Hitting the Bricks

To say that St. Augustine was transformed by Henry M. Flagler (oil magnate, hotelier, and Uncle Pennybags impersonator) would be an understatement. You can’t throw a rock downtown without hitting something that he influenced in some way, and Governor’s House is no exception. But as we will see, sometimes the best of intentions can have unintended negative consequences.

A plan of Post Office Park from the 1893 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.
Post Office Park in plan view from the 1893 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. View it online here

On September 18, 1893 a Jacksonville newspaper named The Evening Telegram ran a front page story about the improvements that had recently been made to the park behind the present-day Governor’s House. At the time the structure housed the local post office, as well as a public library, and the attached park was the property of the federal government. It’s normally listed as “Post Office Park”, however the article refers to it as “Palmetto Park”, likely as a result of Flagler’s improvements. The report states that thanks to Flagler’s financial support, the site went from “a cow lot” to a beautiful park with all the familiar elements such as “grass, concrete walks, a neat fence, trees, labor, etc.”

A black and white photograph Government House and a fountain seen from Post Office Park in 1906.
Post Office Park / Palmetto Park with Flagler improvements in 1906. View it online here

In concert with the improvements by Flagler, the City had a brick sidewalk installed on the south edge of Palmetto Park, along King Street. While this wasn’t the first brick sidewalk in the city, it was an early one. The first mention of a brick sidewalk I have seen is of one placed in front of Grace United Methodist Church when construction was wrapping up in 1887. The brick sidewalk at Palmetto Park was an upgrade from a wooden “plank walk” that proceeded it.

A black and white photograph of Post Office Plaza from Cordove Street looking east in the early 1900s.
“Post Office Plaza” from Cordova St. looking east, ca. early 1900s, c/o State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project. View it online here 

Before continuing, I want to note that the story about the improvements in Palmetto Park ran on the front page, but the following story ran on page three. It seems that almost immediately following the installation of the brick sidewalk, instances of brick-related crime skyrocketed. Within a week the windows of 4 local shops were smashed with bricks purloined from the new walkway. According to the article the Monhanan store was hit first, with some cooking utensils and razors being stolen. Next was $50 and a watch stolen from Mr. Snowden in the night. On September 15 a brick went through the window of Hamblen’s Harware Store where 4 revolvers were taken. I will defer to the author for the description for the crime most recent to the publication of the article:

“To further celebrate this first brick sidewalk laid in the Ancient City a select thief entered the back door of Andrea’s butcher shop on St. George street and selected from a choice stock of hams four of the nicest”

As the author concludes in the article, “the burglarious part of this community is seemingly in a flourishing condition.” This is why we can’t have nice things, St. Augustine!

A color postcard of Post Office Park  with Hotel Alcazar and Hotel Ponce De Leon seen in the background around the early 1900s.
“Post Office Park” in the early 1900s, c/o State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project. View it online here

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