Travels to the Heartland, page 3. Jan. 15, 2006
by Earl Cook

These pages were never planned. They started when we had some photos from our travels that we wanted to share and page 1 was built. We had some more photos from a special trip that also seemed to include a bunch of history, so page 2 was born. During Jan. 5-9, 2006, we were in central Florida and a stop in St. Augustine would break up the trip back home as we were very tired. While in St. Augustine, I wanted to stop by the St. Augustine Historical Society Library as we drove through town.

As it turned out, the Library is closed on Mondays! We were told that Mr. Charles Tingley, Administrator of the Library, was the most knowledgeable person around on St. Augustine History and that he worked at the Fort on Mondays. We met him and he was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

Several years ago, I had been told by a researcher that Margaret Cook was my gg-grandmother and I had found where she had a U.S. Land Grant near St. Augustine. We had found where the land was located and it was at the intersection of I-95 (no exit) and the old road that ran from the river boat dock on the St. Johns River where the river boats would come in from Jacksonville to visit St. Augustine. I figured that she probably lived in the country and since the land was located on the corner of two roads or trails, that she might have also operated a small store in this area. Little did I know.

Once we found Mr. Tingley in the Fort's Park Headquarters, I asked if he knew where I could find maps that showed where the old Spanish Land Grants were located when compared to the modern landscape? Twice before I have found lands like this and got great enjoyment from walking on the land knowing that my ancestors had once lived there. I guess one reason I have such fascination with this subject is that I never knew any of my grandparents since I had been born so far along in the line. For example, one of my grandfathers was born in 1858 relatively close to the St. Augustine area.

As Mr. Tingley prepared to search on the Florida Memory web site for the Spanish Land Grants that I was talking about, he asked, "What was your grandmother's name?" I replied, "Margaret Cook." His reply was, "Oh my lord! She owned land all over the place. In fact, she was one of the owners of the Ximenez-Fatio House which is next to the Historical Library! She bought that land when she was 19! The house is now a museum that is one of the top house museums in the state." Then he told me that she used to have a house on the corner of Marine and Bridge streets.

So, off we went to find the Ximenez-Fatio House so that we could tour it and I could once again walk on lands where my ancestors had lived and walked almost 200 years ago. As we walked up to the gate of the house, we discovered that it was locked and saw that it was closed on Mondays!!!!

Margaret Cook's Spanish Land Grants

Once again, as fate would have it, someone was looking out for us and we saw Ms. Julia Vaill Gatlin, the Administrator of the Ximenez-Fatio House. Graciously, once she heard that Margaret Cook was my gg-grandmother, she let us in and gave us a personal tour of the house! The following photos are from that tour. First, here are some links to web sites that have information about the house...

Ximenez-Fatio House Web site

Location of Ximenez-Fatio House

Walking Map of St. Augustine

Fodor's Walking Tour of St. Augustine

Places to see with photos

National Register of Historic Places

Florida's Historical Places Web site

Excavations at the Ximenez House

Items found at the house during excavations

As it turns out, the Ximenez-Fatio House was the first hotel in Florida and it was Margaret Cook that owned the house in 1830 when it was transformed. While she owned it, Mrs. Whitehurst, her sister-inlaw, ran it for her and it was known as Mrs. Whitehurst's Boarding House. In those days, people came to Florida and stayed many weeks or months. A boarding house such as this is where many would stay.

The overland roads to St. Augustine were too dangerous because of the Seminoles, so most people that went to St. Augustine took the river boats down the St. Johns River from Jacksonville and then would take an eight hour stage coach ride from the river to St. Augustine.

Margaret Cook was only 19 years old when she bought the house and transformed it into a boarding house. The plaque at the left is inside the museum and reads...

The Enterprising Margaret Cook

At age 19, Margaret Cook was recorded in Charleston and later in St. Augustine "as a sole and separate dealer, in buying, selling, bartering and exchanging, and retailing all goods, wares, merchandises and commodities whatsoever." She was a bride, mother, widow and bride again, before her 20th birthday; ....

Mrs. Cook managed each of her husband's estates after their deaths and was a party in legal disputes to protect her business interests. For 50 of her 90 years, she was active in real estate, owning property in town and in the county.

In 1838, Margaret Cook sold the boarding house and became a business partner with her widowed son-in-law, John Hanson. He served in the Second Seminole War and held numerous public offices. Business interests included a sugar plantation and a steamship line. During their 40-year partnership, Hanson represented the companies publicly and Mrs. Cook oversaw operations of their joint and individual businesses."

