One of the most interesting aspects of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board’s restoration efforts was the operation of interpretive spaces for visitors to the downtown. Many of the houses reconstructed by the board decorated to reflect the families who lived in them during the Spanish and British periods and on tour. In addition to the homes, the Preservation Board’s interpretation of Spanish and British St. Augustine included live demonstration and presentation of craftsmanship.
The Sims Silver Shop was named for William Sims, a Scottish silversmith who set up shop in St. Augustine during the British Period. Unfortunately, the Preservation Board was unable to determine where Sims’ shop was located, so they chose a location near the Castillo de San Marcos on the corner of Charlotte and Cuna Streets. The building was a frame house and shop, based on the types of structures that would have been built by the British during that time. Inside the shop, visitors could see antique silver pieces displayed, such as spoons, candlesticks, and tea caddies, as well as a silversmith workshop with smithing tools. The Preservation Board also reproduced some silver items in their own shop, spoons in particular, that visitors could purchase as a souvenir. Today the Sims Silver Shop is a candle shop.
Tourists could also visit the Preservation Board’s Saddle and Harness shop, a replica of a typical saddlery that probably existed in St. Augustine during the British Period. Although they didn’t have documentary evidence of a leather shop in the city, the board’s historians felt certain there would have been a shop in both the British and Spanish periods since most travel in Florida was on horseback at that time. Inside the leather shop, a leathercraftsman in colonial costume would greet visitors and demonstrate a wide variety of leathering skills, including tooling and decorating saddles, books, belts, and other items.
The Wells Print Shop was named for William Wells, a printer from Charleston who briefly resided in St. Augustine. His newspaper, the East Florida Gazette, was the first newspaper in both St. Augustine and the state of Florida. Wells and his brother arrived in St. Augustine in 1783 but left after only a year, when the Spanish regained control of the city. Once most of the British left a newspaper printed in English was no longer of interest. The Preservation Board built a replica of Wells’ printing press and opened the print shop in 1966. Interpretive staff operated the press daily, making reproductions of historic maps, pages of the East Florida gazette to sell to visitors in their gift shops, and other printed items for the Preservation Board. Today, the Wells Print Shop operates as a jewelry and gift shop on Cuna Street.
You might recognize it better today as Crucial Coffee, but fifty years ago this wood frame structure operated as the Preservation Board’s Blacksmith Shop. It was reconstructed to appear similarly to a blacksmith shop that operated near the site in the late 18th century. The Preservation Board reproduced almost all of the features that would have been in a colonial blacksmith shop, including a double forge and equipment for making horseshoes. A.H. “Coco” Mickler, a trained blacksmith of Minorcan descent, worked in the shop. He not only demonstrated his craft to visitors, but also made hardware that would be used in the Preservation Board’s reconstruction property projects.
The Preservation Board’s display of colonial crafts made visitors’ experience in the Ancient City interesting, educational, and fun, and also provided more in-depth insight into the everyday lives of St. Augustine’s Spanish and British residents!