So What’s A Governor’s House?

Have you always wondered: What is the difference between a governor’s house and a government house? Why does Florida have a governor’s house in St. Augustine and a governor’s mansion in Tallahassee? Well, today we are here to answer some of your gubernatorial housing questions.

Governor’s House vs. Government House

To keep this definition simple: A governor lives in a governor’s house, mansion, or palace. Meanwhile, a government house is “a building containing the principal government offices especially in a British colony or Commonwealth country.” (A governor might also live in a government house.)

Florida’s Gubernatorial Residences

On the Gulf Coast, Spanish conquistador Tristán de Luna y Arellano briefly took the title of governor with the establishment of Pensacola in 1559. Lost to a hurricane, Spain did not reestablish the outpost until 1698, which became the largest city and capitol of West Florida.

St. Augustine

Meanwhile in St. Augustine, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés became governor in 1565 with the settlement of St. Augustine. From this point until 1598, St. Augustine’s governors constructed their homes or rented houses. Unfortunately, none of these early structures remain.

Partial copy of 1764 watercolor of Government House (also known as Governor’s House) (UFDC)

In 1598, Gonzalo Méndez de Canço moves the governor’s office into his wooden home west of Plaza de la Constitución. With Canço’s departure in 1603, the next governor Pedro de Ibarra requested the Crown buy this property. 48 King Street continued to operate as the center of Florida’s government (with a few remodelings along the way). When transferred to Great Britain in 1763, the colony split into two. St. Augustine remained the capital of East Florida until 1821. Under the American flag, Governor’s House no longer served as a home to Florida politics.

Pensacola

A perspective view of Pensacola drawn from the harbor around 1743.
This persceptive view of Pensacola circa 1743 features a Government House (UFDC)

During the British Period (1763-1783), the British replaced the existing Spanish fort with a larger fortification. This newer fort included a government house within its walls. It was the second largest structure in the fort being three stories tall with balconies on all sides.

With Spain’s 1783 return, Pensacola continued as West Florida’s capital until (occupied and then) ceded to the United States in 1821. General Andrew Jackson then became Florida’s provisional governor. His wife Rachel offers a glimpse of Government House and their rented home in her letters:

At seven o’clock, at the precise moment, they hove in view under the American flag and a full band of music. The whole town was in motion. Never did I ever see so many pale faces. I am living on Main street, which gave me an opportunity of seeing a great deal from the upper galleries. They marched by to the government house, where the two Generals met in the manner prescribed, then his Catholic majesty’s flag was lowered, and the American hoisted high in air, not less than one hundred feet.

Rachel Jackson to Eliza Kingsley on July 23, 1821 [Parton, James (1861). Life of Andrew Jackson. Mason Brothers. p. 600]

Jackson’s tenure as governor ended after four months and the territory’s capital moved to Tallahassee in 1824. Today, neither structures stand in Pensacola.

Tallahassee

  • A black and white photograph of a neoclassical mansion amongst pines and people.
  • A black and white photograph of a neoclassical mansion amongst oak trees.
  • A color photograph of a neoclassical mansion.

In the new seat of government, Florida’s chief executives provided their own housing. The Florida Metropolis described the situation: “Since the Governor receives but $3,500 per year, he must do the best he can at boarding houses and hotels, precluding proper social functions expected of a head of state.”

In 1905, legislature provided funding “for the Acquisition of a Site, and the Erection, Building and Furnishing of a Mansion Thereon for the Governor of the State of Florida.” George Saxon, a Tallahassee banker, gifted the state with four lots on the then northern city limits of Tallahassee. Architect Henry Klutho designed the neoclassical mansion.

Alas, the 1907 Governor’s Mansion – then called the “State Shack” – met a wrecking ball due to deterioration. In 1953, the legislature funded a new structure. Architect Marion Sims Wyeth used the Hermitage – the Tennessee home of Andrew Jackson – as his model. Between 1955 and 1957, Governor LeRoy Collins and his family moved to their home The Grove.


Today, you can you visit both The Grove Museum and Florida’s Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee as well as Governor’s House Museum and Cultural Center in St. Augustine.

One thought on “So What’s A Governor’s House?

  1. Pingback: Back To School At Governor’s House – Governor's House Library

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