Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 7 - Lot 1, Gallegos
Title: Participating in the past
Full Citation
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 Material Information
Title: Participating in the past a creative approach to site use in San Augustin Antiguo
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 7 - Lot 1, Gallegos
Physical Description: Interpretive outline
Language: English
Creator: Harper III, Robert W.
Publication Date: 1975
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
21 Saint George Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Gallegos House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 21 Saint George Street
Coordinates: 29.897052 x -81.313361
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00090505
Volume ID: VID00025
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier: B7-L1

Full Text

,Participating in the Past --
' A Creative Approach to Site Use in San Agustin Antiguo

In 1972 staff members of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board

felt the need for a more meaningful and creative approach to historic site use

in San Agustin Antiguo, the Board's interpretive area. In the past, interpre-

tation had consisted mainly of traditional house museums and craft shops, the

latter being geared more towards retail sales than interpretation. In fact, no-

where within the city could a visitor actually witness or experience life as a

colonial St. Augustinian lived it. The solution decided upon was to select one

site as an initial experiment with the living history approach. This approach was

not entirely original with the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board. Other

areas such as Plymouth Plantation or Old Economy Village had long employed

it. However, the uniqueness of St. Augustine's Spanish colonial heritage

challenged us to create something new and exciting within the framework of a

previously tested tradition.

The site chosen for this experiment was Gallegos House, a small

reconstructed dwelling, the original of which stood around 1750 and served

as the home of Martin Martinez Gallegos, an artilleryman, and the other five

members of his household. We selected this site for two primary reasons.

The first was geographical. The building was ideally located near the restored

area's northern entrance through which most visitors arrive. In fact, the

house is usually the first one the visitor sees. Therefore, in the old tradition

of putting one's best foot forward, the location was ideal. The house was also

close to the Castillo de San Marcos, the great hulking Spanish fortress in which

Martin Martinez Gallegos, like many of his contemporaries in the garrison

town of St. Augustine, served. The clearly visible facade of Castillo de San


Marcos provides an excellent interpretive reminder of the military aspect

of early St. Augustine. The second reason for selecting Gallegos House was

architectural. Its plan, a simple two-room arrangement, is known as the

common plan because of its ubiquity. In the eighteenth century this plan was

typical not only in St. Augustine architecture but also in other parts of the

world; in fact, this "one or two-celled plan was so widely used all over the

world that we should be surprised only if it were not found in St. Augustine."2

Since Gallegos House would at the time be the only exhibit building in which

the living history approach would be employed, the typicality or universality

of its architecture provided the opportunity to make a general interpretative


After deciding upon the concept, time period and location, our next

step was the actual implementation of the project. The first stage of the

program primarily involved construction. Gallegos House had to be "re-

restored". Since the building had originally been reconstructed for adaptive

use, some structural changes had to be either added or deleted. For example,

all modern conveniences or intrusions such as electricity, plumbing, glazed

windows, and decorative landscaping were removed. In their place a new

barrel-well, solid wooden shutters, wooden window grills (or rejas) and

functional landscaping, such as citrus trees and a vegetable garden, were

added. The second stage was to develop an accurate furnishing plan. From

the beginning, the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board has maintained

an active archaeological research program. From this program and from its

rich artifactual collections the staff drew most of its conclusions about correct

examples of ceramics, glass, tools, weapons, and the other smaller items of

of material culture that would have been used in the house. The selection of

furniture posed entirely different problems. How does one furnish a 1750

St. Augustine house when not a single local piece of this period is known to

exist? Our solution was to research descriptions, wills and tax inventories

of the period. Most of these, particularly the wills, painted a rather stark

picture. Even the inventory of a high ranking First Spanish Period officer,

only mentioned the following furnishings: one lathe-turned bed, four chairs,

four old stools, two mahogany writing desks, a new cedar box with lock and
key, an old cedar box and finally an empty box. 3The inventory of the estate

Governor Don Manuel Cendoya left a similarly bleak impression: a large red

cedar chest with fourteen iron straps and lock, a large Spanish cedar chest

with lock and key, a trunk decorated-with small brass tacks, a similar trunk, a

Spanish red-cedar writing desk with four iron straps, hinges, lock and key; a

large Spanish cedar chest with a lock and key, a very old large Spanish cedar

chest with eight iron bands and without a key, two large mirrors with black

frames, and (somewhat incongruously) a large leather-covered sedan chair.

