GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The nation’s oldest city has a big birthday coming up, and the University of Florida is helping to prepare St. Augustine for the party.
UF has completed more work toward improving historical structures and providing amenities for tourists as the town celebrates its 450th anniversary next year. UF used $1 million in state funding to add an elevator and renovate library and meeting space in the Government House as well as $750,000 for expansion of public restrooms on St. George Street. UF will receive $3 million for the upcoming fiscal year to complete the final phase of Government House restoration and other work on the state-owned historic buildings.
The next phase of the Government House makeover will include adding a chairlift, renovating the remaining second floor and fixing structural problems on the building’s exterior. The Government House updates provide compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act making the entire upstairs accessible for the first time so that it can be used for public and educational purposes.
During earlier project phases, UF renovated most of the ground floor of Government House and installed “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins,” an interactive exhibit showcasing the archaeology, history and stories of people of colonial St. Augustine, which opened in 2013. Funding for these projects is provided by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Florida Department of State.
The restrooms on St. George Street, located in the heart of the historic district, also aim to improve visitors’ downtown experience. In addition to general tourists, many school groups use the facility located across from the Colonial Quarter. In keeping with UF’s educational mission, the restroom project includes interpretive panels on interior and exterior walls developed by the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“We were inspired to use the restrooms as a vehicle to interpret colonial hygiene practices, which were very different from our habits today,” said Darcie MacMahon, director of exhibits and public programs for the Florida Museum. MacMahon, who directed both the First Colony and restroom projects, said the displays explore hygiene in colonial St. Augustine and answer common questions such as why colonial houses had no bathrooms.
The renovation projects enhance programs of UF Historic St. Augustine, the organization charged with managing these historic properties on behalf of UF. The programs aim to encourage students to engage with historical resources, gain hands-on experience and interact with tourism and historic preservation in the St. Augustine community. Students with interests in museum studies, architecture, preservation and design have participated in St. Augustine programs, and some UF students are interning in the Colonial Quarter living history museum this summer.