Since the city was founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine most certainly had some schools for their children before 1716. There is however only one school made of wood and built around this time that is still standing. The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, made or bald cypress and red cedar first appears on the local tax records in 1716 and since the city was destroyed by fire in 1702 and nothing from before this date is still standing the official date of construction is somewhere between 1702 and 1716.
The little school in the Minorcan Quarter was originally a single story house with one story, when owner Juan Genoply married and had children of his own, he became the first schoolmaster and the second story was added so that more children may be educated just below the families living quarters.
The schoolmaster used to live on the second story of the building with his family, but they had to go to a separate building if they wanted anything to eat. It seems that in order to reduce heat and the possibility of a fire in the schoolhouse, the kitchen was in another building. Since 1937 the building has been encircled by a large and heavy chain that helps keep is anchored to the ground in case of a hurricane, but the wood structure held together with iron spikes and wooden pins has withstood some seriously harsh weather.
The “dungeon” under the stairs where children that misbehaved were reportedly placed till they could regain their composure paints a picture of a time when the education system was quite different than what we see today.
The self-guided tours feature an odd unrealistic animatronic teacher and student that give history about the schoolhouse and grounds, and visitors are welcome everyday except Christmas. The hours of operation run later in the evening during the summer months when the city is flooded with tourists from around the world, but the winter is the more popular time to visit for local school children. The gardens behind the house feature exhibits on the history of the buildings that make up the school grounds including the kitchen, well, and outhouse that have been at the site for hundreds of years.
School House Facts
- Very little about the school house has changed but the roof has been replaced
- however, recent maintenance has replaced the roofing, among other fixes.
- The building originally belonged to Juan Genoply.
- The small school house was one of the first in the US to become co-ed, and did so in 1788.
- Since the middle of the 1930s, the school house has educated children not as a school but a museum.
- The Oldest Wooden School House is located on St. George Street by the City Gate.
- A pecan tree in the garden has been growing for an estimated 250 years.
- The “Grove of Educators” statue garden was supposed to feature pioneering educators from every country in the Americas but only a few countries took part and there aren’t that many statues.