There are dozens of museums in St. Augustine, Florida, and it can be difficult to narrow down which ones are worth visiting. With venues ranging from quirky, to touristy, to historic, we wanted to get the most out of our trip by visiting the places that would give us a meaningful glimpse into the oldest city’s history.
While we walked around downtown on our first evening, we peaked into windows and read plaques on the outside of buildings. After looking around the Ximenez-Fatio House and seeing the sheer size of the property, the furnishings, and the garden, we knew we found our desired museum for the trip.
Amazing Archaeology & Excavations
The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum property is the most excavated site in St. Augustine. Since the early 1960s, archaeologists have excavated Timucuan artifacts, items from the Spanish colonial period, and discarded bones and shells. One of these artifacts, a Caravaca Cross, is on display in the gift shop.
The cross is a strong symbol in the Spanish Catholic Church dating back to the 13th century. See the Broaden Your Horizons section at the end of the post for more information.
Evidence that people inhabited this property date back to the 16th century. At one point, several wooden buildings sat on this site, along with remnants of a tabby wall (a combination of shells, limestone, and sand).
In 1798, Don Andres and Juana Ximenez built their home here, and it’s that building which houses the museum today. The structure is composed of coquina - a type of porous limestone, made of fossils and marine invertebrates which formed near the coastline over millions of years. It is the same material the Spanish colonists used to construct the nearby Castillo de San Marcos.
For more information about the Castillo de San Marcos, check out my post here!
These coquina structures have withstood cannonball fire (at the Castillo) and hurricanes, and are still around to greet thousands of visitors every year.
The audio recording on our self-guided tour mentioned a mishap in the preservation of this building during the 1970s, when someone decided to “update” the building by replacing the exterior lime wash with stucco and the interior plaster with latex paint.
This update created huge problems for the building. Coquina collects moisture from the air, but has the ability to “breathe” it out, preventing the build-up of moisture, as long as it’s properly covered. The stucco and latex paint sealed this moisture in and created large patches of mold. Though preservationists have since restored the lime wash and plaster, the damage done fifty years ago is still visible today.
A Home for Many
In 1777, during Florida’s British period, Governor Colonel Patrick Tonyn offered sanctuary to approximately 600 Minorcans (also referred to as Menorcans) in St. Augustine.
These indentured servants emigrated from various parts of the Mediterranean – including the Spanish island of Minorca - to work for Dr. Andrew Turnbull on his indigo plantation. They were promised their own land in Florida, in exchange for nine years of labor. After nine years, the laborers, collectively referred to as Minorcans, fled inhumane working conditions and moved seventy miles north to St. Augustine.
One of their leaders, Francisco Pellicer, had negotiated asylum with the Governor Tonyn. The governor, who disliked Dr. Turnbull, was happy to see the doctor's financial interests fail. He welcomed the newcomers to the city.
These skilled Minorcan settlers found jobs in fishing, farming, and the trades. They eventually purchased their own homes and plots of land, gaining upward mobility throughout St. Augustine. This included the family of Francisco Pellicer.
It was here, in 1778, that Pellicer’s daughter Juana Pellicer Ximenez and her husband, Don Andres Ximenez, built their home complex.
The first floor of the home had a grocery store, storage room, tavern, and billiard area. On the second floor were the family’s quarters, which included their bedrooms and a living room. And finally, the third floor/attic area provided housing for the servants and slaves, as well as additional storage space.
Don Andres Ximenez passed away in 1806, only four years after his wife and two of his five children perished from yellow fever. The house stayed in the custody of the Pellicer family until they sold it to Margaret Cook in 1830.
Margaret turned the complex into a boarding house for visitors to St. Augustine. Over the decades, the boardinghouse was owned and operated by several different widowed women.
