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Museum exhibit tells story of Florida’s ’First Colony’

Published: November 3 2013

St. Augustine visitors may now witness the rise of the nation’s first permanent European colony in the Florida Museum of Natural History’s new “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” exhibit.

After closing its doors for renovations last July, the Government House museum is back with the bilingual exhibit, which explores the daily lives of Spanish settlers who founded the original colony in 1565. Through artifacts, recreated environments and interactive multimedia displays, “First Colony” provides visitors with a unique and immersive educational opportunity, said Darcie MacMahon, assistant director for the Florida Museum at the University of Florida.

“This exhibit is the culmination of decades of UF historical and archaeological research and tells an incredibly important story about American history in a fun and compelling way,” MacMahon said. “Most Americans learn about Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, but few realize that Spanish Florida was founded many decades earlier. In our country today, which is increasingly becoming more multicultural and global, many of the first colony stories continue to resonate.”

The exhibit is based on scholarly and field research by the Florida Museum and showcases life in the colony with artifacts found in the first settlement, located in what is now the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, and in the town of St. Augustine as it evolved through the Spanish colonial period. The exhibit will feature a variety of hands-on displays, including an interactive virtual reality computer component, a touch-table replicating an archaeological dig and a recreated “First Thanksgiving” experience.

As part of UF Historic St. Augustine’s efforts to ensure long-term preservation of state-owned historic landmarks and buildings in St. Augustine, the ground floor of Government House was rehabilitated, with restoration of the grand lobby, among other historic elements, and upgrades to the museum and restrooms. New lobby display cases describe the extensive research into the building’s history and architecture that preceded the rehabilitation design. The restorations were funded by grants from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

The exhibit will remain in St. Augustine during the city’s 450th Anniversary in 2015. The Florida Museum plans to display the exhibit in Gainesville during 2016 before it begins a nationwide tour to other venues. The exhibit was developed with grants from the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources and Florida Department of State. Admission to the Government House exhibit is $7.99 for adults, $5.99 for children 5-12 and free for ages 4 and under. For more information, visit

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