Government House

Did you know that St. Augustine is laid out in accordance with the typical Spanish town plan? This means that each town should feature a large plaza area in the center of the town, flanked by a religious center (the Cathedral) and governmental offices. Government House stands at the west end of our Plaza at the corners of St. George Street, King Street, and Cathedral Place. Though the building itself has changed quite a bit over its centuries-long history, the site of Government House has always served a vital purpose to the function of St. Augustine as Spanish, British, and American town.

A watercolor painting of Government House in 1764.
Government House, 1764.

The earliest building known to be located on this site was constructed around 1598 as the residence of the Royal Governor of East Florida, appointed by the King and Queen of Spain. It also served as the administrative headquarters of governmental functions of the city. This structure was torn down, rebuilt, renovated, and added onto several times throughout its life; our best idea of what it looked like during colonial times comes from a 1764 watercolor housed at the British Museum.

A black and white photograph of Government House and it's enclosed courtyard seen from a dirt road in 1864.
Government House, 1864.

The Second Spanish Period wasn’t kind to the governor’s residence; the Crown had little money to spare to send to its North American colonies, and the structures suffered. By 1811 the Royal Governor was no longer living in the building but it was still used for administrative purposes. When Florida became a territory of the United States, the building was officially named Government House and operated in several capacities. The building was renovated up to 19th century courthouse standards. Thomas Douglas, a U.S. Attorney, even lived in the building. Another renovation in the 1830s “Americanized” the building and removed many of the architectural elements that made Government House unique, like the five story tower.

A black and white advertisement featuring the Government House as the Post Office in 1922. Postmaster Charles F. Hopkins is seen standing from a balcony in a smaller photo. A plaque is seen in another small photo.
Government House, 1922.

Another renovation occurred after the Civil War under the direction of William Kimball. Much of the structure was demolished. Around this time, Government House began to operate as the post office for St. Augustine, in addition to the courthouse and other governmental functions. From 1935-1937,the Works Progress Administration remodeled the courthouse as “United States Post Office & Customs House.” Jacksonville architect Mellen Greeley was in charge of the redesign. Greeley was inspired by the 1764 watercolor of the old governor’s residence in his work; thus the building we see today appears very much like the 18th century Government House. The building opened on February 22, 1937 and served as St. Augustine’s post office until 1968, when the current post office was opened on King Street.

A black and white photograph of Government House in 1937 seen from the corner of King and St. George Streets. Automobiles are parked along both brick-paved streets and an electric traffic light is seen hanging over the intersection.
Government House, 1937.

The Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board took over the building and used it as their headquarters from 1968 until they were sundowned in 1997. Today, the spirit of their mission lives on in the building as Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum to reflect its Spanish past as the site of the Royal Governor’s residence. Our library operates out of the second floor, and we have museum exhibits open to the public from 10AM-5PM everyday. Next time you find yourself in St. Augustine’s downtown, come on in and see if you can spot some of the features that show our building’s evolving functions!

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