Thursday, May 19, 2011

A House That Put It's Arms Around A Family

Another St. Augustine adventure and one with a sentimental note. I read a little about the Pena-Peck house and was surprised by my reaction seeing it in all it's glory. The house has stood through several generations, watching families come and go and reminds me of the Joyce Kilmer poem: "The House With Nobody In It"

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

The Pena-Peck house has wrapped its arms around generations of families almost 300 years. And, it is the embodiment of the shift from Spanish to English, and back again to Spanish control for the St Augustine area.

The Pena-Peck House was constructed by order of the King of Spain in 1740 to be the residence of his royal Treasurer, Juan Esteban de Pena. The house served as the Government House for the region until the official Government House was later constructed to house the colonial governors of Florida.

During the British Period (1763-1784) the home was leased to the aristocratic Dr. John Moultrie of Charleston, South Carolina, as his town house. Moultrie later became Lt. Governor of Florida,

Spain regained Florida as a reward for helping the Americans gain their independence from Britain. In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain and opened the territory to American settlers. In 1834 Dr. Seth Peck purchased the property and found the house in disrepair. He began the process of restoring it and decided to add a second level.

The guide toured us through the first floor of the house and picture taking, but photos of the second level were not permitted. This view of the front dining room though is fairly representative of the rest of the house. The Pecks were from Connecticut and used the house as their winter residence to get away from the harsh northern winters.

The Doctor was also a wealthy businessman and established an office in the lower level near the courtyard garden. I can imagine this provided a moment of quiet reflection after a busy day.

The doctor's office particularly highlights the coquina stone construction of the house and explains why it survives to this day.

As the guide explained the layout of the doctor's office and the implements on his desk. I was particularly struck by the clock sitting on top.

Dr. Peck died during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1841 and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery north of the St Augustine City Gate. The house passed through subsequent generations until the final descendant, Anna Burt- Peck, who never married and had no other relatives died in 1931 and willed it to the City of St Augustine.

As you read through the names that have occupied the residence you come away with a feeling that the house really did wrap it's arms around a number of families but now sadly stands empty.

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