Fatio House press
By NANCY POWELL
Times-Union Staff Writer
ST. AUGUSTINE Tourism was
already a major industry in St. Au-
gustine when Florida attained
statehood in 1845.
But, historical data indicates that
many of the tourists who wintered in
St. Augustine as early as 1819 were
ailing and vacationed more for their
health than for pleasure.
A few came, as do modern-day
tourists, to speculate in land.
In view of the number of ailing visi-
tors, it is not unlikely that the oper-
ators of those early tourist inns may
have occasionally had to send a guest
home in a casket.
Such speculation, derived from
years of research, has had a dramatic
effect on the manner in which Colo-
nial Dames in Florida went about
preserving and decorating St. Augus-
tine's lone surviving forerunner of the
modern tourist resorts.
It is the 12-year-old structure on
Aviles Street, listed on the National
Register as the Ximenez-Fatio
Visitors to the Fatio House in St. resorts. Historic data indicates that
Augustine can view rooms lived in by many of the to ts who visited were
families who spent their winter vaca- ailing and came Florida to recover
tions at the inn, the town's only re- from medical p lems.
maining forerunner to modern tourist
Ximenez was the name of a
wealthy Spanish merchant who built
the original two-story stone structure.
Andres Ximenez and his bride lived
upstairs. Downstairs, Ximenez sold
dry goods and liquor. Records show
he also had a license for billiards and
The name Fatio harkens back to
the days when Miss Louisa Fadio, a
member of a prominent Florida fam-
ily, operated the house as a famous
residence for winter tourists.
In a recent interview. Dr. William
Seale, author, historian and authority
on American decorative arts, de-
scribed the Fatio House as the best
preserved house in Florida.
Seale visited the museum house
following the most recent of many ar-
chaeological digs that continuously
unearthed new information about the
economic and social status of the inn-
keepers and their guests during three
periods dating to 1835 when the house
was purchased by Margaret Cook,
the first of three women who ran the
house as a business.
Seale believes the Fatio House pro-
ject is unique because it deals with
the general history of women's
achievements in America.
"The story the house tells deals
with a series of women thrown on the
world to make a living on their own
- not just a single character in histo-
The beauty of the project, Seale
said, "is that investigation of the his-
tory is on-going. The more questions
the Dames answer, they more they
raise. They always will be improving
The Dames have owned and
worked on the house since 1939, but it
was not opened to the public until
about seven years ago following a fi
nal major facelift provided by a grant
for architectural and archaeological
research from the National Trust for
Charles E. Peterson, architectural
historian from Philadelphia, Pa
made the first diagnostic study of the
Times-Union and Journal, Jacksonville, Sunday, October 26, 1980
bygone era of tourism
The Fatio House in St. Augustine, restored by the Colo- tail and historical accuracy has impressed scholars and
nial Dames, offers modern-day tourists the opportunity to has led to the house being called the "best preserved
experience what life was like for tourists who wintered at house in Florida." Research at the old inn has led to a
the inn in the early 19th century. Careful attention to de- number of new discoveries.
house and prescribed initial alter-
ations and improvements.
Seale, who teaches classes in deco-
rative arts at Columbia University
and is writing two books on the White
House, was engaged nine years ago
as decorative consultant.
Seale, along with Robert Harper,
curator at the Lightner Museum and
numerous other antique buffs, have
also played sleuths for the Dames in
finding matches for bits of china,
glas, bottles and pottery unearthed
in digs. One result of their efforts is
the complete set of old china on the
table settling in the Fatio House din-
ing hall. It matches exactly the pat-
t ,t dli the broken bits found in a dig.
The recently completed dig by Dr.
Kathleen Deagan's archaeological
students from Florida State Universi-
ty took place in the Colonial kitchen
built separately from the house.
The kitchen is the only original
structure of its type still standing in
The first phase of the dig which be-
gan in 1979 was financed by the Jessie
Ball duPont Religious, Charitable and
Because of the significance of the
site, the students engaged in the dig
wanted to continue after money ran
out in January. As a result, FSU, the
Charter Co., the Barnett Bank of St.
Augustine and the Winn Dixie Foun-
dation chipped in an additional
The exact age of the kitchen has al-
ways been questionable, but Deagan
said the dig has pretty well estab-
lished it was built in 1770 prior to
the construction of the house.
Equally important to telling the full
story of tourist life in the 19th Cen-
tury was evidence of a wooden shed
behind the kitchen where a great
many pins, thimbles, needles and
homemade bone buttons were buried.'
Deagin said the items suggest the
shed was used as a laundry and
mending room during the period
Fatio House was run as guest inn.