Locked Away

On December 28, 1982 the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board got a curious letter from the curator of the Maine State Museum. He explained how he found an old iron rim lock in a storage area that had been looted by a Union soldier when he was stationed in St. Augustine during the Civil War. According to the tag on the item this soldier, Essec Fuller, had swiped the lock from “the old Spanish house…built by the Spanish in 1559” on May 13, 1862. The Museum was interested in repatriating the artifact to St. Augustine, and the collections of Preservation Board seemed to be the best candidate.

A color photograph of a piece of paper with the following typed on it: "This Lock was taken from the old Spanish House at St. Augustine Fla. by Essec Fullter May 13th, 1862. This House was built by the Spanish in 1559 and 27 years before any other house now standing in the United States."

While there is little doubt the lock came from St. Augustine, there are two problems with the date of the “old Spanish house”. First, St. Augustine wasn’t founded until 1565, six years after the alleged construction of the house. Second, St. Augustine was attacked and burned several times throughout its history, the most thorough being in 1702 when Governor Thomas Moore of Carolina burned the entire city to the ground with the exception of the Castillo de San Marcos. Therefore, we know that no house can possibly predate 1702.  

While present-day St. Augustine only has one “Oldest House”, in the 19th and early 20th centuries you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a home that claimed the superlative. The Preservation Board staff did some sleuthing and found the Guide-Book of Florida and the South from 1869 where the author mentions that in that year the title of “oldest house” was held by a home at Green Lane and Bay Street. This corresponded with the Worth House, constructed between 1791 and 1799 by Miguel Ysnardy, which would have qualified it as a colonial-era house (although hardly the “oldest”) EXCEPT that it was demolished in 1961 and reconstructed across the street. You may know the contemporary Worth House as O. C. Whites Seafood and Spirits. It’s possible that the lock actually came from a door on the Worth House, but we have no real way of knowing.

The lock was officially accessioned into the Preservation Board collection on March 24, 1983, and today is part of the Governor’s House Library museum object collection. Assuming the lock was original to the construction of the Worth House, it still has 25 years to go until it has spent as much time in St. Augustine as it did in Maine. Despite its long and mysterious trek away from St. Augustine, the lock Essec Fuller took with him has one of the most interesting backstories of our artifact collection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s