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González-Alvarez House

St. Augustine, Florida

Gonzalez-Alvarez House

González-Alvarez House
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A National Historic Landmark, the González-Alvarez House is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial dwelling in St. Augustine, Florida. While evidence exists that the González-Alvarez House site had been occupied since the 1600s, the present house dates to the early 1700s. Construction began on the house around 1723 and it reached its final form in 1790. The house exhibits both Spanish and British colonial architectural details and styles. A visit to the house reveals a record of life in St. Augustine over 400 years – through the Spanish, British, and American occupations of St. Augustine.

Spaniard Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established St. Augustine in 1565. Although St. Augustine had an early history plagued by violence and destruction at the hands of rival European nations, the settlement persevered and survived to be the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. Spanish settlers not only had to fight rival European nations, they had to adapt to Florida’s intense weather. Adjusting their architectural techniques to the climate needs of Florida, the Spanish developed a plan for the typical St. Augustine colonial dwelling from 1703 until 1763. When the British briefly controlled St. Augustine from 1763 until 1784, they adopted and improved upon this plan. The González-Alvarez House represents both of these phases of colonial architectural development.

Colonists learned how to quarry and use coquina, a natural shell-stone located on the local barrier Anastasia Island

Colonists learned how to quarry and use coquina, a natural shell-stone located on the local barrier Anastasia Island
Courtesy of Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster), Wikicommons

A typical Spanish colonial St. Augustine residence was a one-story rectangular shaped building with two to four rooms. The homes had either a loggia (an open-sided room) or a porch, and often a street balcony. The main entrance to the home was through either the loggia or the porch, which opened to a walled garden in the rear. The thick coquina (a natural shell-stone) walls provided protection from heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Braziers heated the houses, which did not have chimneys. An essential element of the plan was to orient the home’s open areas to face south or east for ventilation purposes. In the summer, winds from the southeast moved through the homes, ventilating the large rooms and cooling the loggias or porches.

During the British occupation of St. Augustine, British settlers expanded porches and moved entrances from the walled gardens to the fronts of the houses facing the street. They also added chimneys for cooking and heating, entire rooms, and sometimes second stories to make the homes more spacious.

Construction began on the González-Alvarez house around 1723. Evidence suggests that by 1727, Tomás González y Hernández, an artilleryman stationed at the Castillo de San Marcos, lived in the house. The original home was a one-story rectangular-shaped stone dwelling with thick coquina walls that were plastered with lime and whitewashed. Covered by a hipped roof shingled with wood, the home’s two large rooms had tabby floors (a mixture of shells, lime, and sand) and large windows without glass. Closely laid parallel pieces of wood, called rejas, covered these large windows and double-leaf solid shutters protected them on the inside. González and his family lived in the house for nearly 40 years. When Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in 1763, many of St. Augustine’s Spanish settlers left, including González and his family, who moved to Cuba.

The rear loggia

The rear loggia
Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey

The house sat vacant until 1775 when a wealthy British soldier, Sergeant-Major Peavett, purchased the home. Between 1775 and 1786, Sergeant-Major Peavett doubled the size of the house by adding a wooden framed second story covered in clapboard siding. Sergeant-Major Peavett replaced the rejas and the interior double-leaf solid shutters with glazed glass windows. Sergeant-Major Peavett died in 1786, and shortly thereafter, his wife married John Hudson, an Irishman in financial crisis. To pay off Hudson’s debts, the house went up for auction. Newly arrived Spaniard Geronimo Alvarez purchased the home and began the alterations that would bring it to its final 18th century form.

Constructing it entirely of coquina, Alvarez added a two-story tier containing six rooms to the rear side of the house. On the east end of the house, Alvarez added a framed porch that sat on top of a one-story room coquina addition. The new rooms included a chapel, three bedrooms, a loggia, and a pantry. Alvarez, his family, and his descendents lived in the home for almost 100 years.

Beginning in 1882, ownership of the house changed hands many times, and by 1892 it was being presented to visitors as the “Oldest House” in America, a title now contested. The St. Augustine Historical Society acquired the home in 1918 and conducted research, archeological studies, and restoration and renovations on the site. Today, the González-Alvarez House is part of the St. Augustine Historical Society’s Oldest House Museum Complex, which also includes two museums, a changing exhibition gallery, an ornamental garden, and a museum store. Guided tours of the complex are available every half hour.

Plan your visit

The González-Alvarez House, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 14 Saint Francis St. in St. Augustine, FL. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. The St. Augustine Historical Society’s Oldest House Museum Complex is open Monday through Sunday 10:00am until 5:00 pm, except Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, and Easter. Guided tours begin every half hour, with the last tour starting at 4:30 pm. For more information, visit the St. Augustine Historical Society website or call 904-824-2872.

The González-Alvarez House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The St. Augustine Town Plan Historic District is included in the National Park Service Along the Georgia Florida Coast Travel Itinerary.

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