Riverbend Home Educators visited Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Fl as one of our monthly field trips. Amazingly, just off bustling, urban, modern Tennessee Street you are transported to the 17th century, to a community where Apalachee Indians and Spaniards cohabited, and their cultures collide all around. This trip remains one of my personal favorites.
Mission San Luis is a living history museum and on this very site, from 1656 to 1704, it served as the principle village of the Apalachees and was the Spaniards' westernmost military, religious, and administrative capitol. Our guide wasted no time immersing us in the rich history that surrounded us. After a brief film and Q&A session in the visitor center, our tour began. Our first stop was perhaps the most visually stunning, the Apalachee Council House. The Council House was reconstructed in 2000, 296 years after it was burned in the English raid (which destroyed all of the Spanish Missions in Florida). The truncated cone-shaped thatched Council House was massive at just over 140 feet in diameter, standing five stories high, and containing 72' rafters, which weigh more than 1,000 pounds each. It was the perfect first stop because it undeniably captured the kids' attention, and if I'm honest, the adults' too.
Our next stop was the Spanish Village, which contained a Spanish House and Blacksmith Shop. In the Spanish House the children got to imagine what home life was like for kids their age at the Mission in the late 1600's. The guide here was wonderful at immersing the kids' in their surroundings and telling them what their chores and responsibilities would have been.Even though this home represented a “well-to-do”, prominent Spanish family, the children were astounded at the conditions, especially the fact that only the oldest child got to sleep in a bed while the younger siblings slept on a mat on the dirt floor. On the exterior of the house, in the outdoor kitchen, we enjoyed an especially amusing Q&A session when some of the youngest kids asked about the presence of modern culinary marvels (such as marshmallows – Ha!) and the living history performer acted clueless as to what they were talking about, while sharing some of her own favorites; smoked meat, beans, and dried fruit.
We concluded our Spanish Village tour at the Blacksmith Shop. The Blacksmith was actually making nails during our visit, which was fascinating for the children and adults alike. The Blacksmith was amazing at answering questions and in keeping with his character talked to the boys about apprenticing in his shop. Though he had fierce competition from the Deputy Governor who swept in exclaiming they should become soldiers under him instead. He was very animated and passionate in his role and I'm afraid he would have won more than a few of our boys over, had it been a real offer.
Moving along in our tour, and the afternoon, we next saw The Fort. Like the Council House this too was rather impressive visually, though in a less primitive way. We noticed right away that the Fort was bright white, a choice that seemed to lack militaristic strategy. But we soon learned that the color was to keep the Fort cool, and it worked remarkably well in the Florida mid-day heat. Of course all the children were riveted by the weapons demonstration and even more so by the cannon on display outside the Fort. The soldiers did a great job staying in character and portraying their life at The Fort.
Last on our tour were the Church and Friary. At approximately 50 by 110 feet, the church at San Luis was equal in size to the main church in St. Augustine. And, while it was beautiful, it seemed the children enjoyed the Friary even more, because again the guides were fantastic in helping them imagine themselves learning from the friars, as young boys did in that time. The guide explained the Guidonian Hand to the kids and had them envisioning they were in the friars' choir, practicing for many long hours at a time. Finally we visited the Friary Dinning Area and Kitchen, where it seemed wine and beans were in very high demand.
We concluded our visit to Mission San Luis with lunch on-site at their provided picnic area. As we were leaving, some families chose to visit the array of impressive 300-year-old artifacts in the visitors center and pick up a souvenir in the gift shop. I highly recommend a visit to the Mission, or even better, if you're a local homeschooling family, perhaps you could join our group and accompany us on our next trip.
Until our next adventure,