Oldest Store Museum: Interactive Fun in St. Augustine, Florida

Lisa Fritscher July 14, 2014 No Comments

New Fangled Gadgets

The store was filled with the latest in early 19th century new-fangled gadgets.

I grew up in Central Florida, just a few hours from St. Augustine. As an avid history buff, I was always intrigued by the oldest permanently occupied city in the United States. Yet as we visited over the years, I was saddened by the increasingly decrepit condition of some of the historic district’s museums and shows. It had been a few years since my previous visit when my dad and my best friend, Angela, decided to take me to St. Augustine for my birthday weekend last year.

I was thrilled to discover that money had been pouring into new attractions and upgrades to old favorites. The historic district looks better than ever, and the new things make use of historic properties that were once privately owned, maintaining the city’s commitment to authenticity. One of the best upgrades is the Oldest Store Museum.


About the Oldest Store Museum

Now owned by Historic Tours of America/Old Town Trolleys, a trolley tour company that also owns Potter’s Wax Museum and the Old Jail in St. Augustine, the museum is housed in the old general store, across the courtyard from the Old Jail complex.

Turn of the Century Groceries

Turn of the 20th century groceries lined the shelves in the first room.

The museum contains more than 100,000 items from the inventory of the E.F. Hamblen dry goods store. The store opened in 1875 and supplied both the day-to-day needs of the citizens and the large orders placed by developers including Henry Flagler. Today, the museum recreates the average shopping experience around the turn of the 20th century.


Our Experience

Angela is not much of a history buff, but she agreed to see the museum because she knew I would love it. As it turned out, she had as much fun as I did! After touring the Old Jail, we arrived at the museum roughly 15 minutes before the next tour. A friendly older gentleman in period clothing greeted us in character as we settled on the wooden porch. Little did we know that he would become our tour guide, playing the role of the proprietor.

Butcher Shop

The butcher shop was part of the dry goods store.

Our guide led a small group through the vast store, pointing out turn-of-the-century items from the practical to the bizarre. At various points, we also interacted with other actors who played more specialized roles, including a snake oil salesman! From bicycles and tractors to corsets and patent medicines, the store was packed with all the necessities, conveniences and luxuries of the era. The labor-saving devices, including the “modern” washing machines and coffee grinder, were particularly fun. The actors demonstrated many of the items, and even gave a period-appropriate sales pitch.


Tips for Parents

The Oldest Store Museum is a must-see on any family vacation to St. Augustine. The 30-minute tour melds historic education with improvisational theater, creating a truly fun and immersive experience that was appropriate for all ages. The cast is wonderful at maintaining the period setting while explaining products that 21st century visitors were unlikely to know much about.

Washing Machines

The “high tech” washing machines were fun to see.

The complex also includes the Old Jail and the St. Augustine History Museum, and is a stop on the Old Town Trolley Tours line. All three attractions are interactive and family-friendly, telling the story of St. Augustine in a very accessible way. The fully-narrated hop-on hop-off Old Town Trolley is an easy way to see the historic district without fighting for a parking spot. For the best savings, purchase your tickets on the Old Town Trolley website or look for discount coupons at your hotel. Children under age 6 receive free admission to the Trolley and all three museums, while those ages 6 to 12 pay a reduced fee.

Sodas and snacks, including hot dogs, are available in the gift shop of the St. Augustine History Museum. Benches are scattered throughout the courtyard, making this a pleasant place to take a break. Food and beverages are not permitted inside the Oldest Store Museum, but if you’re lucky, you might be offered a piece of penny candy.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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