(St. Francis Barracks)
MILITARY DEPARTMENT, STATE OF FLORIDA
HEADQUARTERS, FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD
St. Francis Barracks 1863
(Earliest known picture of the State Arsenal)
State Arsenal Headquarters Military Dept. 1964
Major General Henry W. McMillan
The Adjutant General, State of Florida
The contribution rendered by the National Guard Officers Association of Florida
in financing the publication of this booklet is gratefully acknowledged.
HISTORY OF STATE ARSENAL
"St. Francis Barracks"
(1565 to present)
The State Arsenal, one of several buildings comprising
St. Francis Barracks and one of the oldest buildings in St.
Augustine, is the headquarters for the Military Department,
State of Florida and the Florida National Guard. This struc-
ture has not always been a military headquarters; it was
originally a Spanish Franciscan Monastery and Convent. Until
1763 it was the center of spiritual authority in Spanish North
America-the Province of Santa Elena de la Florida. Con-
verted to a military reservation by the British in 1763, St.
Francis Barracks became a full fledged military post while
under the U. S. Army control 1832 1900. This reservation,
comprising the barracks lot, the military hospital lot, the
powder house lot, and the "Hedrick lot" or powder magazine
lot, contained about 20 acres. In 1907 it was leased and later
conveyed to the State of Florida for military use. Today, it is
a 4.2 acre reservation containing the Headquarters, Military
Department, State of Florida (Florida National Guard), the
residence of the Adjutant General and members of his staff,
together with other buildings.
Aerial view, State Arsenal (St. Francis Barracks) 1964
Religious Era 1565 1763
The first records of this property, "Old Spanish Docu-
ments," indicate that the Franciscan Monastery Nuestra Se-
nora de la Concepcion originally occupied the site. This Mon-
astery and Convent, built of logs, was constructed in the
year 1588, following the arrival of the Rev. Alonzo de Rey-
noso, accompanied by a number of other priests and lay broth-
ers, in late 1577. An old map dated 1590, four years after Sir
Francis Drake destroyed the city, shows the existence of a
religious community on the present site of the Arsenal.
In 1599, the Monastery and Convent were destroyed by
fire. Three years later, 1602, the King of Spain sent 800 du-
cats to restore the buildings, which were completed about
1605. The Guardian of the Convent was made Parish Priest
and Chaplain of the Castillo de San Marcos. In 1610, the new-
ly built wood Convent was selected as the Capitular House
of the Province of Santa Elena de la Florida. The See of
Rome chartered the religious province here under the Order
On December 14, 1630, the King made special provisions
for the maintenance of this Monastery and its missions. He
ordered that money be drawn annually from Mexico to fur-
nish them with supplies and clothing. It has been reported
that in 1634, 35 priests and a number of lay brothers were
attached to the Franciscan Monastery. They ministered to
44 settlements between St. Augustine and Chesapeake Bay.
They are said to have converted more than 30,000 Indians.
In 1702, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Gov-
ernor Moore of South Carolina set fire to the city, destroying
the Monastery and Convent, as well as the Convent Library,
valued at 600 pounds sterling, which contained perhaps the
earliest past written records on colonization in America.
The King of Spain again sent funds for the rebuilding of
the Monastery and Convent, but due to official dishonesty,
the-money was misappropriated. For some time a crudely
constructed building with a palmetto roof served as a .chapel,
while nearby stood huts, like those of the Indians, to serve
as the Convent.
Map St. Augustine CA. 1769, Franciscan Convent, lower left
The existing walls of the Monastery, the L-shaped build-
ing to the south and west of the Arsenal, were constructed
during the time the Castillo de San Marcos was being built.
Appalachian Indians and convicts from Mexico were employed
in rebuilding the Monastery. The coquina rock (a native
shellstone) was quarried on Anastasia Island, about three
miles east, and ferried across the Bay. Both structures were
completed during the administration of Don Alonzo Fernan-
dez de Huerra, who was appointed royal governor in 1755.
