Women’s History Month Salute Planned In March

Ximenez-Fatio House

Ximenez-Fatio House

 

The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum located at 20 Aviles Street in downtown St. Augustine is focusing on Women’s History Month in March with ongoing tours to honor the historic property’s female ownership since 1821. The members of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Florida (NSCDA-FL) purchased the House in 1939 and with painstaking restoration and inventorying of priceless antiques and physical improvements, it is now considered to be one of St. Augustine’s best-preserved Spanish colonial dwellings. During Women’s History Month in March, the House and Museum will serve as a preeminent local site depicting female ownership of the boarding house lifestyle during Florida’s Territorial/Early Statehood Period.

As a centerpiece of the nation’s oldest settlement with a location along the city’s first platted street, the House and Museum is one of the first historic properties to interpret 19th century women’s history. As a credit to the efforts of the NSCDA-FL and staff leadership, it is one of the South’s most authentically preserved and accurately interpreted historic house museums according to several national experts.

According to Julia Vaill Gatlin, executive director of the House, the well-preserved venue has always been owned and operated by women including Margaret Cook, who bought the House from the Ximenez heirs in 1821 and operated the property with Eliza Whitehurst. Sarah Petty Anderson purchased the House in 1838 and retained Louisa Fatio to manage the boarding facility. Ms. Fatio bought and operated the House beginning in 1855. As a single woman who raised four nieces and one nephew, she previously operated two boarding houses. Fatio was an educated woman who spoke four languages. She was the daughter of Don Francisco Felipe Fatio, a prominent, successful businessman and landowner in northeast Florida. He was a native of Switzerland and established the New Switzerland Plantation during the mid 1700s in what is now the Switzerland community on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla. Ultimately, the Dames purchased the property from a Fatio heir.

Guided tours will feature significant Spanish architecture and lush gardens of Florida flora and fauna, gates, patios, balconies, antique furnishings and “American Plan” building design and rooms that portray the original settlement. The property is currently interpreted as an elegant Inn, or Boarding House which flourished during Florida’s Territorial and Early Statehood periods (1821-1861). The historic grounds date back to St. Augustine’s original town plan of 1572.

Some of the featured accoutrements collected and restored by the succession of female owners include Punkah fans made of wood and fabric panels and displayed above the 20 person, fine dining room table. Also, English and American china and table settings along with period pieces are exhibited in the welcoming and gathering rooms, living areas and sleeping rooms. A detached kitchen and original hearth and oven cooking area have been preserved by the Dames and is the only original 18th century kitchen structure remaining in northeast Florida. The unique “frail ladies room” is a feature that depicts the lifestyles of female guests who convalesced in the warm climate. Men and women had separate accommodations and children stayed with their mothers and caretakers. Modern plumbing was non-existent and chamber pots were stored under the beds.

A staff of cooks prepared all meals and servants and housekeepers cleaned the House and prepared lighting and wood-burning fireplaces for heat in each sleeping and gathering room. During this time, the female owners greeted all visitors when they arrived at the House from more than eight miles away on the St. Johns River by steamboat and traveled by horse drawn carriage to the bay front establishment. The lifestyles of these early visitors to St. Augustine are exhibited in more than a dozen rooms.

The members of the NSCDA-FL significantly restored and improved the property for public tours throughout their ownership with significant fundraising efforts to build an on-site administrative building and install a visitor and learning center, and museum gift shop with educational materials and videos along with art, jewelry and other merchandise that represent the period.  Also, featured in the learning center is the archaeologically significant Caravaca Cross which was discovered at the House in 2002. The small cross was retrieved from the tens-of-thousands of items in an on-site archaeology dig. Another archeological dig in 2014 uncovered a myriad of ancient artifacts and original settlement foundations, among many others.

The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 4:00 pm and tours of the buildings and rooms are available from 11 am until 3:00 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Tours are free for St. Johns County residents. Special admission pricing for women during the month of March is $3.50. Normal admission pricing for adults is $7; families $15, and for students, seniors and military $5. Group tours are welcome at $4.50 per 10 or more. The property is available for group functions including weddings and events. The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is a Florida Heritage Landmark and is also recognized as an integral part of the St. Augustine Town Plan National Historic Landmark District. Ximenez-Fatio House has been rated as the #1 attraction in St. Augustine by TripAdvisor and received TripAdvisor’s 2013 and 2014 Certificate of Excellence designation.

Ongoing public awareness events are held at the Ximenez-Fatio House as part of the non-profit organization’s mission to further America’s national heritage through historic preservation, patriotic service, and educational projects. Visit the website at www.ximenezfatiohouse.org, Twitter at https://twitter.com/XFHouse and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/XFHouse?v=wall&viewas=0. View the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDp_Nr7IAzU. For more information, call 904-829-3575 or email info@ximenezfatiohouse.org.

 

 

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