Margaret Cook is credited with remodeling the home into a boarding house which is now known as the first hotel in Florida. In the photo at left, the boards at the bottom are the original Spanish building techniques from 1798 and those at the top are the English building techniques from 1830 that were used in the 1838 expansion of the house.

There is a small booklet in the museum store entitled, "This Precious House, the Ximinez-Fatio House by Dena Elizabeth Snodgrass. On page 9, she states, "1830 The following year Gue sold his one-third interest to Margaret Cook, widow of Samuel Cook, a city alderman. Margaret Cook was a business woman in her own right and her purchase began a long line of ownership of the property by women. In 1827 she bought Rosa Ximenez Buchany's share, then the last share from Miguel Ximenez in 1830. The purchase ended the 32-year Ximenez ownership in the house.

A replica of the Caravaca Cross can be ordered from the Museum

There has been continuous occupation on the land in homes since 1565 and the home built in 1798 was only one in a line that were built here. The land has had more historical excavations than any place in St. Augustine.

The Ximenez-Fatio House web site says, "In July of 2002, shortly after beginning the 10th archaeological dig on the grounds at the Ximenez-Fatio House, an extraordinary small cross (pictured at left) was retrieved from the tens-of-thousands of items in a trash pit.  Treatment removed a dark patina of encrusted salts to expose the resplendent white bronze material and fine details.  Named for a hillside town in southeastern Spain, this Caravaca Cross is believed to have become popular in the 17th century to celebrate the end of the plague. St. Augustine City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt said, "I've never seen a cross like this one. They have been found in the Southeast, the Caribbean and in Canada, but not here -- until now. It is believed to be from around 1650.

When I first heard the term 'boarding house' used, I thought of something less fancy than this home. Margaret Cook's home was located in the middle of the oldest and most fashionable part of St. Augustine. To me, the modern 'bed-and-breakfast' or 'live in suites' might be more accurate. Each room had its own fire place and meals were shared in the large dining room where china, silver and linens were used for the residents.

Can you imagine being in Florida without air conditioning while you ate your meal? In the 1830's, they relied upon these human-powered fans that hung from the ceiling to provide a gentle breeze during the meal.

The wine and spirits collection for the guests was kept in this portable cabinet.

Each resident was 'issued' their dining china and utensils for their stay and they were cleaned by the residents in this 'dry cleaner'. It was up to you to keep your own plate clean for your stay.

This seems to be a simple solution that may seem to be too obvious for our modern society. Rather than relying upon poisons and insecticides to control flys and bugs, in the 1830's of Florida, they used this 'fly catcher' that was filled with sugar water to keep the insects from the food. It is shown with the cork in as you remove it to the outside. During its active duty, the cork would be removed.

One of the most interesting things I saw in the house were these living curtains. Strings for the vines to grow on were in place and the vines simply climbed the strings to form the living curtains. Notice the fly catcher bottle sitting on the window ledge.

Of course when you are sleeping in Florida with your windows open to feel the ocean breezes, you needed mosquito netting over your bed. We think of canopy beds for royalty, but in early Florida, they were needed for survival!

I almost fell out of my shoes when I saw these instruments!! Julia Gatlin told us that the riverboat captains and captains of sailing vessels would stay in this room. The telescope was an instrument used by both captains, but the sextant was most likely only used by the seafaring captains.

For most people, this would be, "So, what?"

My father had said that we were related to Captain James Cook. I've spent many hours attempting to see if this family story had any validity. Most of the accepted Capt. Cook modern genealogy is through his sister, Margaret Cook Fleck. Since I heard the story in my family, I decided to start tracing the lineage. The results of my research is found at the Capt. Cook relationship theory. The Capt. Cook Society has a link to my research on their web site.

So, seeing this sextant and telescope in the home of this 'Margaret Cook' really brought together some historical facts that I've been researching.

This was the personal living space used by Margaret Cook and later Mrs. Whitehurst. The green chair to the side of the fireplace is woven in horsehair, an exceptional weaving material of the day.

The shield beside the fireplace was in place to protect the makeup of the ladies of the house, which were most likely Margaret Cook and Mrs. Whitehurst. The heat from the fireplace could melt the makeup of the women that was used at that time, so the shield allowed them to get warmth from the fire without disturbing the makeup.

