The Florida History of the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in America and How You Can Tour It

L. Cane

Since St. Augustine was settled in the 1500s, the city is home to many old buildings. But one of the oldest, and arguably among the most interesting, is the oldest wooden schoolhouse. Here is an overview of the interesting history of the building and information about how you can tour it today.

The Construction of the Building: The structure was built over 200 years ago when Florida was under Spanish rule. It was constructed with what was available at the time - red cedar, cypress, and wooden pegs.

The Generosity of the Genopoly Family: The schoolhouse may not have had its longevity without the determination of one of its early owners, Juan Genopoly, who according to property records, bought the structure on October 1, 1780. The Genopoly family would occupy the classroom (and the home attached to it) for over a century, and some of the Genopoly children would serve as teachers.

Mr. Genopoly was a Greek carpenter, and this skill came in handy as he added to the structure to give it living spaces. There was a sitting room in the back, a detached kitchen, and a garden area where the family grew food. Mr. Genopoly would make good use of the main-floor classroom and educate children other than his own.

Helping Other Families Educate Their Children: In 1768, poverty-stricken people from the Mediterranean called the Minorcans traveled to New Smyrna to serve as indentured servants. Life was extremely difficult for the Minorcans. Many died or were disabled as a result of their work. So after nine years, they traveled to St. Augustine in search of a better life. By then, the city was under British rule. (The Minorcans would be in St. Augustine when Florida join the United States in 1821.)

When Mr. Genopoly became a free citizen after the British settled St. Augustine, he invited his Minorcan neighbors to send their children to be educated in his small structure. In the tiny classroom, he taught reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The First Co-Ed School in the United States: According to the Florida Irish Heritage Center, when Mr. Genopoly opened the school to the neighborhood children, he did not separate the students by gender. Therefore, the old wooden school is considered the earliest co-ed school in America. Younger boys and girls alike paid 12 1/2 cents per week, and older students were charged 25 cents weekly. These costs covered parchment, quills, and ink.

How the Authenticity of the School was Recreated for Tours: Students attending the school in the mid-1800s wrote letters that recounted their memories of the school. The schoolhouse closed in 1864. In 1931, the school held a reunion where nine prior students arranged the classroom as they remembered it. This is how it looks today for those who take tours.

How You Can Tour: The old school is now an attraction open to the public for self-guided tours. Adult tickets are $5.00, and children's tickets are $4.00. Group tours are offered to school children. The attraction is located at 14 St. George Street in St. Augustine.

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