St. Augustine’s Most Threatened Historic Places: 2004

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School

Threatened Structures

St. Benedict the Moor School

Villa Rosa

Echo House

Clark -Worley House

Knights of Columbus Hall

Threatened Features

La Punta Community
Mission Archeological Site 

The City’s Brick Streets

The City’s Civil Rights

Ponce de Leon Golf Course

Threatened Districts

Lincolnville National
Register District

The Block Bounded by Genoply and Alfred Streets


St. Benedict the Moor School, 86 M. L. King Avenue, stands at the very center of Lincolnville as the oldest surviving brick school building in the city. But how much longer will it survive? The northeast corner of its roof is open to the weather and exposure to the elements has resulted in rot to framing systems on both the first and second floors.

The school was built in 1898, a saint’s gift to St. Augustine. Money for its construction was provided by Mother Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), a wealthy Philadelphia heiress who was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2000. She was a nun of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order founded “to serve Indians and Colored People.” It was the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught black students in this building, still owned by the Diocese of St. Augustine. In 1916 three of St. Benedict’s teaching nuns were arrested for violating the Florida law that forbade white teachers to teach black students. A judge ruled that they had not, however, violated the law because the law did not apply to private schools. The nuns were released.

St. Benedict was one of the first schools for blacks in Florida, serving from 90 to 110 students. In the middle of the 1960s the building ended its role as an educational facility and was essentially abandoned for about 20 years. St. Benedict School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 as a contributing structure to the Lincolnville National Register Historic District.

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church is next door to the school building. Both buildings commemorate St. Benedict, who had once been a slave in Sicily. The term “moor” is misleading to speakers of English for whom the word refers to Africans who lived in Spain. “Il moro” is Italian for “the Black.” Of interest to St. Augustine residents is that St. Benedict (1526-1589) lived at the time our town was founded in 1565.

St. Benedict the Moor School Restoration Committee is attempting to save and rehabilitate the building. And it can be saved. Architects, engineers and building contractors agree that it is indeed salvageable. The inspectors offer the example of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Keepers Residence, which was in much worse condition than St. Benedict. Today the Keepers House is in beautiful condition.

But the school’s roof must be fixed immediately to salvage the rest of the building. Private donations or local-government appropriations are needed desperately. Given the diminished-funding situation at the State level for large historic preservation projects, this building cannot wait for its turn for State dollars.