In a long story understood only by a few, I had started the day thinking about my childhood and occurring events. Seeing the peacock as a child on a farm for the first time served as the focal point of a powerful message that I was pondering and delivering...ordinary turning into brilliance. Seeing the peacock feathers on the mantle in Margaret Cook's private living area sealed the dream.

Margaret Cook was a remarkable dame. This home has been chosen by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Florida as their home. By their name, you can see that the society functions to recognize women that were leaders in colonial America.

Starting a boarding house in the oldest city in America at the age of 19 seems pretty remarkable to me. And if anyone ever wonders where I get my spunk and courage, I think that some of it came through my grandmother Margaret.

I haven't totally proven that Margaret Cook is my gg-grandmother. I'm still working on connecting those dots, but I was told by a much more experienced researcher that Margaret was my gg-grandmother. I am assured that we are connected in spirit and most likely blood. I expected to find a woman living on a farm and I found her living in the center of America's oldest city.

This is a view of the parlor that Margaret and Mrs. Whitehurst would of used in formally entertaining guests. I can only describe it as simple elegance. So airy and full of light and with a piano in the background, a small table for gathering and the realities of the times all blending together, this was the most beautiful room in the house for me and I can imagine my grandmother and her guests at their best and most joyous times in this room.

The mirror below the table was for the women to check their petticoats. For me, it was a chance to see if the reflectors on my new tennis shoes worked! This is not disrespect but an appreciation of the vanity that has carried through the years.

A foot-powered sewing machine similar to my mother's. I remember moving my mother's machine several times and as a young and not knowing, I thought it inferior since it was not electric. Luckily, some of my nieces realized what a beautiful piece of machinery a foot powered sewing machine really is. When I saw this one, I replied, "It looks very similar to my mother's!"

The exquisite furniture making skills in these antiques with their inlaid woods and precise joints and exceptional finishes is truly amazing. Since I am so instrument oriented by craft, I found the 'instrument' in the middle interesting. Those are glove stretchers!

Ever get a new pair of gloves that were a little tight around the fingers? Well, you needed one of these instruments that would stretch the fingers for you so that you could easily slip your fingers in.

The beautiful bottles in the center would hold perfume.

When we visit motels and hotels in Florida today, we always wonder what kind of shower or bath we will find in our room. Well, in the 1830's, this was your bath selection. There was a bowl and a pitcher of water (is that a face on that pitcher?), and a small 'bath' that you could stand to wash yourself.

While admiring the elegance and craftmanship of the pieces, I can only say thank you for the conveniences that we now enjoy in our modern life.

I think that is one of the beauties of the X-F get to see how the pioneers and early adventures experienced the best life in their times, and when you compare it to what we have, you can only admire their courage and pioneering spirit while saying thank you for things that we take for granted every day.

A place that I am sure I would of spent many hours. This is a writing table that provided a stable writing surface, as well as, a place to store the letters written, received and in progress. This was the 1830's version of an email box.

When families travelled and stayed here, they would be put into this room. Note all the beds for the adults and children. There were diaper changing tables and other furniture that a family like this would need as they travelled.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

Have you ever heard that expression? Here is a family tub of the 1830's. The parents took their baths first, the older kids second, on down the line until the last to get a bath was the baby. By this time, the water was so dirty, that a small baby could disappear in the dirty water. So, the expression had its roots in reality. It really makes you appreciate two things...the Ximeniz-Fatio house for reliving history, and our own advancements in comfort!

What would Florida be without cool sunglasses? Here are a period-1830 pair of sunglasses that would of been worn by a guest in the house.

Note the beautiful inlaid wood of the box in the background.

The back porch of the house looking out over the back 'yard'. This is where the women of the house came to dry their hair. I can only imagine the conversations that occurred on this porch!

Notice the tight spaces of the railings. If the women were out here, you can be assured that their were children, so the rails were tight to prevent a child from falling through.

At left is the 200-year old fig tree that is behind the house and in front of the free-standing kitchen. The idea of a free-standing kitchen was very practical. If the kitchen caught on fire, which had a fairly high probability of occurrence, if it was separated from the rest of the building, their was a good chance you could save the main residence. In my hightech business of computers, this equates to major common sense!

Figs are disappearing fruits. When I was a kid, they were delivered in 'Fig Newtons'. Now, I hardly ever hear of this fruit that was so commonly grown in early America.

This is where the meals for the guests were cooked and prepared. No ovens, no microwaves or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted today. Some may wish for the simpler times of life, but were these the simpler times?

