Happy Belated Mother’s Day! We’ve given our own mothers a lot of thoughtful and special presents over the years, but Elizabeth Towers’ sons knocked it out of the park when they gifted her a dilapidated building on Treasury Street in downtown St. Augustine, the Joaneda House.
Elizabeth Morley Towers was a longtime member of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board; serving first from 1965-1969 when it was the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission, and then from 1971-1979 under the auspices of the Preservation Board.
She was the only female member of the commission at the time, and was responsible for spearheading the Hispanic Garden project in advance of St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Celebration. Although she lived in Jacksonville, Towers held a special place in her heart for St. Augustine and was heavily involved in community organizations and revitalization efforts.
Given Mrs. Tower’s affinity for St. Augustine, it made perfect sense for her sons Bill and Charlie to purchase the structure known as the Joaneda House for their 73 year old mother in 1972. The home was originally built in 1806 as a wooden structure by Juan Joaneda, a Minorcan fisherman. Joaneda later rebuilt the structure out of coquina stone and sold it for a profit. It changed hands several times throughout the 19th century, and was used as a tailor shop at the end of the century. In the 1920’s, the Montgomery sisters purchased the property and turned it into a gift shop. The shop closed in 1966, and the building fell into severe disrepair. Bill and Charlie purchased the property for $35,000 and gave their mother the home to restore. This delighted her to no end, saying it was just what she’d always wanted since visiting St. Augustine for the first time in 1918.
Towers was insistent that the house be restored to its former glory and that very few changes should be made. They permanently closed off the entrance to the home from Treasury Street since there is no sidewalk and rerouted the entrance through the side yard garden. The restoration project began in earnest in 1975 and was completed in 1977. In total, it cost over $82,000. Towers donated the property to the Preservation Board and for a time it was used to house visitors. Today the Joaneda House is considered one of the oldest buildings in Florida thanks to the Towers family and their efforts to save it.
Elizabeth Towers died in March 1985 at the age of 86. Her contributions to the St. Augustine community, including her restoration of the Joaneda House and subsequent donation to the Preservation Board earned her a Great Floridian designation in 2000. We’re very thankful for her generosity and love for our Ancient City!