Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 10 – Lot 6
Title: St. Augustine Hotel Was First Large One Here
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00094119/00001
 Material Information
Title: St. Augustine Hotel Was First Large One Here
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 10 – Lot 6
Physical Description: Clipping
Language: English
Creator: Buhrman, Margaret
Publication Date: 1966
Copyright Date: Public Domain
Physical Location:
Box: 4
Divider: Block 10 - L5, 6
Folder: Block 10 - Lot 5
 Subjects
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine
Coordinates: 29.892853 x -81.311872
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00094119
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: B10-L5

Full Text


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Sunday Morning, December 4, 1966




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t-our-btory St. Augustine Hotel, By Plaza, Extended From Cathedral to Charlotte Street
S. built 'by Captain Vaill, 1867, the structure was destroyed by fire in 1887


Captain Vaill Brought Entertainment


St. Augustine H hotel Was First Large One Here


By MARGARET BUHRMAN
Women's News Editor
Next year, 1967, will mark the
centennial of the opening of the
St. Augustine Hotel, luxury re-
sort hotel of post Civil War
days in the Oldest City.
Destroyed by fire in 1887, the
St. Augustine Hotel, scene of
many winter festivities for local
residents and guests from north-
ern climes, left few reminders
of its heyday one or two
photographs, rare concert pro-
graLns, a few extant advertise-
ments, mention in Sidney Lan-
ier's writings and memories re-
counted' to younger generations.
The hotel was built by Capt.
Edward Eugene Vaill, grandfa-
ther of Frederick S. Vaill, com-
missioner and former mayor of
St. Augustine Beach.
A sea captain at the age of
19, Vaill was from a promi-
nent Connecticut family. The
old Vaill home in Milton,
Conn., where he was born,
was built in 1744.
In family recollections it is re-
lated that he was captain of the
flagship in the fleet with Gen.
Ambrose E. Burnside when the
latter captured Roanoke Island.
St. Augustine had, no other
large hotels when Captain Vaill
built his hotel here.
Extending from the Cathedral
to Charlotte Street, the four-
.story St. Augustine Hotel with
its long sunny piazza was an at-
tractive landmark for 20 years.
Featured in its advertising were
the frescoed walls within the ho-
tel one of its claims to "the
latest in hotel luxury."
As is still often the custom,
'shops surrounded the first floor.
Before Flagler
With the opening of Henry
M. Flagler's palatial hotels
,,soon after the 'fire that des-
'troyed the hotel by the Plaza,
earlier days were soon forgot-
ten, but St. Augustine had its
winter season, long before
agler took an Interest in the
ty.
idney Lanier, in his book
lorida: Its Scenery, Climate
d History," published in 1875,
scribes the "brick pillars of
e market -house" in the Plaza
la Constitucion and the
ong pier yonder, which runs
t into the water as if it were
continuation of the hotel piaz-
a."
Captain Vaill was careful to
ee that entertainment was' pro-
ided for his hotel guests and
through his influence, musical
programs were scheduled in the
laza across the street.
The son of a former employee,
in later years, told members of


