Not all history comes to us via the classroom or books.  Sometimes, getting out into the community and seeing carefully preserved artifacts gives us a new appreciation for the past and for Florida’s heritage.  An update from UF History alum Paul Weaver (BA 1976, MA 1986), historic preservation consultant and long time member of St. Augustine’s Historic Architectural Review Board, makes this point convincingly.  Weaver and Jennifer Wolfe (BA 2001, MSAS 2006), the city’s Historic Preservation and Special Projects Planner, recently helped the residents of St. Augustine and of Florida as a whole expand their perspectives on the city’s Spanish heritage.

As a landmark, St. Augustine’s Constitution Monument has been a favorite subject of paintings, photographs and postcards for nearly two hundred years, and now it is quickly on its way to gaining additional and quite significant status with its inclusion in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The monument, a white obelisk, stands in the Plaza de la Constitución in the center of St. Augustine.

A postcard from the early 20th century depicts St. Augustine’s monument to the Spanish Constitution of 1812

Completing the application to have the monument nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places required a significant amount of research, often more than has ever been conducted in the past. Weaver’s extensive research for the Constitution Monument’s nomination includes the physical description of the monument and details regarding the building materials and process, but goes further with accounts of political and financial challenges that had to be overcome to see the projectto its completion.

After reviewing the city’s application to have the monument recognized, the Florida National Register Review Board, the state level body charged with considering applications, voted to forward the city’s application to the National Park Service with a recommendation that the monument be added to the Register. All that remains is a final review and approval by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places and the monument will join other St. Augustine sites which have been so recognized.

Many find it fitting that the application met this important threshold within days of the bicentennial anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, whose enactment was the reason for the monument construction and the naming of the Plaza. To mark the anniversary, commemorations that included the King and Queen of Spain were held on March 19 in Cadiz, Spain, the date and site of the constitution’s adoption in 1812.  The constitution’s passage marked an important moment in Spanish politics and history, as it put into law for the first time principles of a constitutional, limited monarchy and signaled Spain’s movement to a more liberal and centralized state.

The Constitution Monument today

Even though the Constitution was adopted in March of 1812, Spanish subjects in St. Augustine did not receive news of the event until six months later. It was still another year before the town council approved a design for the new monument, and it was completed in January 1814.

Most Spanish colonial towns had not gone to the expense and effort to erect such an elaborate monument to commemorate the constitution, choosing instead to meet the minimum requirements from Spain that a central plaza simply be recognized with plaques.

But, the constitution itself was short lived. Just six months after completing the monument and upon learning that other colonial towns were removing their public recognitions of the now revoked constitution, the city council ordered the plaques noting “Plaza de la Constitución” be removed from the monument. But the Council did not order the removal of the obelisk itself and thus saved what is today possibly the only original monument in the Western Hemisphere built in commemoration of the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

The Constitution Monument’s landmark status, so long ago affirmed by the attention given to it by the public, is certainly to be enhanced by the additional credentials it can claim when included in the National Register of Historic Places.  Yet another example of history both informing and enriching our lives today.

• To read more about the city’s ties with Cadiz, Spain made possible because of the Spanish Constitution’s Bicentennial Commemoration, click here.

• To see a wide collection of depictions of the Constitution Monument, including paintings, engravings, photographs and stereoscopic pictures spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, visit the presentation developed by the Saint Augustine Historical Society entitled Images of the Monument to the Spanish Constitution of 1812.