Florida founded its first public school here

Many Historic City News readers, including local St. Augustinians, might not know that Florida’s first public school was founded here in 1786; seventy-five years before the American Civil War.

The all-boys school accepted sons of free people – white or black – at no charge.

It was plagued by budgetary woes, scarcity of teachers, and overcrowding.

One instructor was an ex-convict who taught 80 boys, ages 4-14.

He proved to be a capable teacher.

The school operated until 1821, the end of the Spanish Colonial period.

The Oldest Wooden School House Museum is operated on St. George Street at the St. Augustine City Gates and is a surviving expression of another time.

Built over 200 years ago, while Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain, it was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails.

The schoolmaster and his wife lived upstairs, above the small classroom. Their kitchen was separated from the main building, because of the threat of fire and to spare the house of any excess heat during the long summers. Several of the cooking utensils used in those days are displayed here for the visitor.

In the schoolhouse, related artifacts and copies of the books the pupils studied from are exhibited.

Fort Menendez – Old Florida Museum in North City, located at 259 San Marco Avenue at Picolata Road (State Road 16), also has a recreation of a one-room schoolhouse that allows students to experience a day in the life of a child in the 1800s.

As part of their early Florida pioneer program, students can attend class and participate in corn shelling and milling, write with a quill pen, draw water from a pitcher pump, play pioneer games, try out their roping skills and garden with a push plow. Students are given a “take-home project” — a quill-pen writing sample on parchment paper.

Historian James Cusick, University of Florida, recounts this story as part of Florida Humanities Council’s Audio History Moments.

Each “moment” is narrated by an historian or expert and provides a slice of Florida’s past.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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