Profiles in History: Earle Newton

We’re so excited to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Preservation Board! We’ll be continuing to highlight the lives of those involved in St. Augustine’s historic preservation movement for the rest of the month. How much do you know about the very first executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission?

A black and white photograph of Earle Newton wearing a suit and sitting at a desk. He holds a pen above a pile of papers on his desk.
Earle Newton, UFDC.

Earle W. Newton II was born in 1917 in Cortland, New York.  After earning his Master’s degree in 1942, he began his career in cultural heritage by serving as the director of the Vermont Historical Society in Barre, VT. He helped to found the magazines American Heritage and Vermont Life. Newton was also the director of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts in the early 1950s. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the mid-1950s, conducting historical research abroad in both Sweden and London. Upon his return to the United States, was both director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Museums and Historic Sites and Properties and director of the Museum of Art, Science, and Industry in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

A color photograph of Earle Newton sitting at a wooden desk covered in papers. He holds a pen over papers while staring into the camera.
Earle Newton, 1967. UFDC.

In 1959, Earle Newton was recruited to St. Augustine to serve as the Preservation Commission’s first director. The Preservation Commission’s purpose was to restore and reconstruct historic buildings in downtown St. Augustine that would one day become a part of a Spanish colonial living history museum modeled off the likes of Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village.

Newton was appointed director-general of the National Quadricentennial Commission in advance of the 400th anniversary of the establishment of St. Augustine in 1965, This commission was put together by none other than President John F. Kennedy, though he would not live to see the festivities.

In 1962, the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission created St. Augustine Restoration, Inc., a private foundation to support the reconstruction and restoration of their properties. In addition to his duties as the Director of the Commission, Newton served as president of the Foundation. He resigned from Commission in 1968 and moved to West Florida to become director of the Pensacola Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission. However, he didn’t stay away from St. Augustine for too long. Newton returned to The Ancient City after founding a museum in Vermont and served again as director of the Commission, which had by that time restructured as the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

A black and white photograph of three people laying a stone block. Two men hold the stone while a lady smooths mortar with a trowel.
Laying Cornerstone of the Benet Store, 1960s. UFDC.

Earle Newton died in 2006 in nearby Ponte Vedra. He received the Order of Isabella la Catolica from Spain for his work in St. Augustine, and was also awarded an Officer of the British Empire designation for his interest in British history and art. His vast collection of British Art is housed at the Savannah College of Art and Design today.

How different would downtown St. Augustine look today without the early guidance of Earle Newton as director of our Preservation Commission?

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