The reader should note that these inventories represent possessions

of the highest stratum of the St. Augustine populace at this time. The paucity of

furniture seems to have been a universal Spanish characteristic. Even among

the nobility in Spain, furniture was a treasured item. Possession of even one

chair was an indication of high rank. During the 15th century a well-to-do

family possessed possibly one fine chair to be used by the head of the house-

hold, while other members of the family made do on benches, stools and
cushions. If the holdings of this class seem austere, one can only wonder

what an individual like Senor Gallegos might have owned.


Another means of solving the riddle of colonial decorative arts in

St. Augustine was the careful study of Spanish and Spanish colonial genre

paintings. These simple scenes of smoky kitchens and stark living areas

served to reinforce even further the concepts we were already forming.

Rooms furnished only in the most minimal and functional way consistently

appeared in works dating from the 16th century to the present day.

Once the research had been done and the preliminary furnishing plan

written, it became immediately obvious that the necessary artifacts would be

difficult if not impossible to locate. We decided, therefore, to manufacture

most of them in-house. Our cabinetmaker reproduced a number of appropriate

antique pieces from the Board's collection. Other craftpeople, such as the

blacksmith, weaver, and potter, made the necessary items of their trade.

In fact, it could be said that living history completely redefined the purpose

and function of the craft shops in San Agustin Antiguo.

The result of all this work was two barren but highly dramatic rooms,

which the visitor can observe today. Upon entering the first room, the visitor

is struck by the expanse of grey tabby floor and white plaster walls along which

sit trunks, stools, bed rolls, and a single chair. Above the one chair reserved

for a visiting priest, a civil officer or the head of the household, is a small

shelf. This shelf, the focal point of the family's daily prayers, contains a

small cross, a religious painting, rosary beads and other accroutrements of

the Catholic faith. The wooden trunks, on stands to prevent damage from damp

floors, contain the personal possessions of the family. To complete the "decor"

of this room, a few wall pegs are hung with clothing, clusters of tools, weapons

and fishing equipment.

In comparison with the front room, the kitchen seems almost cluttered.

Dominating the center is a simple work table. Hanging over it is a large

wooden "rodent proof" shelf, on which foodstuffs may be stored. The other

item of furniture is the alacena, or trastero, a type of free-standing cupboard

popular for centuries in Spain, Mexico and New Mexico. The most observable

feature of the room is, of course, the stove. This rectangular masonry structure,

with openings in the front and top for small fires, is known to have existed in

colonial St. Augustine as well as in other Spanish colonial countries. Smoke

from this "range" theoretically escapes from holes in the ceiling. The walls

and the ceiling, however, give sooty testimony to the inefficiency of this device.

Stoves of this type prompted the Quaker Botanist, John Bartram, to describe

early St. Augustine houses as ". . all as smoky as an Indian cabin though
their methods are various". Because of the smoke the house must be period-

ically whitewashed and generally freshened up, a process which brings to mind
the biannual "kitchen moving" which is done in the Southwest even today.

The fresh, informal atmosphere of Gallegos House is immediately

felt by the visitor. He is actually encouraged to sit on stools, to open chests

and to examine objects in the room. The unstructured interpretation gives

all visitors a choice of activities to experience. Interpretation in Gallegos

House stresses domestic chores. On any given day a visitor may come upon

a colonial meal in preparation, see wood being chopped, clothes being washed

and some gardening in progress. Special projects such as soap making, dyeing

or needlework are practiced as often as there is a need for the product, just

as in real-life.


