NULLIus ADDICTS JURARE
IN VERBA MAGISTRI. Hor.
Florida's Oldest Newspaper 1783 revived 1977 by thie St. Augustine Historical Society
Editor: Jean Parker Waterbury
Copyright 1985 St. Augustine Historical Society
Government House--1604 to date
"Original use: Government
The waterfront view didn't make up for the fact
that his old wooden house was damp and cold, so he
built himself a new residence, also of wood, a short
distance from the bay. That snug building was eyed
with envy by a newcomer, who found the older house
on the water as uncomfortable as had his
predecessor. Besides, the gnats were bad.
Bargaining commenced, and when the price of the
newer house came down from 1500 to 1000 ducats, a
sale was agreed upon: the seller, former Florida
governor Gonzilez M6ndez de Canzo; the buyer, the
Spanish Crown, represented by Governor Pedro de
Ibarra. That sale in January 1604 marked the last
time an individual held title to the prime piece of St.
Augustine real estate overlooking the west end of the
Plaza, known today as Government House.
Over the next eighty years a succession of
governors used it twenty-five or so but when
Diego de Quiroga arrived in 1687 he found the official
wooden residence in such a state that only the skill of
a master carpenter could provide enough space in a
repaired passage "where his lordship could just put
Coquina was the answer for the town's rotting
buildings, and Quiroga obtained permission to use
the shell stone which had formerly been reserved for
the King's use.
By 1690 the new Governor's House was complete,
with coquina blocks forming its ground-floor walls;
the second story of wood boasted a balcony, looking
out over the Plaza. It was to that second floor that
Jonathan Dickinson and his fellow Quakers,
survivors of a shipwreck near Jupiter Inlet in 1696,
were taken to meet Governor Laureano Torres y
Ayala before they continued their interrupted
journey to Philadelphia.
For the house and the town, 1702 was an eventful
year. In January festivities honored Philip V with
dancing in the Plaza, and food and drink, probably
*Historic Properties Inventory, Florida Master Sites File.
- Present use: Government"
prepared in the newly added kitchen, in the
governor's residence. Eleven months later the house
and kitchen, like almost all buildings in St.
Augustine, were ruins, burned by the retreating
British after Carolina governor James Moore's
unsuccessful siege of the town.
Despite financial and supply shortages, eventually
the official residence was restored, and early in 1713
was again the scene of feasting in the patio, while
from the balcony the governor and his lady tossed
coins to the people in the Plaza, to honor the birth of
Major alterations came in 1759, bringing decora-
tive details and structural strength. A Doric entrance
facing the Plaza led into the patio; the bearing walls
of coquina were nearly two feet wide. The gabled roof
was shingled, and there was even a service stairway
for the dining room on the second floor.
At the south, a flat-roofed, one-story wing
contained the kitchen and its dining room. On the
grounds were auxiliary buildings, chiefly a watch
tower and a guard house, while, to the west, were a
variety of fruit trees and a grape arbor. The four
masonry-walled privies had shingled roofs.
Despite the alterations, when the British came
(this time in peace) to govern that Crown's new
province, the Governor's House was in for consider-
able repairs. Whitewash, window glass, pine and
cypress boards, arrived in the summer of 1764,
together with six laborers from Charleston, and work
proceeded, aided by quantities of rum for the work
However, Governor James Grant found his official
residence wanting in many aspects. On March 1,
1765, seven months after he reached St. Augustine,
he described his housing situation to officials in
London: "My Lords, out of the contingent money
allotted for this province some repairs have been
made in the Government House. What the expense
will amount to I cannot exactly say'as the repairs are
Historic St Augustine Preservation Board
not yet completed, but I think it will not exceed 150
pounds, which is to be hoped your Lordships will not
think too much as it was really a very bad Spanish
House without a chimney or even a window
except such as were made of wood."
The old building still left much to be desired as a
Governor's Palace, its sometime designation, ac-
cording to Colonel Patrick Tonyn even before he took
office as governor in March 1774. When he had just
arrived in the province, he wrote his superiors in
London that "the governor's house is not habitable,
the whole roof is like a sieve, I have been drove out of
every room by the rain and in other respects it is
equally out of repair."
However faulty, the Governor's House continued
to be the center of the town's social life under the
British and when the Spanish returned in 1784.
This 1764 sketch is the earliest known view of the Governor's
In July that year, the British planters, still having
the use of the house, joined forces to give a ball there
for the newly arrived Spanish officials. In May of the
next year, Governor Vizente Manuel de Zespedes
returned the hospitality at the same place with a
farewell celebration for the few remaining English.
At about the same time, Spanish engineer
Mariano de la Rocque found the floors of the building
in bad shape, and the house too small for his
governor. While he recommended considerable
enlargement, in the end his chief work was to
strengthen walls; added space came by enclosing
parts of the recently added north and south porches.
The English luxury of window glass was the
accepted treatment now even for doors; the
woodwork was painted light ochre.
Despite de la Rocque's work of the 1780's, the
Casa de Gobierno did not serve the governors after a
time, and following the death there of Governor
Enrique White in 1811, his successors rented living
quarters in town, using the old building for offices.
Deterioration continued. In 1820, when the
ground-floor rooms were used as a school, even the
City Council protested. Rain flooded down from the
second floor where there were no windows or doors,
they knew, and the boys' maps and paper were
drenched. Worse was to come in January, when "the
cruel days of cold," as the Council minutes said,
made it impossible to keep the children warm. The
minutes do not record the solution of the problem
before the building became the property of the
United States in July 1821, along with the rest of
With temporary repairs, it briefly served as
officers' quarters until civilian officials, needing
office space and housing, ousted the military.
