The collection of the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine (UFHSA) Governor’s House Library was established by the St. Augustine Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission. The group, a state agency, was created through a legislative act in 1959, although it echoed earlier, unpassed legislation from 1937. Governor Leroy Collins signed House Bill 774 on June 19, 1959 and authorized the Restoration Commission
“to acquire, restore, preserve, maintain, reconstruct, reproduce, and operate for the use, benefit, education, recreation, enjoyment, and general welfare… [St. Augustine’s] historical and antiquarian sites.”
The impetus for establishing the Restoration Commission was the rapid dilapidation and disappearance of historic structures, which defined the character of the city and made it a popular tourist destination. The success of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and the looming 400th anniversary of the city in 1965 catalyzed restoration efforts. The Restoration Commission decided to focus on northern St. George Street, which eventually became known as the “Restoration Area.” “Restoration” generally took the form of recreating the city’s colonial landscape by reconstructing buildings on their original foundations which were first determined by archaeological excavations.
In 1962 an educational-charitable corporation (St. Augustine Restoration, Inc.) was established to take private gifts and donations. By 1970 the corporation had acquired 34 parcels of land on which 29 historic structures were either reconstructed or restored.
In 1968 the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act prompted the State of Florida to adopt a new constitution. The Restoration Commission was then placed under the auspices of the Department of State and lost its “commission” status, instead becoming a “board.” Though the organization operated as a board, they were not officially renamed the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board (HSAPB) until a board meeting on March 31, 1970. After this shift, the HSAPB did not directly control its budget or properties.
The HSAPB was involved in numerous events that celebrated the history of the city. Most notable were the Quadricentennial (400th) Anniversary in 1965, the Days in Spain events in the 1960s and 70s, the Sesquicentennial (150th) celebration at the Castillo de San Marcos, and the annual Fiesta Menéndez/Menéndez Birthday Celebrations.
The HSAPB was sundowned in 1997, after which the library was operated by the City of St. Augustine Department of Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism. The state assumed stewardship over Governor’s House and the library in 2010. At this time, the University of Florida was tasked as a governing body for the management of state-owned properties in St. Augustine in order to ensure long-term preservation and interpretation of the sites.
The library grew as an academic foundation to support the interpretative work of the HSAPB. The research staff were primarily interested in historic house construction, period furnishings, the residents of the properties, and day to day life in the colonial period. In order to compliment the interpretation of the Castillo de San Marcos by the National Park Service as military site, the decision was made to interpret the Restoration Area through a domestic lens. The focus of the library supports the presentation of the story of colonial-era St. Augustine to the public.
Governor’s House Library has a large collection of documents relating to archaeological excavations conducted on the HSAPB properties. It also includes photographs and documentation of properties and HSAPB events. While some very early materials are present in the library dating from the 1930s-1960s, the bulk of the material dates between the 1970s and 1980s.
The Library includes 121 boxes of archival material, approximately 800 maps, 4,832 photographic negatives, 6,377 photographic prints, 11,810 slides, and 350 architectural drawings.
Visit the website for UF Historic St. Augustine (UFHSA), the direct support organization for the University of Florida in St. Augustine, and learn more about the mission to ensure the long-term preservation and interpretation of state-owned historic properties in the Ancient City!
Governor’s House Library is located on the second floor of a WPA-era post office in the St. Augustine Town Plan Historic District (a National Historic Landmark). Governor’s House is open to the public from 10am-5pm every day, and the Library is open to researchers by appointment. See the contact information page to start your research!