Costumes, or period dress, in Gallegos House are limited to what

the average lower-class person would have worn at the time. A typical female

outfit consists of a simple linen shift, a petticoat, a woolen bodice and some

type of a head scarf. In cooler weather the costume is sometimes supple-
mented with a rebozo, a type of long shawl worn during the eighteenth century.

The success of living history in the Gallegos House led the staff to

consider further possibilities in a project such as this. Aware of the range

of educational prospects offered by the living history technique, the Historic

St. Augustine Preservation Board in cooperation with the Department of

Sociology of Flagler College, embarked upon an even more ambitious experiment

with this approach. In the summer of 1972 the Board received a matching grant

from the Florida Citizens Committee for the Humanities, a regranting agency

for the National Foundation for the Humanities. The grant was awarded under

the state theme "Man of the 70's: Coping with Change". Using these funds,

the Board and the college sought to construct an artificial "time tunnel" in

which a group of six previously-trained Flagler College students would recreate

lifestyles and cultural patterns as they might have existed in colonial St.

Augustine. The participants acted out the roles of two imaginary families,

those of a farmer and a fisherman, actually residing in the Gallegos House and

in an adjoining building, the Gomez House, for a period of six weeks. Living

in relative isolation, they depended only upon the material items and foodstuffs
which were known to exist in St. Augustine in the year 1750.

In programming this experiment several guidelines were set forth.

The 1750 family, it was felt, would most likely be lower class, of mixed blood,

and would enjoy little social and occupational mobility. Even though depending

somewhat upon relatives and neighbors, a family would have to be largely self

sufficient. The Catholic faith would be a binding force as well as a principal

form of entertainment. Leisure, however, was strictly limited. Life was
bleak, a continual struggle to survive.

In eighteenth century St. Augustine, food subsidies, or situados, from

the Spanish government provided staples such as rice, grains, and salted meat.

The situados were not always dependable so residents were forced to supplement

their diets with local seafoods and the produce of kitchen gardens. A typical

meal was usually prepared in one pot and took the form of a stew, or gruel.

The structure of the family was traditional. The husband consistently

played the dominant role and was responsible for the security and welfare of
his family. The wife and children remained subordinant.

Throughout the torturous summer weeks the participants attempted to

exist within this framework. Their trials and activities were recorded and

observed by staff advisors as well as by hundreds of visitors that passed through

the area. The reactions of the public ranged from sincere interest to complete

horror. As for the participants, despite the cultural shock they experienced and

the routine problems with which they wrestled, in the end they agreed that the

final results of the project were more than worth the effort.

Robert W. Harper III
November 1975


1. Robert I. Steinbach, "Martin Martinez Gallegos, unpublished report,
Jan., 1974, Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

2. Albert Manucy, The Houses of St. Augustine (St. Augustine 1962), p. 50.

3. "A Private Library", El Escribano, Vol. VIII, No. 3
(July, 1971), pp. 166-67.

4. "A Bitter Pill for the Widow Cendoya", El Escribano,
Vol. IX, No. 2 ( April 1972) pp. 74-76.

5. Grace Hardendorff Burr, "Furniture", The Hispanic Society of America
Handbook (New York 1938), pp. 246.

6. E. Boyd, Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico, Museum of New Mexico
Press (Santa Fe, 1974) p. 21.

7. Remarks in Francis Harper, ed., Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas,
Georgia and Florida from July 1, 1765 to April 10, 1766 (by) John Bartram,
in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, NS XXXIII,
part 1 (Philadelphia, 1942), pp. 51-55.

8. Boyd, p. 12.

9. "En Busca del Origen del Rebozo, Artes de Mexico, Ano XVIII, No. 142
(1971), p. 6.

10. Michael J. Sherman, Robert H. Steinbach, "Man of the 70's: Coping
with Change, Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board and Flagler
College (1973), pp. 4,5.

11. Ibid, p. 6.

12. Ibid, p. 7.

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