Archeology Onsite: The Tovar House Chronicles

Dust may billow from the arches of the Tovar House, collecting in the air and settling on St. Francis Street, but I am here to assure you that there is no cause for alarm. For the next several weeks, the St. Augustine Historical Society will be a site of an active archaeological dig aimed at uncovering nuances of living in St. Augustine in previous centuries.
Archeology Onsite: The Tovar House Chronicles 4Our Executive Director Dr. Susan Parker is also a Research Associate with the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute–a collective partnership between Flagler College and the University of Florida committed to creating active academic research opportunities that support the historic preservation in the city. Dr. Parker and fellow Research Associates Dr. Kathleen Deagan and Herschel Shephard were awarded a $10,000 grant to continue investigating the Tovar House. This is third grant from the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute designated to take a closer look at Tovar House. They are hopeful that such close attention to the construction and evolution of the building might provide additional insight about St. Augustine.

For the next several weeks, I will be stopping by the dig site. This  week I had the opportunity to speak with Greg Smith, Janet Jordan, and Sarah Bennett.

When I crossed the threshold into the Tovar House, I entered an active dig for the first time. Tables housed an array of equipment and papers, flanking the large excavation site where Janet crouched. “This part feels softer than the rest,” she said, glancing back to Greg.

Very quickly, it became obvious that the dig–only its first week–had already become invigorated with intrigue. I asked Greg

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how these findings might help us understand broader aspects of St. Augustine culture and past. Pointing to the subtle discernible layers in the excavation site, he indicated that they believed the original house was a single story. The entrance we had used was likely enclosed at a later date. But the floor where Janet meticulously worked had interesting implications. Greg explained that the site was starting to reveal different layers where the floor had been filled and added to over the course of the house’s life.
“In the long term, the information we gather here can serve as a starting point for comparison” Greg indicated. The Tovar House will likely serve as a model highlighting that while first period Spanish homes shared common aspects– like patio or garden entrances– actual construction often varied. This project allows us to begin to understand patterns of construction more–always opening up additional sights of query and questioning.
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As an academic from a much different discipline, I am always curious as to why people select their fields. I asked Janet why this work was so important. She placed her tools to the side and said, “People can’t just throw out dates. This work,” she gestured to the dig site, “ allows us to fine-tune and discover exactly what was going on.”
Sarah, who had been logging information, looked up to answer me. For her, it is the active interrogation of a space that helps fill in some of the details a map might not cover. She said “Maps may or may not be a completely accurate reflection of the way people actually lived.”

The dig at Tovar House represents our portal to the past–a way to quite literally peel back layers and see life preserved in architecture. I’ll be here, quietly observing and reporting back to you as we embark on this journey.