Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gonzalez-Alvarez House

14 St. Francis Street
St. Augustine, Florida


N.B. This entry was originally posted October 13, 2010. Since I now have many more sources at my disposal, I tried to add to the research I’ve presented here, but no further sources could be immediately found, so I’m reposting this with only minor changes. It’s interesting to note that this location is not found in most books on the ghosts of St. Augustine. I still find the video that inspired this post absolutely fascinating. Regular readers may also recognize my “most haunted” rant here, as well.

It is said that St. Augustine, Florida is the most haunted city in America, at least according to a number of authors. As I mentioned in this blog’s very first entry, I find this description to be somewhat distasteful. On one count, the term “haunted” really can’t be any further qualified. Something is either haunted or it isn’t; it’s like death: one is either dead or alive not “more dead” or “more alive.” Therefore, a location either has spiritual activity or not. Certainly, what authors mean is that St. Augustine has more spiritual activity and that may be the case.

Gonzalez-Alvarez House, 2008, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Taking this further, though, the phrase “most haunted” is tossed around easily. When cities or locations are rated or ranked as “most haunted,” the basis for this conclusion is often not presented. What makes New Orleans more haunted than Savannah? Why is St. Francisville, Louisiana’s The Myrtles the most haunted place in the nation? Based on what? Granted, a good deal has been published on all three locations, but what criteria make them “more haunted?” Certainly, these locations may have a number of spirits and be very spiritually active, but they are no more haunted than any other location.

Additionally, there’s also the issue of research and documentation. Of the three previously mentioned locations, all of them have been well researched and documented, but does that make them any “more haunted” than a location that is not well documented. That’s one of the goals of this blog: to document Southern locations that may be quite active, though perhaps not as well documented. In addition, I’m also adding to the scholarship on locations that are well documented by synthesizing the available information.

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is called “The Oldest House” in America and is located in America’s “Oldest City.” The only part of that statement that bears even partial truth is the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States. There are Native American cities, notably the Acoma and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico that are far older, but St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement. The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is not the oldest house in America by any stretch of the imagination. There are far older houses in New England and even as far south as Virginia, but the house sits on a site with far more history than its early 18th century walls can attest to. In fact, this house may not even be the oldest house in St. Augustine. The moniker dates to a time when the house was believed to date to the 16th century.

While the location of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House may have been inhabited as far back as the initial founding of the city in 1565, archaeologists can only prove inhabitants at the site as far back as the early 17th century. Regardless, the centuries of hope, despair, madness, birth, death, pain and joy have left both physical and spiritual scars on the house.

I was first acquainted with “The Oldest House” on a visit to St. Augustine as a child. An avid collector of travel brochures, seeing racks of brochures in a hotel lobby would give me heart palpitations and soon my little fist would be clutching a stack to take home. Among the brochures I gathered on this trip was one from “The Oldest House.” We didn’t visit, but I was certainly fascinated by the numerous “oldest” places throughout the city.

That memory wasn’t jarred until I came across this video on YouTube one evening. The video’s creator doesn’t provide much information on the video itself, but I found it to be quite intriguing. The first part of the video shows a series of haunted locations in the city including “The Oldest House.” The second part of the video (starting around 3:35) is from a camera placed in a room of one of the houses on the site (there is a handful of buildings located on the site) where supposedly some 50 people were slaughtered by the Spanish, though I can find no reference to this event in any materials I have found). The piece of video, taken during the day, shows what appears to be the shadowy figure of a man, with his hands behind his back, walking through doorway on the right and disappearing into the other room. What I find remarkable is the fact that the figure, unlike an actual shadow, does not fade when it walks into the sunlight in the next room. Perhaps this video is faked, I don’t think so and it’s an excellent fake if it is.

In his marvelous guide to haunted America, Haunted Places: The National Directory, Dennis William Hauck presents some of the activity that has been witnessed in the house. According to him, objects move about the house on their own accord specifically in Maria’s Room. This report is backed up by Dave Lapham in his Ancient City Hauntings. Lapham reports that objects throughout the house move according to one long-time staff member. Hauck also includes strange lights seen in various rooms and the experience of a tourist whose poodle was upset inside the house. Apparently, once the dog was taken outside it was fine. It is believed that animals can sense spirits and may sometimes be upset by them. Interestingly, none of the accounts of spiritual activity include figures such as the one in the video, though there are relatively few accounts of activity that I could find.

A postcard view of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, c. 1914.

As stated earlier, the site of the house had been inhabited for some time when the existing house was constructed. The date of construction, however, is in question and could be anytime between 1703 and 1727. Documentary evidence indicates that this house was home to Tomàs Gonzàlez y Hernàndez and his wife, Maria Francisca Guevara y Domínguez. Gonzàlez was a Canary Island-born sailor who served as a soldier. When Spain ceded Florida to the English in 1763, the Gonzàlez family fled the city and the house stood vacant until 1775 when Englishman Major Joseph Peavett purchased the house. Peavett enlarged the house and following his death in 1786, the house was acquired by a Spaniard, Gerònimo Àlvarez. The Àlvarez family owned the house for nearly a century and in 1884, the house was purchased by dentist, Dr. C. P. Carver who began opening the house for tours and who also began calling the house, “The Oldest House.” The house came under the ownership and operation of the St. Augustine Historical Society in 1918 and has been operated as a museum ever since.

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House was named a National Historic Landmark, 15 April 1970.

Sources
Gonzalez-Alvarez House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     12 October 2010.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory: Ghostly
     Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings, and Other Supernatural Locations,
     2nd Edition. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
Lapham, Dave. Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine.
     Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
Oldest buildings in the United States. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 12 October 2010.
Snell, Charles. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
     for The Gonzalez-Alvarez House. Listed 15 April 1970.

2 comments:

  1. I've been here! I recognized it right away because we'd spend many a happy day trip down in St. Augustine. (We lived in Jax so it was a hop skip and a jump for us to head down for dinner on Friday or to goof around on the weekends, which we did often. I LOVE the history you gave of it as well as what you had to say about the "most haunted" tag. BRAVO! YES! PERFECT! That always bothers me! I think I'm going to reference this in another post I'm working on about things that haunt my brain. Wonderful post, Lewis!

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  2. Another place I need to put on my list of places to visit. The history is fascinating.

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