St. Augustine's oldest inn built for defense
Annas Room at the St. Francis Inn is furnished with antiques or reproductions. (ST. Francis Inn photo)
Both inns are in the heart of St. Augustine Antigua, the carefully tended historic district with "oldests" everywhere. Around the corner from the St. Francis is, appropriately enough, The Oldest House, and Casa de Solana is the seventh oldest house in town, a few hundred feet from another inn, the lovingly preserved Ximenez-Fatio House.
The St. Francis is St. Augustine's oldest inn. Its origins go as far back as 1791, the year Sergeant Gaspar Garcia of the Cuban Infantry Regiment was granted a lot by the King of Spain, who ordered that it and all other homes be built to serve as a defensive bulwark protecting the inhabitants from invading forces.
In 1838 another military veteran, Col. Thomas Dummett, retired from the Royal British Marines, purchased the property as an in-town escape from his extensive sugar plantation south of Ormond, the ruins of which can still be seen on Old Dixie Highway. The colonel's daughter Anna -- staunch supporter of the Confederacy during the Civil War and the leader of the post-war campaign to build a monument to the fallen men in gray (the obelisk in the center of the town's central plaza) -- converted the house to an inn, selling it in 1888 to a local philanthropist-builder who put up structures around his inn, later incorporating them into the complex.
Anna's Room and the Dummett Room, like the 15 other rooms and suites, honor the history and are furnished with period antiques or reproductions. But the 21st century is represented as well, with private baths, central heat and air conditioning, queen or king-size beds, phones and cable TV. Some baths have whirlpools and some living rooms have fireplaces and many rooms have fridges. Suites have queen-size sleeper sofas, and the accommodation called the Cottage has adequate space for two couples or a family and has a kitchenette.
In addition to the two-story, five-room cottage, Our Beach House eight miles away on the ocean is available and has a Great Room with fireplace, full kitchen, two bedrooms and 21/2 baths, plus bicycles, beach chairs and towels -- everything necessary to enjoy a splash off the sand.
From the moment you see the welcoming flags on the balcony and enter the little courtyard with its fountain fed by an artesian well from The Oldest House, you are in another world. And the feeling is fortified by everything inside.
The same can certainly be said about the Casa de Solana, where eight of the 10 guest rooms have fireplaces and where the hand-hewn beams and timbers date from the early 1800s when Don Manuel Lorenzo Solana had coquina stone quarried on Anastasia Island for his new home. Or maybe he wrangled some of the leftover coquina from the gigantic Castillo de San Marcos, started 80 years before the Don's home.
The inn has recently been upgraded a bit, but nothing was done to disturb the great sense of history, and nothing was changed about the morning routine: the presentation to guests of a full-blown breakfast, including freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit and two hot main dishes, and some of the Casa's special breakfast coffee. Breakfast at the St. Francis is not quite as bountiful, and it's a buffet. Both inns have that all-important late afternoon attitude readjustment time when complimentary beverages and hors d'oeuvres are served to guests gathered to exchange stories about their time in our oldest city.