In 1852, the current owner, Miss Sarah Anderson, sold the house to her manager Louisa Fatio. For the twenty-five years Ms. Fatio ran the boarding house it was known as the preeminent place to stay in St. Augustine. Despite the changing political landscape – Civil War, Reconstruction, and economic instability – her boarding house maintained its elegant reputation.
After Ms. Fatio’s ownership ended, the house became a haven for local artists. By the 1930s, it had fallen into a state of disrepair. Fortunately, in 1939, The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America purchased the property and began restoring it.
Today, the museum complex is open to visitors who want to step back in time and experience what it would have felt like to live in St. Augustine 200 years ago.
From our first step onto this property, we were in awe of the beauty of it. Each room of the house has a numbered sign that lets you know which section you need to select for the self-guided audio tour.
The first room has a wealth of information for architecture aficionados and history buffs alike. Each wall in the room shows a different step in the construction of the home’s coquina walls, along with displays about the archeological history of the property.
The next room was the location of the original grocery store operated by the Ximenez family. According to the museum, this room will eventually undergo further restoration to make it look like it did during the late 1700s. For now, it has artifacts from the late 18th and early 19th century.
Though not all the items in the museum are from the Ximenez family, or even from Ms. Fatio’s time of ownership, they are all historically accurate for the museum’s time period and location.
The living area and bedrooms have a plethora of items to view. Signs throughout the home remind visitors not to touch the items. However, since the museum has not roped off any of the rooms, visitors can get up close to the items in them.
One of the most historically interesting sections of the home is in the attic. The museum does not gloss over the presence of slaves and servants in the house. Information about their lives and history adorn the walls here in the attic, where they lived.
Previous homeowner Sarah Petty Anderson owned ten slaves and freed a twenty-four-year-old woman named Emilia in 1844.
A record from 1832 shows that Louisa Fatio received six slaves from a man named John L’Engle. The surprising part of this, is the slaves names were documented during this transaction. Census records from1860 indicate that Louisa Fatio was no longer a slave owner. By 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, ending the practice in St. Augustine and throughout the country.
After seeing all the rooms and hearing about the history of the home, we soaked in the magnificent views from the wrap-around second-floor balcony, where it’s easy to imagine boardinghouse visitors enjoying the cool winter afternoons.
Though St. Augustine is not short on things to do, it’s worth making time to visit the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum – a fantastic jewel in the heart of the oldest city.
Know Before You Go
Location: 20 Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084
Parking: Limited parking is available near the museum at 28 Cadiz Street (only while you’re visiting the museum). Additional parking is available at metered spots throughout the city, paid parking lots, and at the downtown parking garage.
Duration: The amount of time you take on the tour is up to you. I would recommend setting aside at least an hour and a half.
Pets: The museum allows leashed dogs onto the grounds, but not inside the gift shop or historic home.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last tour at 4:15)
Fees: Variety of pricing options ranging from Free to $12. Check for updated pricing here.
Accessibility/Restrooms: The pathways are composed of level crushed shell, though some parts may be uneven. The restrooms, gift shop, outside kitchen, and laundry areas are wheelchair accessible. The home has several flights of stairs that will prohibit the use of wheelchairs and strollers after the first floor.
Restrooms are located to the left of the gift shop. The museum welcomes service animals.
Self-Guided Tour: When you pay the admission fee at the gift shop, staff provides each person with a handheld device for the audio tour with instructions about how to use it. The audio devices are quiet, but we still only used one of them between the four of us because we couldn’t get them to sync in time with one another, which created an echo effect.
For guided tours and special events, please check out the official Ximenez-Fatio House Museum website.
Broaden Your Horizons
Minorcan History & Culture in St. Augustine: https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/minorcans-of-st-augustine/
African-Americans in St. Augustine 1565-1821: https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/historyculture/african-americans-in-st-augustine-1565-1821.htm
The Caravaca Cross: https://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/h158_Caravaca.htm
Have you visited the Ximenez-Fatio House before? What’s your favorite museum in St. Augustine? Please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!