The September 1821 inventory of public property,
prepared by the City Council, noted that "the
building would be suitable for a Town Hall and City
offices, or as a State house... or for the accommoda-
tion of Public Officers."
Andrew Jackson, governor of the new territory,
had ruled that year that William G. D. Worthington,
as executive of East Florida, had "the right to
occupy Government House," but such occupancy
had to be postponed. The yellow fever which had
struck the town so tragically that rainy fall had come
to the family of a sergeant occupying one of the three
ground-floor rooms. There the soldier and his wife's
sister lay ill with the fever. They would be "removed
as soon as practicable, either to the grave or to other
quarters," Worthington was assured.
In 1822, when East Florida no longer had its own
executive, the house at the west end of the Plaza
ended its long career as an official residence and
moved into its role as the center for government
Judge Joseph L. Smith renovated space there for
his courtroom soon after his arrival in St. Augustine
in October 1822, and when territorial governor
William P. DuVal needed quarters for his Legislative
Council meeting in May 1823, that room was
commandeered. Briefly the ancient walls again
housed Florida's Capitol.
Near the watchtower, first mentioned in the 1759
alterations report, and which appears in the 1764
drawing of the house, Thomas Douglas, United
States Attorney for the Eastern District, in 1826
settled his offices next to the courtroom, and later
described his lodgings "in'a room in the tower, which
was seventy feet high, standing at the north east
corner of the house, forming a part of it and intended
as a lookout. It was five stories high and the upper
rooms afforded a fine view of the city and its
environs, and a pleasant resort for study during the
American Florida's properties came under the
jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, and so it
was that Robert Mills, the department's architect, in
the early 1830's planned a renovation of the building.
Mills was later to design the Washington Monument
and the Department's own Greek-revivalist building
in the capital. For the St. Augustine building, the
plans for a facade were his chief contribution; he
never came to the city.
The 1834 remodelling produced more space by
extending the west and north walls and adding a
second story to the south wing. A two-story porch
on that wing and on the south side of the main
building served as a connecting gallery, obviating
the need for interior corridors.
All walls were whitewashed, while every piece of
woodwork inside the building and out, whether
benches for the jurors, mantlepieces or window
frames, was "painted double in a blue color." Even
the double privy in the "Court House lot" was
trimmed in blue.
The fifteen rooms of the "new" building were
rapidly assigned, nine associated with the courts,
and others for federal use, including the post office.
The blue and white splendors graced the old
building until, during the Civil War, the structure
was "almost entirely dismantled, stripped of doors,
windows, window blinds, etc." The report of the
U.S. marshall continues: "The masonry work and
plastering [were] very much injured... the principal
damage [was] done by the 4th and Seventh
Regiments, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry
in... 1862 and 1863."
So thoroughly damaged was the "old pile of yellow
buildings" (the whitewash having presumably
washed away), that the town's newspaper editor,
Matthias R. Andreu, wrote in January 1869 that
"cattle nightly find shelter within the lower rooms."
Repairs were again in order and materialized in
1873. In 1868 the courts had already returned and
some rooms were occupied, occasionally put to uses
which provoked altercations. There were protests
when the courtroom was the scene of tableaux
presented by Union officers, even though the aim
was to raise money for the Episcopal Church.
Perhaps more understandably there were complaints
when the clerk of the court stabled his pony (it was a
stallion to complainers) in a room on the first floor,
perhaps in the area where Andreu reported the
More complaints focused on the "under-use" of
the building, for the federal government as owner
occupied only about a. third of the space. One
proposed solution was that the property become the
St. Augustine terminal for the hoped-for railroad
which would run south from Jacksonville.
While the terminal didn't materialize, a variety of
tenants found space in the Courthouse an artist,
the library, a bank, a school, and, in 1890, a
"scientific society," which in all likelihood was the
Institute of Science, progenitor of the St. Augustine
In 1899 once again a balcony faced the Plaza, this
time designed to answer the need for ventilation.
Now through the door to the balcony, the east
breezes might reach the stuffy rooms inside. For
winter comfort, chilly temperatures were somewhat
abated by open grates and stoves.
As St. Augustine grew, so did its postal needs,
EVOLUTION OF THE GOVERNMENT HOUSE
National Park Service
Changes In Government House are shown in this plan by
Albert Manucy for the National Park Service study,
"Historical Significance of Federal Building," 1965.
and when in 1891 Henry M. Flagler's new City
Building provided space for the city court and
lawyers' offices, and the county built its own
courthouse, the townspeople gradually left off
calling the building "the Courthouse," and it became
"the post office."
Demands for more postal service in 1936 brought
expansion plus a return to the old look of the 1764
facade, unfortunately without the watchtower.
Surprising survivors of the years of alterations were
identified: Most of the south wall dated back to
1713, the east wall retained elements of that year's
construction and had been partly rebuilt in 1786; the
north wall went back to 1834. Into the old walls,
steel columns were inserted, like pins in a bad tooth.
Those, with attendant beams and a steel-trussed
roof, frame the present building.
In 1965 the postal authorities, judging the
building obsolete for their needs, moved to new
Never at a loss for a government owner since the
property had moved out of private hands back in the
winter of 1604, the old, old plot of ground with its
oft-repaired, rebuilt, altered building was trans-
ferred in February 1966 by the federal government to
the State of Florida as a public monument. As such,
once again dubbed Government House, it is the
headquarters of the Historic St. Augustine Preser-
vation Board, a vital element in the town's history
'which so often centered on that very spot.