Sometime, during the history of the house, plaster was applied to the inside of the calquing structure. Coquina is a mixture of sea shells that can be used to build structures. Many of the the early structures of the coastal communities of Florida were built using these building materials.

The problem with the plaster is that it does not allow the coquina to 'breath' and release moisture. The result is that the plaster begins to flake off, as evidenced in the photograph. The museum has acquired grants exceeding $200,000 to remove the plaster to restore the structure to its original coquina construction in the hope that the structure will regain its original flexibility and ability to live with the ever changing environment.

Julia has her hand on a cone of sugar. In the 1830's, sugar cones like this were locked up at night with the money since they were so valuable. Our society has gotten past that and we do not crave sugar so lustfully...yeah right!!!!

In the background, can be seen the savior of life in the pioneer home...the filtered water system. The large brown jug had a charcoal filtering system that purified the most vital element of life...water.

Next to the water jug is an instrument used in producing one of the pleasures of life...the butter churner.

At the left are bowls, bottles, jugs, containers, candle makers, flasks, urns and containers of liquids from the 1830's. If you go look in your cabinets, you will probably be glad that you have the modern containers and also wish that you had some of the elegance and simplicity of the old containers.

In the booklet by Dena Elizabeth Snodgrass, she says about Margaret Cook, "1838 Contemporary records make frequent reference to Mrs. Cook's rather wide-spread and varied holdings and to her attempts to protect her property during the Seminole War, 1835-1842. This involvement may have forced her to sell the house, for sell it she did in 1838 to Sarah P. Anderson."

If you walk down the street from the Ximenez-Cook-Anderson-Fatio House, you will come to a house on the corner of Bridge and Marina Streets. This is a house where Margaret Cook lived.

In talking with Charles Tingley, the most knowledgable source of St. Augustine history, he said that the general area of Margaret Cook's Spanish Land Grants lay NE of town. If you were to go north out of town and to the carrousel and then take a right, you would soon come to the area of Margaret's land grants.

Today, the general area consists of beautiful neighborhoods with these magnificent oaks and canopied streets. If you grew up in the south, you will appreciate the beauty of these grand old oaks.

During the seafaring days of our nations history, these oaks were in great demand. A tree was sawn down and then used as the main structure in a sailing vessel. In the photo to the left, the second tree on the left would of been a good specimen as it would of been cut down and then shaped into the main supporting structure of a sailing vessel.

Obviously, these oaks survived and are probably approaching a hundred years in age. 100 hundred years old is impressive in our countries young history.

When Charles Tingley looked on the Florida Memory website he told me that the first piece of land that is shown in the land grant list is within the 'Mil Y Quinientos'. This meant that the land was within 1,500 yards of the fort and that was within the reach of their cannons. You could own land there and use if for grazing, etc., but you could not build there.

The purpose was that if being attacked, the Spanish did not want to give the enemy any place to hide. You could build one thatch hut by the road, so that if there was an attack, they could send a man with a torch out to burn down all these structures and they had to be able to reach it from a horse while on the road.

We did not have time or a map to really pinpoint where all these grants were, but they were large and contained land that is now just north of town and contains land that some of the old beautiful homes that were built upon after the Spanish returned Florida to the U.S. in 1821.

The famed 'Fountain of Youth' park is in this general area. The Fountain of Youth park celebrates the spot where Ponce de Leon 'discovered' North America in 1513. So, it is possible that Margaret at one time owned land near the spot where North America was discovered!!!

Update: Summer, 2006

It is now apparant that this Margaret Cook was NOT my gg-grandmother. Was she an aunt or cousin? I think that is still a strong possibility. My gg-grandmother's name is Margaret Cook, she was from S.C., she was a landowner and she lived in Northeastern Florida just like this Margaret Cook. It was unusual that women owned land in those days so it was a bit more unusual finding two Margaret Cooks owning land in early northern Florida. Anyway, the census shows two distinct Margaret Cook with children of different names. So many similarities, but no match! Yet.

Our Margaret Cook donated land in Columbia County for her church's cemetery before moving to the west coast of Florida in the late 1800's. To me, both Margaret's appear to be exceptional people and I would of loved to known both of them.

And, it was a fantastic experience getting to see the Ximenez-Fatio House and to live history to the fullest for a short time. I know much more about St. Augustine and the early history of Florida and hope that sharing, others learned something too.


July, 2006

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Other recent web pages by Earl Cook & Gail Cook...

Puerto Rico October, 2005

Historic Homes of Covington, Georgia Christmas 2005

©2006 Earl Cook & Gail Cook