Back To School At Governor’s House

Since 1598, Governor’s House has served the city of St. Augustine in many different ways, including as a governor’s residence and office, barracks, a courthouse, a post office, a museum, and a library. However, did you know it also housed a school? ⁠Let us head back in time together to learn more about this short chapter in Governor’s House’s long history.

In 1819, the Spanish governor José Coppinger obtained a detachment of soldiers from Malaga, Spain. Without a space to house them, Coppinger requisitioned “the building close by the Parish Church used for a school.” This wood and coquina building – known as the King’s School or School of the Spanish Government – stood north of the Plaza de la Constitución near the backside of the current Cathedral Basilica. The Spanish Treasury funded the free school for children of families unable to hire private tutors. The earliest references of the institution goes back to 1803.

An illustrated map of St. Augustine around 1819 showing the city and surrounding fortifications.
See if you can spot Government House on this circa 1819 map of St. Augustine. (Library of Congress)

Moving the soldiers into the schoolhouse, he then transferred the pupils to a room in the nearby Government House. At this point in Government House’s story, the building served primarily administrative purposes and no longer acted as the governor’s residence. The structure suffered due to a lack of funds from Spain during the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821), so the schoolmaster found his new classroom in much need of repair. He noted “numerous leaks during the frequent rains” and the difficulty of heating the space during cold weather. This unpleasant situation deprived the students of many days of education.

When word reached the governor, an appeal was made to return the students to their old schoolhouse. With instructions from Havana, the soldiers moved into Government House. The return of the pupils did not last long as that same year, Spain transferred the colony to the United States of America with the signing of the Adams–Onís Treaty. The United States government claimed the “Casa de la Escuela” as a public property and turned it into a home for the Territorial Court, City Council, and a small private school.

A black and white illustration of people strolling in St. Augustine's Plaza de la Constitución around 1840.
This 1840 magazine illustration gives us an idea of what Government House looked like in 1819. (UFDC)

Today, students visit Government House (now Governor’s House Museum and Cultural Center) once more. This time for field-trips and research instead of a leaky, cold classroom.

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