279 St. George Street, St. Augustine, FL
Located in the restored historic district of the nation's oldest city, St. Francis Inn stands out as a true representation of St. Augustine’s celebrated Spanish influence. With its classic architecture and charming design, the inn has drawn people from all over the world who are looking to take a step back through time and experience the building's long and diverse history.
Within those 17 rooms, though, resides more than just antique furniture and collected relics. In fact, St. Francis Inn remains one of the most notorious monuments to St. Augustine’s famed ghostlore, and well as a hotbed of paranormal activity.
Anyone who has spent the night in one of their many haunted suites will tell you the same—the past really comes alive.
But who is it that’s haunting this historic inn?
St. Francis is considered St. Augustine’s oldest inn.
The inn has gone by many other names over the centuries.
It has been the residence of many prominent publishers and writers.
Many sources on the paranormal have featured St. Francis Inn.
While there is no shortage of ghostly locations around St. Augustine, a city well-known for its haunted past, there are few places that represent that mystique as much as St. Francis Inn. From sudden, loud noises in the night, to full-on apparitions stalking the halls, the guests of the inn have been reporting strange and unusual activity since the doors first re-opened under its current name in 1948.
Despite the amount, and even variety, of activity that has been witnessed over the years, most interactions have been friendly, even playful, such as moving around personal belongings, turning televisions on and off, or tugging at bed sheets while people sleep. In fact, many of the guests and staff see the ghosts as harmless—or, at the very worst, a little mischievous.
Still, some activities have been a little odd, even unnerving. Take for instance the guests who have heard whispers in their ear, felt cold, phantom hands on stair railings, or even the sensation of another consciousness entering their mind, as if they were being possessed.
These stories are compelling, even terrifying, but whether these spirits have good intentions or not, it proves one thing for certain—there is something, or someone, haunting the St. Francis Inn.
This is especially true for one suite in particular, known only as “Lily’s Room.”
In the middle of the 19th century, a man named William Joseph Hardee was serving as owner and part-time manager of St. Francis Inn. Hardee was a military man, strict and humorless, whose career had spanned many conflicts before culminating with his promotion to major general for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
It is said that, during his time at the inn, he invited his nephew to come down to the property and help him with the day-to-day operations. His nephew was cut from a different cloth, a dreamer and a romantic, who did not see eye-to-eye with his uncle, especially when it came to the Confederacy.
They butted heads frequently, but it wasn’t until the nephew fell in love with one of the servants, a young slave woman from Barbados, known as Lily, that everything came to a head.
The two did their best to hide their relationship, knowing how dangerous it was for an interacial couple in the south, especially during the war. They would meet late at night and sneak around the inn, finding empty rooms where they could share each other's company in brief but welcomed moments of peace.
But they could not keep it a secret forever, and, one day, their worst that could happen finally did.
William Joseph Hardee walked in on them.
Hardee was furious, and what happened next is unclear. Some reports claim that, as the nephew’s punishment, Lily was sold off, sent away from the inn never to be seen again. But, this of course doesn’t fit with what we know about the time and the place, or the reported sightings, and there are other stories that seem more likely—one’s where Lily did not survive the general’s wrath.
Regardless of Lily’s tragic end, what we do know is what happened next. Hardee’s nephew, broken-hearted and riddled with guilt, took his own life by hanging himself in the very space where they once shared their love. The suite, now known as “Lily’s Room,” is still there, having become the epicenter of St. Francis Inn’s paranormal activity.
For decades, guests and employees of the inn have reported strange happenings in and around Lily’s Room. Not just by Lily, either, but also by her former lover, the two of them haunting the halls of St. Francis, sneaking around behind closed doors, not unlike they did when they were alive.
The accounts are strange and often varied, but, when viewed as a whole, clear patterns begin to emerge and the portrait of a haunting starts to take shape.
One year, a woman staying in Lily’s Room awoke to a loud thud, finding her purse overturned in the middle of the floor, the contents not merely spilled out, but scattered violently across the room.
