INTERPRETIVE GUIDE TO THE RIBERA HOUSE
The Ribera House is an accurate reconstruction of a home that stood on
this property from sometime before 1763 to approximately 1777. This
reconstruction was erected in 1964 by the St. Augustine Restoration
Foundation, Inc. over the building's original 18th century foundations.
Today this house serves as the Museum of San Agustin Antiguo-s
Historic documentation of this site's evolution is very limited making
site specific interpretation extremely difficult. The suggested
interpretation of this house and yard by our staff to the public should
simply focus on two areas:
1. This two story, four room home with an exterior kitchen area and
aesthetic gardens are representative of a wealthy family's lifestyle
in mid 18th century St. Augustine.
2. The basic characteristics of the house's design are representative
of vernacular St. Augustine Architecture of the latter years of the
First Spanish Period.
A plaque that stands under the staircase states that the construction
date of the original house was the 1730s. That date is mere speculation
as there is no evidence of any specific construction date. We only know
for sure that it was constructed prior to 1763.
Records show that the owner of this property in 1763 was Juan de Rivera,
an artilleryman at the Fort. Rivera was a native Indian of the Tolomato
mission village which stood where the old cemetery on Cordova Street
stands today. Most likely Rivera was not the original owner as it seems
he made numerous additions and repairs to the structure during his years
Rivera married Lorenza Ramos, a Canary Islander, about 1761. His death
is recorded in Cuba in 1772. The house itself was demolished during the
British Period, probably about 1777. Little else is definitely known
about the house and its occupants.
Comment: It is incongruous to interpret this house as an Indian
artilleryman's home and as representative of the wealthy's lifestyle of
that period. Please, in your interpretation to the public, focus
attention on the representative nature of the property and avoid the
details of Ribera's life. These details we supply to you solely for
I. The Architecture
A. Built on the "St. Augustine plan." Characteristics of that plan
1. Two or more rooms
2. A loggia along one side, usually the east or south side. A
a. Is an open-sided room built into or projecting from the side
of the building. A true loggia has at least two solid walls.
b. Provides extra living and work space.
c. Makes the house more comfortable, especially if it is located
on the south side.
1.) In winter, when the sun is low in the southern sky, the
loggia is warmed by sunlight.
2.) In summer, when the sun is high, the loggia is shady and
open to the cooling southeast ocean breezes.
B. There are no windows in the north wall. This is to keep out the
chill northerly winds of winter. Openings to the houses are from the
west, east and south the directions of spring and summer breezes.
C. There is no window glass, the openings being protected by wooden
shutters that open to the inside (not to the outside, as does the
standard Anglo-American shutter).
1. Window glass was rare in First Spanish Period houses.
2. Glass did not become common until the British Period.
3. Street windows are protected by a grating, called a reja. This
gave both protection and privacy. Women could sit in the window and
look out yet be shielded from public view.
D. Lacks a fireplace
1. Fireplaces were also rare in First Spanish Period dwellings.
They became common only during the British Period.
2. For heating their rooms, the Spaniards used braziers, or
braseros (pans of hot coals), a device commonly used in
Mediterranean cultures. Its use was a matter of cultural
(Brasero is pronounced brah-say-roh.
E. There is no door opening onto the street.
1. This was typical
2. Most houses were entered from the patio.
F. There is an outside stairway, another typical feature, and a
gallery on the second floor that corresponds to the loggia below.
G. The house has a flat, masonry roof. This was known as an azotea
H. This house features some doors and shutters that are 19th century
I. There is a detached masonry kitchen
1. It is built on the foundations of the 18th century kitchen
2. It is separated from the house to
a. Eliminate danger of fire
b. Keep smoke and cooking odors out of living area
3. It is a common; though not universal, feature of 18th century
Interpretive Note: In most of its architectural features, the Ribera
House resembles the humble Gallegos House across the street. It is
distinguished by being larger, more solid, and more elegant.
II. Use of Space
A. There is more differentiation and specialization in the use of
space in this house than in the Gallegos House.
B. The upstairs rooms and loggia area comprise the living quarters of
the family. Here the women would have spent most of their hours at
C. The downstairs rooms would have probably been used as a living
room and dining room.
III. The House
A. Is a reconstruction, erected in 1964 by St. Augustine Restoration
B. Is built over the foundations of the original Ribera House, so it
conforms in dimensions and floor plan to the original. The width of
the foundations indicated that the original building had two stories.
C. Is built of coquina. Coquina:
1. Is a type of limestone formed of compacted sea shells.
2. Is found in large deposits along the northeast coast of Florida.
3. Was used in the construction of the Castillo de San Marcos.
4. After 1702 was commonly used in houses.
D. Is plastered inside and out to provide a smooth, easily cleaned
surface and to reduce the absorption of water by the walls. This was
a typical practice. Walls were whitewashed on a regular basis.
IV The Upper Status Elements in St. Augustine
A. The Ribera House should be interpreted as representative of the
dwelling of an upper status family of the late First Spanish Period.
B. The upper class people in St. Augustine consisted of
1. Those who enjoyed rank and position
a. The governor and royal officials (i.e. the accountant and the
b. The officers of the garrison, particularly the sergeant-major,
the captains, ensigns, and lieutenants. (See outline of St.
Augustine in the First Spanish Period, part 1, pages 8 9.)
2. Those who commanded greater than average wealth
a. Included those noted above
b. Also included a few relatively well-to-do merchants
1.) Owned their own ships.
2.) Traded with Cuba, Mexico, and English colonies north of
3.) Brought in food, cloth and many items that were not
available through the situado e.g. sugar, honey, tobacco,
rum, ceramic ware.
C. Family connections were also important determinants of status.
Certain families, such as the Menendez Marques, Horruytiner, and de
Hita Salazar, regularly held important posts and commanded great
respect, (the names are pronounced: May-nen-des Mar-kess,
O-ruy-tee-ner, and Day Ee-tah Sa-la-sar).
D. We can safely say that position and family counted for more on the
scale of status than wealth.
E. Upper class individuals and families usually owned one or more
a. Helped work in the fields surrounding St. Augustine
b. Provided domestic service.
2. Consequently, the women of this social group probably bore fewer
burdens of a domestic nature and would have had time to do
Originally produced by 0. Ganong 6/77
Revised by D. Hayes 1/86