I have always loved history and whenever I visit a new location, one of the first things I do is seek out the local lore, museums, historical sights, and dream about what it would have been like to have lived there in a different time. I was incredibly fortunate to have spent a fair amount of time in our nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Fl. What better place to seek out stories from the past? Little did I know that the past was part of my own family history.
My two sons attended Flagler College in St. Augustine and I made numerous trips to visit, watch tennis matches, and enjoy all that this beautiful little city had to offer. There was a small bed & breakfast near the college that I passed by frequently. The Old City House Inn was a quaint building on Cordova St. I loved the beautiful iron fence bordering the property, topped with carved stone pineapples. The Pineapple has been a symbol of hospitality since the days of the early American colonies. The legend began with the sea captains of New England, who sailed among the Caribbean Islands and returned to the colonies bearing their cargo of fruits, spices and rum. According to the legend, the captain would spear a pineapple on a fence post outside his home to let his friends know of his safe return from the sea. The pineapple was an invitation for them to visit, share his food and drink, and listen to tales of his voyage.
One Thanksgiving our family enjoyed a delicious feast at the Casa Monica hotel. As we walked back to our car, we passed the Old City House Inn. The main front window was beautifully lit with soft light, Christmas decorations and you could see the people enjoying dinner inside. I turned to the boys and said “You know, we are coming back up for Christmas and I think this would be a great place to have Christmas dinner. There is just something about this place that draws me in. What do you think?” They all agreed that this would be a nice place to spend the holiday. Upon returning to Bradenton, I googled The Old City House Inn. They had seven lovely rooms all named after prominent historical St. Augustine citizens. One of the rooms was called the Ammidown Room. I thought, “well that’s interesting!” My middle name is Ammidown and I certainly would not consider it a common name. As I began to investigate the history I found out that the Inn was originally the property of Holmes Ammidown (1801-1883), a wealthy merchant from Southbridge, Mass., Boston and New York. He built Ammidown Mansion where the parking lot is now located, and the Old City House Inn originally served as it’s stable. When the mansion was destroyed by fire, the stable served the Flagler hotels. The city of Southbridge, Mass. caught my eye, for this was the city of my birth. I knew there had to be a connection. Although my family moved to Stowe, Vermont a year after I was born, we spent many wonderful Christmas celebrations at my grandfather’s home in Southbridge. This beautiful home, The Pines was originally built by Ebenezer Ammidown for who I am named.
After a bit more research I concluded that Ebenezer and Holmes were cousins. Holmes and Ebenezer were faithful representatives of early New England life and manners. In his later years, Holmes spent summers in Southbridge and winters in St. Augustine. While residing in St. Augustine, he was instrumental in forming the first public library, the building of artesian wells for the city water supply, planting ornamental trees and shrubs to adorn the old city plaza, published a large map of St. Augustine and obtained suitable grounds in the city for the depot of the new railroad from Jacksonville. Holmes Ammidown loved historical research and genealogy. Perhaps that is where I get my love of history too. I like to think that the spirit of Holmes guided me to the Old City House Inn. What else could explain why I was so drawn to this particular little bed and breakfast? So my advice to you when visiting a new place…check out the history, the local legends, museums and historical spots, for the history might just be your own!
Every year I love to share this story at Thanksgiving time. I am still astounded that it actually happened to me. I take comfort in knowing about those that came before me and I am convinced that they are still with me in spirit. For that, I am truly thankful. I want to thank you all for supporting my art at Tropical Art Chick and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
aka Tropical Art Chick