Saint George Street is arguably the most well-known and visited street in Saint Augustine, representing the center of the town and the site of many of the reconstructed Spanish colonial buildings in the Oldest City. Many of you have no doubt spent a few hours strolling up and down St. George between the cathedral and the city gates, visiting shops, grabbing a bite to eat, or touring the Colonial Quarter. But have you ever wondered how St. George Street got its name? For a city with such deep Spanish roots, it seems strange that the most prominent street would bear an English name today. We dug into the archives here at Governor’s House Library to learn more about the history of St. George Street and its name.
For much of Saint Augustine’s early history, none of its city streets had formal associated names. During the First Spanish Period (1565-1763), all of the streets were simply known by their location or the place to which they led, like “the hospital street”. The closest a street came to having a name was being called “calle real”, which referred to any road in the city maintained by the treasury. The street that would become today’s Saint George Street was a “calle real”, and was known to the city’s earliest residents as “the street of the governor” or “the street of the church”.
The British were the first to apply formal street names during their twenty years of control in East Florida. Saint George Street, the main thoroughfare even at that time, was assigned its first official name, George Street, to honor the reigning monarch, King George III. When Spanish control was restored in 1783, the street name was retained and called Calle Jorge. However, they still had no formal street naming system, so the locals continued to refer to it by landmarks and functions as they did in the First Spanish Period.
Street naming became a standardized practice in Spain in the 1790s, and made its way to Florida in time for the 1793 census of Saint Augustine. In the census, Calle Jorge was officially given the name “Calle de San Jorge”; Saint George Street in English. The new street name appeared on the Diaz Berrio map of 1797, pictured below. It is not known for certain why the Spanish altered the name from Jorge to San Jorge, but we do know that for many years, the Spanish called the area in South Carolina now known as Charleston San Jorge.
Saint George Street made its last official name change during the American Territorial Period (1821-1845). This final change is documented for the first time in the 1830’s on early American maps of Saint Augustine. Spanish or English, the “street of the governor” is firmly rooted in Saint Augustine’s history from its earliest days to the present.
To see more views of St. George Street and the rest of the city as it changes through time, check out WhatWasThere, an online platform that allows us to document photographic history and tag images to their location. Using Google Street View, WhatWasThere allows you to see the historic images overlaid atop the modern buildings. Some buildings change drastically, and others not as much. It’s a fun tool and we are excited to contribute photos from the Governor’s House Library collection to the site. To find out photographs, search Saint Augustine, FL.