Military Era 1763 Present
By the Treaty of 1763 between England and Spain, Flor-
ida was ceded to England. At this time, the friars, along with
most of the Spanish population of the city, left St. Augustine.
In an effort to protect the Church property from the British,
the Monastery and Convent were conveyed to John Gordon,
an English Catholic, for a consideration of $1,500.
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Wooden Barracks constructed by British 1770-71
The British Government ignored the agreement made
between the Spanish Government and John Gordon, and the
Monastery and Convent were converted into a military bar-
racks, when it was discovered that it had the best well water
in the city. They constructed a large three story wooden
barracks and kitchen on the adjacent land now occupied by
the National Cemetery, and improved the existing building
on the site of the original Franciscan Chapel and Convent.
This coquina building which stands today is "The State Ar-
senal." The wood for construction was brought from New
York by boat.
By the Treaty of 1783, Florida was returned to Spain
and Spanish troops took over these barracks. The Francis-
cans made an attempt to return to their buildings, but the
opposing influence of Governor Zespedes prevailed and they
were refused. Two Franciscans did come, however, one to
teach and one to serve as Chaplain of the garrison. Accord-
ing to records, the Franciscans left Florida in 1795.
In 1792, the three story wooden barracks, which had been
built by the English, was destroyed by fire. The troops re-
mained quartered in the remaining buildings until the United
States gained control of Florida on July 10, 1821.
1st Lieutenant Harvey Brown, U. S. Army, was assigned
4th Artillery, St. Francis Barracks, St. Augustine in August
1821 and had charge of repairing St. Francis Barracks during
By Act of Congress, June 28, 1832, St. Francis Barracks
was set aside and established as a permanent U. S. military
During the Seminole War, troops were sent from the bar-
racks on patrols to the south among the harried plantations
along the Mosquito and Tomoko River districts, as well as on
missions along the St. Johns River.
During the War between the States, Union Troops were
quartered in the barracks, and other facilities were added. It
remained a military post following the cessation of hostilities
and the personnel there added a military flavor to the city.
During the time that Geronimo's Indians were imprisoned in
the Castillo, soldiers of the barracks were their guard.
Dress parade 1884 followed by reception for President Chester
A. Arthur (inset) held in the right wing, second floor.
In 1867, the St. Francis Barracks were remodeled by the
War Department. Suites and reception rooms were construct-
ed to cater to gala affairs. It is reported that while Chester
A. Arthur was President of the United States (1881-1885),
he was entertained at a reception held on the second floor
right wing of the main building (State Arsenal). A Lt. Col-
onel Alexander Piper, 1st Arty, was in command of the Bar-
racks at that time. An event which never failed to draw a
crowd was the Saturday afternoon dress parade.
The barracks remained a Military Post until 1900 when
it was abandoned by the United States Army.
The St. Francis Barracks served as a temporary shelter
for orphans and Sisters of St. Joseph, whose orphanage and
Convent in Jacksonville were destroyed in the fire of 1901.
On August 15, 1907, the State of Florida leased the build-
ings for a term of five years as State Military Headquarters.
The main building was gutted by fire in December 1915,
but again the original walls were unharmed and for several
years the building lay in dismal ruins. Temporary headquar-
ters were established in other buildings of the post.
In 1921, Congress passed an act donating St. Francis Bar-
racks to the State of Florida for military purposes and the
State Legislature appropriated sufficient funds to restore the
buildings. F. A. Hollingsworth, local architect, under the
direction of the late Adjutant General Charles P. Lovell, drew
the plans for the restoration and modernization of the old
barracks, modeling them after the lines of the former struc-
During World War II and until 1949, it was also head-
quarters for State Selective Service.
Today, the military reservation houses the Headquarters,
Military Department, State of Florida and Headquarters,
Florida National Guard.
For four centuries the St. Francis Barracks (State Ar-
senal) has been a religious and military outpost and served
as the center of service and duty to country under four
flags. Its sturdy walls will continue to serve God, Country
and the State of Florida.
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State Arsenal after being gutted by fire of an undetermined
origin in 1915.
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State Arsenal and Military Reservation 1964