St. Augustine, Florida: Beach Beauty

An historic seaside “dogtrot” cottage is restored south of St. Augustine.

Old homes are not rare in St. Augustine. In fact, buildings and houses of historic significance in the Downtown area of the nation’s “Oldest City” are as common as palmetto bugs in July. Yet the one portion of St. Augustine, and in truly all of Northeast Florida for that matter, where older structures of any kind are hard to find is along the shore. The ravages of time, the weather and developmental progress have left little standing on our coastline that was built before the 1960’s, save a lighthouse or two.

About 14 miles south of St. Augustine near the Matanzas Inlet is a rare time capsule from Florida’s past. In the community of Summer Haven, really little more than a small collection of weathered beach houses tucked tight between Highway A1A and the intracoastal Waterway, sits an unassuming home that has endured more than 100 summers, countless coastal squalls and visits by a bevy of notable names. Built in the late 1800s, “The Lodge” is a five-bedroom, two-bath cottage constructed of first growth Florida ironwood pine and cedar. The home’s two most distinguishing architectural features are its broad wraparound porch and a soaring pyramid-style roof. In addition to its true Cracker construction roots, the home is noteworthy because of the pedigree of its owners.

The Lodge was originally owned by Pittsburgh millionaire Thomas Mellon, brother of financier and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1921-1931) Andrew Mellon. The story has it that Thomas visited the area during the early 1890s. While staying with relatives in Palatka, which at the time was a popular resort town on the St. Johns River, the wealth Pennsylvanian journeyed out to the shore because he had difficulty sleeping in the inland heat. He quickly fell in love with the rugged fishing outpost and purchased the land on the spot. Here Mellon would built two homes. The Hut in 1882 and The Lodge is 1895.

The two homes have remained in the Mellon family for four generations, and today are the property of Thomas Mellon Schmidt, the great-great grandson of the original owner. No stranger to homes of historical value, for 20 years Schmidt served as director of Fallingwater, the landmark house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in western Pennsylvania. According to Schmidt, among the many guests who have stayed at The Lodge are The Yearling author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, C.V. Whitney, founder of nearby Marineland; and Ilya Tolstoi, grandson of the famed Russian writer. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that guests of the Lodge could reach the home by means other than a boat.

The most recent renovation of the Lodge ended in May of last year. The breezeway separating the kitchen from the rest of the house, a feature that lead to the “dogtrot” name, was enclosed decades ago. But much of the rest of the interior had changed little over the years, including the heart pine floors and hand-rubbed wooden walls and ceilings. Major structural modifications included a refurbished foundation, updated kitchen, new electrical and plumbing systems, and the installation of central heat and air.

The Schmidt’s, who say they plan to retire to the area, presently rent the cottage to weekly and monthly vacationers. The home can be viewed online at www.beachcottagerent.com.

To rent The Lodge – 1-888-963-8272, The Beach Cottages, Win Kelly

* Restaurants in St. Augustine area: Salt Water Cowboy’s – 904-471-0332
* South Beach Grill – 904-471-8700
* La Pentola – 904-824-3282

* Other Area Attractions: Fort Matanzas – 904-471-0116
Take the free ferry over and walk the park trails.
* Marineland – 877-326-7539
The nation’s oldest oceanariums. See the dolphins in the water shows.

Adapted by Susan Scott Schmidt from an article originally printed in Jacksonville Magazine, March 2003

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