the family how he and other
children would retrieve quarters
with their teeth from pie plates
filled with molasses or flour, in
games planned for the tourists'
amusement and as treats for
employes' youngsters.
The captain's wife, and
their three children Ed-
ward, Frederick, the late hus-
band of Mrs. Max Kettner,
Vaill Point; and Julia had
their winter, residence in the
vicinity of Treasury Street ra-
t he r than in the hotel. The
boys attended Peabody School
on Hospital Street.
During this time Capt. Vaill
made a gift of five acres of land
to the state, providing an incen-
tive for the building of a state
school for the deaf and blind
here. A marker in the adminis-
trative building at the school
makes recognition of the gift.
Making the address when the
tablet was placed at the school
was the late George Cooper
Gibbs Sr.
St. Augustine was described
by Lanier in 1875 as having
three pleasant hotels the St.
Augustine, the Florida and the
Magnolia. "with a shoal of
smaller public and private
boarding houses.... The lovely
sailing grounds around the har-
bor were all in a white zigzag
with races of the Yacht Club
and with more leisurely mazes
of the pleasure-boat fleet."
Promenade
Some people were objecting to
the expense the federal govern-
ment had incurred in construc-
tion of the sea wall, which
"seemed.of no purpose except
as a promenade for lovers."
A town of approximately 2,-
000, St. Augustine increased in
numbers to nearly 10,000 dur-
ing winter months. By April
the winter visitors, who had
"made a noise with dancing of
nights and trooping of morn-
ings along the Plaza" were
gone, and the "brood of pleas-
ure-boats were all asleep in
'the basin'."
An omnibus would bring mail
into town from the depot % of a
mile from the city, and every-
body would gather at the post-
office to read the northern pa-
pers, he wrote.
In the 1887 fire, the St.'Augus-
tine Hotel burned to the ground.
So intense was the fire that
coins in the poor box at the
Cathedral were melted. The
fused coins may be seen today at
the Mission of Nombre de Dios.
The late J. M. Thomas, who
was a boy at the time, told the
Vaills that he carried the hotel
mailbox out and collected
watches from beneath pillows in
*rooms the blaze had not reach-
ed yet. Taking them to the
Plaza, the enterprising teen-
ager set up a headquarters
where grateful guests could
claim their possessions.
"Floating Hotel"
Everything in the hotel was
lost,-and Capt. Vaill's agent
had failed to renew the insur-
ance policy.
Bereft of his hotel, the captain
erected a row of stores that
were later sold, but he also con-
ceived the idea of a floating ho-
tel, sailing from St. Augustine to
the little village of Miami.
The ship, providing sleeping
cabins, and serving "hotel"
meals, is described in a recent-
ly published book, "Miami,
USA."
Travel books at the St. Aug-
ustine Historical Society Li-
brary contain advertisements
for Capt.. Vaill's St. Augustine
Hotel:
The family returned later to
Maine, home of Mrs. Vaill, who
was a Sturdivant. of Portland.
Well known in New England,
the Sturdivant men spent their
lives in clipper ships. The Vaill
family has in its possession the
original document, signed by
President Madison and counter-
signed by Secretary of State
Monroe, designating Isaac and
Ephraim Sturdivant as privat-
eersmen in the War of 1812. Oth-
er maritime articles that have
been retained include the log
books and sextant of Isaac Stur-
divmnt and other seafaring men
of the family.
When the Hotel Ponce de
Leon was opened here, Ed-
ward Vaill, who had been in
the Flagler offices in New
York, was one of the first men
on the staff in the hotel office
and also one of those in
charge of bringing 300 em-
ployes here, all traveling on
one train.


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Captain Vaill, Standing
... with brother Charles
It has been noted that a
framed menu of the first meat'
served at the Ponce, exhibited on
the wall across from the cash-
ier's desk, bears the handwrit-
ing of F. S. Vaill Sr.
Edward and Frederick both
returned to Portland, becoming
partners in the real es-
tate business, but their ties
with St. Augustine con-
tinued through winter visits. In
1920, on the 100th anniversary of
Trinity Episcopal Church,' they
were honored as' thbse with the
longest memberships. Both had
been confirmed there as boys.
Their mother and sister also
*wintered here, staying at the Al-


cazar, Monson and Bennett Ho-
tels.
Frederick S. Vaill Sr., mar-
ried Miss Evelyn Wilkes,
executive secretary of the
Alumni Association of George
Peabody College of Nashville,
STenn. Active in community
life here until his death in
1930, he was president of both
the St. Augustine Historical
Socie t y and the Public Li-
brary Assn.
In 1953 Mrs. Vaill became the
wife of the late Max W. Kettner.
Mrs. Kettner makes her home
at Vaill Point, Moultrie, which
has served for many years as a
focal point for recreation for
the young people of the commu-
nity.
The Vaills' interests in New
England and in St. Augustine
have been intertwined for a cen-
tury. In New England they were
friends of the Peck family, who
came here in 1832, Dr. Seth
Peck and his bride establishing
their home in what had been the
old Spanish Treasury. His
granddaughter, Miss An na
Burt, left this home at the
corner of St. George and Treas-
ury Streets to the city of. St.
Augustine. Friendship between
the Pecks and the Vaills was so
close that they shared a private
cemetery hear Litchfield, Conn.
By a coincidence, Mr.. and
Mrs. Frederick S. Vaill Jr. and
their four, children live in. the
former beach home of Miss
Burt, which they have remodel-
ed in a way to harmonize mod-
ern touches with a number of
family heirlooms. and to blend
the decor with the surroundings.
Sliding 'glass doors extending
the length of a sun deck on the
beach side reveal a wide ..ex-
panse of sand dunes and break-
ers in an ever changing view
of the sea.


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