The Old School House: the Oldest Wooden School House in the USA

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Several years ago during a spring vacation to visit grandparents, in Florida, we took a day trip to St Augustine and actually visited the Old School House. The kids wanted to have us all wear Batman style shirts that day. Apparently on school trips all the students wear a yellow t shirt with the school's logo on it so teachers can keep track of students and spot any kid who has wandered away from the group. My wife and I acquiesced, so there we were each wearing a different Batman t-shirt design. I noticed quite a few glances our way from other families with the adults giving us a smile. It was a fun trip and left a lasting impression on all three kids. My older daughter wrote a school report on the Old School House comparing / contrasting it to her own school for a history project the next year. Consider taking your kids to see this historic building if you are in the St Augustine area. It's a great starting point to a discusion the similarities and differences of going to school in the early 18th cw=entury versus now.

Oldest Wooden School House in the USA
14 St. George Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084
Located Near the City Gates

Located near the City Gates, The Old School House 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.

Historical Background

The oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States dates back to the early 18th century. Located near the Old City Gates in the area that was known as the "Minorcan Quarter," the house was originally a homestead belonging to Juan Genoply. The building is constructed of red cedar and cypress. Everything was made by hand, even the nails. Wooden pegs keep the timbers in place. The house appears on the tax rolls for the year 1716, but more than likely it existed years before then. Government moved slowly in colonial days and communication between the Spanish Crown and the little garrison town took a long time before taxes were assessed.

Comforts and Conveniences

The building had no electricity, no running water, no privy and no kitchen. The customs of the day dictated that the kitchen be housed in separate quarters because of the risk from fire and to eliminate excess heat in the long, hot summers. The privy was dug away from the main building and a small building was constructed around it for privacy. Drinking water was drawn from the well.

Becoming a School

When Juan Genoply was a bachelor the small one-room house was sufficient to his needs. But when he married and the house become a school, an addition was needed to allow privacy and separate functions. The schoolmaster and his family had their living quarters upstairs. The downstairs was used as the classroom. The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse was also the first co-ed school, as it educated both girls and boys together beginning in 1788.

The Classroom

When you enter the small, one-room schoolhouse you are greeted by Disney-style animatronic figures dressed in period attire. Listen as the schoolmaster and the children tell you about themselves and describe a typical day in the classroom and items in it. Copies of the textbooks used by students, along with related school artifacts are on display in the schoolhouse along with several cooking utensils of the time.

The Gardens and Grounds

After touring the schoolhouse visitors may walk through the garden and see the kitchen, the privy and the well. Be sure to notice the old pecan tree. The tree has been authenticated to be at least 250 years old and still bears nuts.

The patio and grounds are a typical green garden with tropical plants such as hibiscus and bird-of-paradise, including one not-so-typical white bird-of-paradise. Plenty of shade trees and comfortable benches offer a cozy spot for a moment of rest and reflection.

The Giant Chain

Most people immediately notice the enormous chain that wraps around the schoolhouse and is tied to an anchor. The anchor and chain were added back in 1937 when a hurricane threatened St. Augustine and an attempt was made to secure the oldest schoolhouse so the historic gem of a building would not be lost. So far, so good.