 102 Entrance Hall

Room 103 Office

Room 104
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 206

Room 207 Work and General Purpose Room

Room 208 Boy's Bedroom

Room 209 Piazza or Gallery

Room 210 Bedroom (Invalids Room)

4 .

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs