“This has the feeling of going to Grandma’s,” said Joe Finnegan, innkeeper at St. Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, FL. He was referring to the atmosphere of the oldest continuously operating inn in America’s oldest city, run by what may be the oldest innkeeper, – Joe’s words, not mine – located on one of the oldest streets. But to Joe and his wife, Margaret, the designation of ‘oldest’ has turned out to be far more of a boon than a bust.
The St. Francis Inn
From our first view of St. Francis Inn, with its renovated 1791 structure, the towering trees that shade the property and the cozy walled garden and courtyard, my husband and I experienced a sense of coming home. The feeling continued and strengthened as we entered the welcoming reception area.
Sign Board for the St. Francis Inn
Front Facade of the St. Francis Inn
Directly to the right of the front door was the wooden staircase, with its polished handrail that led to the rooms on the second and third floor. Beyond the reception area was the homy living room from which wafted the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Despite the high beamed ceiling, the room was warm and inviting, with its comfy seating and crackling fire.
On the far side of the reception area a turn to the right led us to the inn’s main gathering place, the bright and friendly original dining room, where guests enjoy sumptuous gourmet breakfasts, specialty coffees and socialize over local beer, wine and homemade appetizers. All these and more amenities, such as complementary passes to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, are included in the per-night price by design. “
Sunset from the St. Augustine Lighthouse
One of the reasons we focus on food and beverage,” Joe explained, “is because it’s a great opportunity for the guests to meet each other and mingle. That’s where it happens, around the food and beverage.”
Part of the Breakfast Buffet at the St. Francis Inn
Snacks Made Available During the Cocktail Hour
If breakfast and a 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM social hour aren’t enough to bring out your inner extrovert, the inn provides homemade desserts, hot beverages and S’Mores fixings to enjoy indoors or take out to the fire pit in the courtyard. This 8:00 to 9:30 period was one of our favorite times of the day. Not only were the desserts sinfully scrumptious, – think chocolate peanut butter cake – the interaction we shared with fellow guests made a perfect wind-down from a hectic day of sightseeing.
More than a Place to Rest Your Sleepy Head
Following conversation and calories, we made our way up to our room on the second floor. Each room and suite has a name rather than a number, and ours was the Ballerina Room.
The room was comfortable, roomy and the queen size bed, augmented by a beautifully carved headboard, was like a salve to our pleasantly tired bodies.
A view of the Ballerina Room from the Bathroom
But wait. There was more. We were furnished with a fireplace, a decanter of sherry and two glasses on the mantle, a whirlpool tub with shower, complimentary reliable wi-fi and a painting of – you guessed it – a ballerina on the wall.
The Picture Over the Mantle that Gives the Room Its Name
Ghostly, but Far from Ghastly
As is the case with many of St. Augustine’s homes, inns and attractions, St. Francis has its own ghost story. This one involves an antebellum slave girl named Lily, who has a room named for her on the third floor, which, during Lily’s time was the inn’s attic.
This was the place where Lily and her lover, the nephew of her master would meet in secret. The short version is that the uncle discovered the affair, sent his nephew far away to school and a distraught Lily committed suicide in the attic.
Despite Lily’s tragic demise, Joe insisted she is a playful ghost; switching on the television, turning off the water in the midst of a shower, moving items from one location to another.
Knowing this, you can choose to stay on the first or second floor, and if you are susceptible to supernatural activity, you will not be disturbed by ghostly pranks.
Joe said that he and Margaret have slept in Lily’s Room, and experienced nothing out of the ordinary. But he does have a score to settle with his ghostly guest. “I’m still trying to get a credit card from that ghost,” he quipped. “She’s been here a lot of years.”
A Brief History of St. Francis Inn
The original 18th century home was converted to a short-term boarding house by it’s then occupant, Anna Marie Dummet, in 1845. It later became an inn bearing several names before becoming the St. Francis Inn in 1948.
When the Finnegans bought the inn in 1985, there were 11 rooms, many of which did not have private baths. “There was no central air conditioning,” recalled Joe, “no reception area and no technology”.
Today, St. Francis Inn has 11 units in the main building, a two story cottage with kitchen on the other side of the swimming pool and an adjacent four-unit building, for a total of 17 uniquely appointed rooms and suites in which to make yourself at home.
In 1996, the Finnegans closed the inn in order to complete a four month major renovation project. When St. Francis Inn reopened later that year, the new influx of guests found new wiring, private bathrooms in each room, central air conditioning, new flooring, a modern kitchen, and redecorated rooms and suites.
The Innkeepers’ Tale
Joe and Margaret had once lived in St. Augustine just long enough to fall in love with the town. It was this experience that motivated them to purchase the inn, as their anchor, and operate it remotely for 10 years.
While in St. Augustine, Margaret was on the faculty of Flagler College. Their hope was that, when they returned, she could resume her academic career while Joe focused on the inn.
It all came together for the couple and their two children in 1996, when Joe resigned his position as President of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind to move to St. Augustine to take over the operation and renovation of the inn. Margaret soon joined him, and is now the coordinator of a program at Flagler, which prepares students to become teachers of the deaf.
Alongside his role as the gracious and hospitable owner/innkeeper of St. Francis Inn, Joe has taken an active interest in his community. He has served on the St. Augustine Chamber of Commerce Board, and as President of the St. Augustine Visitors and Convention Bureau. “I like people,” said Joe, “and I like the town and being involved in the community.”
Joe claims to have neither the interest nor the aptitude for cooking or repairs, so he relies on his able staff to do what they do best. His strength is in interacting with people. You can outsource food services and repairs, but you can’t outsource a temperament that is naturally outgoing and hospitable.
Perhaps Joe’s gregarious presence, along with the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the St. Francis Inn, is largely responsible for a multitude of glowing reviews and an impressive repeat guest base. Not to mention, being named the sole “Where to Stay” accommodation in St. Augustine by National Geographic Traveler in 2013, designated a Select Registry Distinguished Inn of North America and a Green Lodging facility by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Despite all the accolades heaped upon the St. Francis Inn, it is, and has long been a warm and delightful place to land when visiting St. Augustine.
St. Francis Inn is conveniently located in St. Augustine’s historic district, within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants and many of the town’s attractions, including the Lightner Museum and Flagler college.
The Former Alcazar Hotel Now Housing the Lightner Museum
The inn offers guests free parking, complimentary wi-fi and a temperature controlled swimming pool.
The Swimming Pool at the St. Francis Inn
Open year round, the period during the Nights of Lights – November through January – is especially busy, so reserve early.
Nightly rates range from $149 to $369, depending on which room or suite you choose, time of year, or whether yours is a weekday or weekend stay.
The Finnegans also own Casa de Suenos B&B, similarly located in St. Augustine’s historic district, as well as several units on St. Augustine Beach.
A Night View of the Main Square Looking Towards the River
St. Francis Inn has limited kid and pet friendly accommodations. The inn can accommodate small business meetings and retreats. See reviews of St. Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast on TripAdvisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.
St Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast
279 St George St
St Augustine, FL 32084 USA
800-824-6062 (USA & Canada)
(904) 824-6068 (International)
Fax (904) 810-5525
During our stay in St. Augustine, the gracious innkeepers of the St. Francis Inn hosted us. However, all opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own. Images for this article provided by Simon Lock, http://instagram.com/myeclecticimages.