Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Description: During the 1600s, the Apalachees Indians were the dominant Indian tribe in the panhandle of Florida. The chief of San Luis was one of the most important in the province and the Mission was built in 1656 on the second highest hill in Tallahassee. The Apalachee Indians also moved their main village to this location and Mission San Luis became the westernmost military, religious, and administrative capital being one of the largest mission settlements established in Spanish Florida between 1560s-1690s. It represented a joint community between the Spanish and Apalachee indians with the Franciscan church and friary on one side of the central plaza and council house and chief’s house directly opposite. The Spanish village with governor’s residence also bordered on the plaza, whereas the Indians lived in scattered communities throughout the area. In addition, the Spaniards built a fort consisting of a blockhouse and wooden palisade to protect the Mission. The soldiers were a mix of both Spanish and Indians. In 1704 the fort and mission were abandoned and burned due to increasing raids by the English and Creek Indians. Over the years the site of the Mission has been extensively studied by archeologists and some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Included are the Council house, the Franciscan church, the friary, a typical Spanish home, blacksmith, and the blockhouse and palisade of the fort. The Visitor Center includes a short movie of the history of the Mission and an extensive display of the artifacts discovered.
1) This museum was a very exciting surprise and is a must see for anyone interested in the colonial history of Florida. Beginning with the Visitor Center which has an amazing display of a small portion of the artifacts that have been discovered to the building that have been recreated. The massive size of the Council House has to be seen to be believed. Just imagine how large a structure would be required to hold between 2000-3000 Indians for their meetings and ceremonies. The Franciscan Church is also much larger than I would have thought and the friary complex includes the sleeping quarters for two friars, a public area used to meet and medically treat the residents, and a separate kitchen with covered walkway between. The blockhouse and palisade that make up the fort is not as large as I would have thought, until you realized they did not live in the fort. It was meant to be used only when under attack. The Spanish home is two rooms, bedroom and dining area. The central plaza was also interesting as it combined both the Spanish and Indian cultures. Around the periphery are a series of crosses making up the “Stages of the Cross” as well as the cage used in the ball games of the Indians in the center of the plaza. Unfortunately, the central plaza is incomplete due to the presence of the old plantation home the sits on part of the plaza.
2) We were fortunate to have one of the archeologists lead a tour of the Mission. We learned a lot of things about their efforts then we would have from the exhibits themselves. For instance, there are depressions under the benches in the Council House which were used to produce smoke. This was meant to keep the mosquitoes away. She also discussed how the drip line from the firary to the kitchen led them to conclude that their was a covered walkway them, although no such structure has been found to connect the firary to the church itself. We also learned that the “wooden” palisade is actually made of concrete made to look wood using methods they were taught by Disney imagineers. It was quite convincing except where some erosion at the base has exposed some of the concrete footings.
3) We spent over 3 hours at the Mission and would have spent more if the weather was better. I would highly recommend this museum.