St. Augustine’s Aviles Street is famous for being the oldest public street in the nation. Maps dating back to the early 1570s show the narrow thoroughfare that was originally called Hospital Street. At the time, the Royal Hospital of Our Lady Guadalupe was located there. The street’s name was changed in 1923 to honor the Spanish hometown of the city’s founder, Pedro Melendez de Aviles.
The entrance to Aviles Street is on the southern side of Plaza de Constitution and marked by a wooden gateway arch supported by granite pillars. The street gets a lot of foot traffic because of the nice mix of quaint sidewalk cafes and unique shops and galleries.
But as you might expect, with a street dating back to the mid-16th century, there’s also a lot of history along this narrow corridor.
Here’s seven interesting things you’ll find along St. Augustine’s Aviles Street.
Spanish Military Hospital Museum
The pink-colored building visitors can tour today at 3 Aviles Street is actually a recreation. Hospital East, as it was known, was destroyed during a blaze in 1895. Other buildings stood on the site until the early 1960s. Archaeological digs uncovered the original foundations of the hospital building and using Spanish records, the building was reconstructed and now serves as a museum with regular historically accurate surgical and apothecary demonstrations.
General Kirby Smith House
This was the childhood home of Edmund Kirby Smith, a West Point graduate and the last Confederate general to surrender his command. In early 1863, Union authorities exiled the general’s mother, Frances Kirby Smith, from the city for spying, and she relocated to Madison. A research library, which includes Civil War period archives, is now maintained at this site by the St. Augustine Historical Society. Two statues of General Kirby standing in the building’s courtyard can be seen through an archway on Aviles Street.
According to some historians, these buildings once housed stables. Today, you’ll find art galleries and cafes.
Built in 1798 for Spanish merchant Andres Ximenez, this house is considered to be one of the best preserved colonial structures in the city. During Florida’s first tourism boom in the mid-1800s, it became a popular boarding house known as Miss Fatio’s. Today, it functions as a museum and tells an interesting story about Florida’s history.
Wall at Aviles and Cadiz Streets
In addition to being a popular photo spot and appearing in paintings and other works of fine art, this coquina wall is one of the oldest in the city. Historians believe it dates back to the 16th century. Look at it closely and you might see a few cannon ball holes.
Father Miguel O’Reilly House Museum
This house was built around 1691 during the First Spanish Period and is one of the oldest structures in town. Only Castillo de San Marcos is older.
Joseph Fontane House
Constructed in 1798, this quaint home has a unique history. Over the years, it has served as a Negro Tenement House, an upholstery business, a tavern, a gift shop and efficiency apartments. In the mid-1980s, the structure was condemned by the city. Flynn Bevill purchased the property and completely restored the home into a design showplace with a warm “pub-style” atmosphere. While the home is a private residence, you can get a peek inside via this article published at OldCityLife.com.