Another woman staying overnight had a similar experience, also finding that her purse had been tampered with. Nothing was missing or displaced, this time, but the purse itself had been filled with water with no reasonable explanation of how it had happened.
Are these the doings of the ghostly couple, jealous of the living and the loved? It’s possible, especially when you consider the way other guests have been treated in Lily’s Room, such as the man who woke up one morning to find himself tucked away beneath the bed, unable to work himself free.
Or the woman who was awakened in the middle of the night by a passionate kiss, only to roll over and find her husband sleeping soundly beside her.
One housekeeper also tells an interesting tale. She had been cleaning Lily’s Room, listening to MTV on the television, when something strange happened. It seemed that every time she stepped away from the room and returned, the television would be turned off.
Not easily spooked, she would simply switch it back on and continue with her work, but she soon found that, no matter how many times she went through this ritual, the same thing would happen again and again. She eventually gave up, famously joking that “Lily didn’t like MTV!”
It’s not all invisible hijinks, though. Both female and male apparitions have been seen, time and time again, especially on that top floor where the nephew’s life had come to an unfortunate end. It seems that the two lovers, both trapped at St. Francis Inn, have still yet to find each other, crossing paths in the night and looking for love in all the wrong places.
Maybe even overstepping their boundaries.
Some guests know better than others. One night, while staying with his wife at the inn, there was a man who felt a strange sensation overcome him, like someone was forcing their way into his consciousness. The spirit seemed neither good nor evil, but he left the room anyway, hoping a short walk would help.
When he finally returned to bed, though, the same feeling came over him again, even stronger this time. It was, needless to say, a very long night for him.
Was this a lover’s touch taken out of context? It is difficult to say. The only thing for certain is that, when it comes to St. Augustine, you’re unlikely to find an inn as haunted as St. Francis.
St. Francis Inn, historically known as The Garcia-Dummet House, was originally built during St. Augustine’s second Spanish colonial period. Gaspar Garcia, a sergeant in the Third Battalion of the Infantry of Cuba, was the property’s first owner. He built the house in 1791 after the lot had been granted to him by the King of Spain.
At the time, the Spaniards were constantly on the brink of war, split between the British, the French, and the constant threat of pirates. By the king’s decree, all new houses being built in St. Augustine were to be constructed so that they could “serve as a defense or fortress against those who might attempt to occupy the town,” leading to the unique design choices that now make the building so recognizable.
Juan Ruggiers, a sea captain, was the next to purchase the home in 1802, his family holding on to the property until the early years of American rule in Florida.
He was followed by Colonel Thomas Dummett in 1838, who owned a very successful sugar mill plantation in Barbados, but was forced to flee with his family to St. Augustine after the British ban on slavery led to a slave uprising on the isalnd.
After Colonel Dummett’s death in 1845, his daughter, Ann Dummett, converted the family home into a boarding house. There, the unmarried Anna raised ten of her nieces and nephews who were orphaned after three of her sisters all met an untimely death. From that time forward, the building has served continuously as a lodging house, in one form or another.
After the infamous General Wiliam Joseph Hardee and the death of his nephew, a philanthropist by the name of John L. Wilson was the next to purchase the property in 1888, making extensive renovations to the inn, as well as adding a number of new buildings to the neighborhood.
It has since operated under many names including The Teahan House, The Hudson House, The Valencia Annex, The Amity Apartments, The Salt Air Apartments, The Palms, and The Graham House.
It was not until 1948 that it became known as St. Francis Inn.
With its beautiful architecture, diverse history, and growing reputation for paranormal activity, there is no doubt that this popular bed-and-breakfast tucked away in St. Augustine’s beautiful historic district is a stop you cannot afford to miss.
To pay homage to Lily and her lost love, or to learn more about America’s “oldest Inn,” you can find St. Francis Inn at 279 St. George Street, St. Augustine, FL.