From guest writer Leigh Cort
The Oldest Inn in America’s Oldest City Survives Hurricane and Restoration!
The historic St. Francis Inn (circa 1791) sees the light at the end of the tunnel with an extensive Inn restoration that has taken nearly 5 months since the force of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. The horrific storm changed the grand old structure’s destiny. What have emerged are property restorations to many of its buildings and deeper trusted friendships throughout the staff. Owners Joe and Margaret Finnegan will never forget their 2 goals and the driving force to complete the restoration ~ keep our staff employed and make our guests comfortable.
Deconstructing the St. Francis Inn
It’s a complex multi-faceted project when you lose the floor of a landmark building from the late 1700s. Imagine tearing up the floorboards throughout the inn and finding that there are many layers of history represented the deeper you go. The surprise was discovering 3 floors leading to the original tabby floor structure that must have been built at least 18″ down from street level!
Day after day the workers had to first de-construct the entrance, lobby, parlor, dining room, two ground floor guest rooms and the entire kitchen before beginning the restoration. Next to the main inn, the popular Cottage (which served as a cookhouse during the early years) has undergone significant restoration and the pool needed extensive refinishing too. Additionally the Inn’s award-winning gardens and vegetation were demolished by the storm’s winds and waters ~ now waiting for Spring plantings and regeneration. Many of the St. Francis Inn’s guests’ favorite amenities were temporarily taken away: antique furnishings, fireplaces, jacuzzis, fishpond and the famous dining room that has been a gathering spot for nearly 230 years.
But a miracle happened and the St. Augustine Historical Society bestowed a wonderful temporary dining option to the Inn and its guests ~ The Finnegans could move their entire dining room’s tables, chairs, sideboards and breakfast to the
‘Llambias House’ across the street from the Inn and call it ‘home’ each day ~ until the inn was ready to host guests again upon completion of the restoration.
The Llambias House (circa 1565-1763) dating back to the first Spanish colonial period of St. Augustine, has become a cherished opportunity for the Inn guests. They get to enjoy breakfast in the gardens and inside one of the prime examples of architecture first developed by the Spanish and later modified by the British during the colonial period. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the Llambias House stands as an important reminder of the influence of Spanish and British colonialism in Florida and their lasting impacts on the United States.
How have the St. Francis Inn staff, and the sister property Casa de Suenos staff weathered the half year changes? With true hospitality to each other and their guests! The two bed and breakfast inns are on opposite north/south sides of historic St. Augustine. Yet each day the breakfast buffets, famous nightly desserts and catered events have been prepared in the Casa de Suenos kitchen and transported to the Llambias House and St. Francis Inn courtyard for meals and events.
Kelly Brooks, Inn Manager shares “Our staff has always been close but having to pull together so the Inn could be cleaned up quickly was definitely a team effort. We felt lucky that Joe and Margaret worked it out with the construction crew so that we could stay open during the cleanup and restoration so that we could keep our jobs (a huge financial strain on the Finnegans). We learned to be flexible so that we could move from room to room…while keeping reservations coming in and having to locate our daily supplies that needed to find a new home every day. We rolled with the punches many days, because the next day we had to do it all a different way with a new plan!”
Additionally, two of the fulltime innkeepers lost their homes. The St. Francis Inn launched a GoFundMe account to assist in temporary lodging for moving them and their families to a safe haven. Co-workers, prior inn guests and business vendors supported this effort, another commendable example of people coming together to support each other.
St. Francis Inn Finished Restoration
There are many new and beautiful additions to the St. Francis Inn including a state-of-the-art kitchen where guests love to peek in at the cooks and dishes being prepared, new carpeting, paint and furnishings.
Joe Finnegan states “Our staff has made miracles day after day to work within our two inns, juggling beach cottages and guest accommodations to insure their comfort and vacation expectations. We didn’t lose one employee during this turbulent time and each employee was flexible with whatever tasks they had to achieve. At the same time, many of our guests enjoyed being a ‘part of history’ when they could view some of the restoration projects and experience dining in the Llambias House ~ but mostly living through the next generation of our Inn’s historic story”.
Leigh Cort Publicity