Giving a “remarkable city” its due
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 2:10 p.m.
Janet Snyder Matthews was walking in St. Augustine’s Spanish colonial quarter one day when she heard a nearby tour guide telling a group that the Spanish treasure fleet once moored in the harbor before beginning the long voyage home laden with gold, silver and other treasures of the New World.
Hold everything, Matthews told the guide. The fleet might have assembled in Cuba, but a port of call in St. Augustine? Not true.
“But it makes such a good story,” the man responded.
Maybe so, but there are dedicated scholars and experts working with UF Historic St. Augustine (UFHSA) who want the story of St. Augustine to be the whole truth.
“Our concerns are first, how do we tell the story of these historic properties, and second, how do we make sure the story we are telling is the truth,” Matthews says, speaking in her office in UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning.
The former Spanish quarter museum has gotten a multi-million-dollar makeover, with UF and the city partnering with entrepreneur Pat Croce, owner of the Pirate and Treasure Museum, to recast the two-acre site to reflect authentically life under Spanish and British rule. It reopened as the Colonial Quarter in March 2013.
Visitors now stroll through quadrants that reflect three centuries of St. Augustine’s history.
Renovated or rebuilt homes reflecting 198 years of Spanish rule, constructed of tabby or coquina, now house shops or living history exhibits. A wooden watchtower overlooking the harbor once could have been used to warn if an approaching ship was friend or foe. There’s a blacksmith, a boatyard, a gunsmith and taverns, one Spanish, the other from the 18th-century British period.
Colonial Quarter staff members worked hand-in-hand with archaeologists and historians from the University of Florida to ensure the accuracy of each exhibit, from the tour guides’ spiel to the interpretive panels on display.
That’s where Matthews plays an important role.