December 15, 1960
Personal, Report of Preliminary Research Investigation of Historic Sites and Buildings
in St. Augustine, Florida.
TO: St. Augustine Historic Restoration and Preservation Comrmission
St. Augustine, Florida
Approximately three weeks ago I was commissioned by Mr. Douglas Picht to
determine the historic authenticity of five private dwellings located in the
historic section of the city of St. Augustine, Florida. This determination was to
be arrived at through the historical research process, and was to be as thorough
as time would permit. Time, in this instance, was to be the governing factor.
Mindfull of this, I respectfully submit the following preliminary report:
Myr initial approach to the problem was to consider that the property did
indeed exist. This task was a very simple one, for the present tax rolls of St.
John's County verified the fact and offered the legal description of the properties
After obtaining this information, I considered that a good approach, and a
logical one, would be to isolate one of the properties and attempt to reverse the
research procedure. Common logic will readily show that the building and its
property are physically present today. The system of accounting for property within
the governmental structure of city, county, state, and if necessary the federal,
government agencies of the Uni~ted States are more or less uniform. Bearing this
in mtind, and considering also the dates that usually divide the historical evo-
lution of St. Augustine, I assumed that there would be little difficulty in compil-
ing an abstract of ownership, and other data if offered, from the present date to
about 1821. From this date back I was not too sure of exactly what to expect.
I further assumed that an isolation of one of these properties would reduce the
amount of time I felt would be necessary to devote to the preliminary phase of
investigation. An isolated selection of one piece of real estate reduced the bulk
of paper, allowed more freedom of work, aided tremendously in the very necessary
compilation of a rather unique bibliography (the tool of a historian), would
assist in establishing a cordial liaison with the keepers of the records locally
(and other documents that would be necessary to survey from time to time). In
sum, to make a thorough reconnaissance, or even better, to get the feel of this
type of research.
My selection for isolation was a piece of property cited to me as
Number 5;2 St. George Street commonly referred to as the Rodriguez House. I quickly
determined that the correct numerical designation of this property is numbers k8
through 52 St. George Street. The legal description is Lot 20, Block 12, located
in the City of St. Augustine, and owned presently by a corporation named Crawbuck
Homes, Inc., whose address is 16650 Arapohoe Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida. This
building presently houses a museum entitled Yesterday's Toys. The initial appear-
ance of this building indicates that it is one of the oldest in the city and I
feel quite sure that this building was constructed by the Spaniard during his first
occupation. This is merely a feeling and bears no historical evidence at this time.
MY first contact, after obtaining the legal description, was with the
St. Johns County Abstract Company, and I was most fortunate to obtain from that
off ice a chronological listing of ownership citing the Deed and Property Book
and page number from the present date to June 9, 1883. From this point on I
gathered all the information recorded in the Archives of the County of St. Johns
concerning this property to June 1s 1852. The entry in Deed Book R, pages 38-41
indicate that the property was sold by the heirs of Esteban Arnau to a Mvrs. Ann
Hurlburt for the sum of Sk450.oo. Incidently, this is the oldest recorded entry
in the official abstract. Every entry from 1960 to the year 1852 describes the
same piece of property. From 1852 back presents another problem. I am quite cer-
tain that the owner of the building and lot prior to Esteban Arnau was Francisco
Arnau, his father, though the index to the Deed and Property books fail to cite
either Francisco or any other as a Grantor. Neither does it cite Esteban as a
Grantee prior to this entry.
In order to ascertain the owner prior to Esteban other sources were exa-
mined. I was most fortunate to obtain a scale copy of the Clements map of 1836-
1835 of most of the area presentlyr designated as the historical section, and from
it I have determined that a John Sanchez; and Esteban Arnau are assigned the property
From this point on nothing but conjecture and assumption, notwithstanding
considered logical conclusion, is assigned this building and its land. When compared
with the copy of the Clements ma~p many often cited references to Deed and Property
books do not bear them out as accurate references. I am, however, very optimistic
about the possibility of finding ownership of the property through the second
Spanish period (to 1783). An abundance of primary sources exist that contain a
veritable wealth of information. The East Florida Papers, the Spanish Land Grants,
the Stetson Collection are but a few. But, when dealing with the afore cited time
cannot be of the essence for they contain several thousand folio pages of Spanish
text. With a review of these an excellent bibliographyr can be compiled.
In regard to tracing the property through the British period. Only through
the smile of good fortune do I expect to be able to keep this building isolated,
for there are no known existing records of property and property transactions during
Preliminary Research -- 4
this period. As. Doris Wiles of the St. Augustine Historical Society has recently
written the British Archives to determine if any :Laformation of this sort is available
or not. If it is available the Society plans to microfilm all of these records.
With this information property research may continue with a high degree of accuracy
and discount conjecture.
Quite a different matter prevails throughout the first Spanish period.
This was Spainis experimentation with coloniz~ation. The Archives of the Indies
in Sevilla are bucnting at the seams with manuscripts that have been bundled up,
stored, and never recorded much less read. The same holds true of the photostats
in the Stetson collection at the University of Florida of Spanish correspondence
during the second occupation. It has been my experience when dealing with the
Spanish manuscripts that the Spaniard never breathed without a notary public notar-
iming the fact that a breath was breathed. The Spaniard was above all a lawyer;
his governmental system required that of him. Thus, more information than I am
able to tell. of will be revealed when this thin surface has been scratched. This
is the task of a research team to say the least, and a most necessary one.
In summary, I must say that I consider the approach I am currently using to
be the best possible. Every enbry must be carefully examined and re-examined taking
great care that chronology (and not genealogy) is strictly adhered to. This study
is leaning far to that of an institutional, and not social by any means. Reverting
back to inacocurate evidence momentarily, several instances were found in which the
Index to the Deed and Property books cited incorrect information regarding the en-
tries made. These entries were recorded in Spanish text and upon a close examilna-
tion revealed almost the opposite to that which was cited.
All is not gloom as pictured however. It is my feeling that patience will
reward all with accurate evidence, if chronology is adhered to. It would be a
simple matter to merely copy the entries made on the properties file cards located
in the St. Augustine Historical Society on the one hand. 141ile on the other it
would be mere folly. Each entry must be closely checked, and this I must do
through ethical principles of the profession. A philosophy of this research problem
is far less important than pure scientific research investigation.
KENNETH H. BEESON, Jr.
St. Augustine, Florida