The Preservation Conversation
Exploring Historic Preservation Processes in Florida
An Exhibition of the University of Florida Architecture Archives

Adaptive Use: Government House, St. Augustine, Florida

Adaptive Use assigns a new use to a historic property while preserving original portions or features that convey the structure’s historical, cultural, or architectural values.

Government House, St. Augustine
Photo courtesy of A. Bell

Throughout its history, Government House has served many purposes. In the 1980s, the decision was made to again repurpose the site. Many rooms were completely stripped and given new uses. For example, the former mailroom, which had more recently served as an auditorium, was turned into a space that would become a museum in 1991. In 2007, Florida’s State Legislature transferred management of Government House to the University of Florida.

Governor's Mansion, St. Augustine
Photos courtesy of Smathers Libraries

As control of St. Augustine shifted among the Spanish, English, and Americans, the purpose of Government House was adapted to fit the current needs and was rebuilt several times. Between 1598 and 1960, Government House served as the Governor's Mansion, a courthouse, a collector of customs, a guardhouse during the Civil War, a post office, a public library, a school, and a rental for commercial tenants. These are the earliest known representations of Government House and show how drastically the structure changed over the course of 100 years.

Government House architectural drawing
Image courtesy of Smathers Libraries
Government House alterations
Photos courtesy of Smathers Libraries

In 1988, Herschel Shepard became involved in a project designed to repurpose the lobby and interior room of Government House. The lobby was used as a costumer service area and the interior room had been a mailroom and, more recently, an auditorium. Mr. Shepard’s project involved removal of existing furniture, fixtures, and some walls. Features from other parts of the building were reused during this project.

After Herschel Shepard completed his project in 1988, the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board turned the interior space into a museum dedicated to the history of St. Augustine. They compiled a list of objects that they wanted to include and drew up a plan for the display cases.

In 2007, State of Florida legislature authorized the transfer of historic properties in St. Augustine to the University of Florida. Since then, the University's involvement in plans for Government House has increased. For example, Museum Studies graduate students curated the displays currently on view in the lobby cases.