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UF Preservationists Key in Telling Story of St. Augustine

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St. Augustine is celebrating its 450th anniversary this year – but the party would be incomplete without the work of three University of Florida preservationists.

Dana Ste. Claire, immediate past director of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration, recently said that the work of preservationists Kathleen Deagan, Herschel Shepard and Susan Parker has helped to enrich the story of the nation’s oldest city and first American colony.

“For us to celebrate 450 years, telling the world our story, our unique story is important, but telling the true and accurate story and making sure it was an authentic story,” Ste. Claire said.

“These are the folks that ensured that.”

Deagan, who is research curator of archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, recently joined Herschel Shepard, American Institute of Architects Fellow Emeritus and Susan Parker, executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society, at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service to talk about her work.

She said that excavating St. Augustine’s Fort Mose, the first legally sanctioned free African-American community in the U.S., especially resonated with her.

Deagan said this project seemed to bring the black and white communities in St. Augustine together in a way she had not seen before.

“It actually seemed to make a difference in some real life aspect, this preservation of the past or of an idea, in a way that a lot of archaeology, a lot of strictly historic preservation projects, for me haven’t,” she said.

Parker has been working on the familial relationships of Native Americans in the area who integrated into the Spanish society.  

James Cusick moderates a panel discussion about St. Augustine preservation with (L-R) Kathleen Deagan, Herschel Shepard and Susan Parker in Pugh Hall on Oct. 28. The three spoke about the research and projects they’ve done regarding the preservation of St. Augustine and shared topics students can work on in the future.
Preservationists (L-R) Kathleen Deagan, Herschel Shepard and Susan Parker recently talked about their work in preserving St. Augustine. The city is celebrating its 450th anniversary this year. Aileen Mack / WUFT News

She said she first started her research while working on the Ribera Gardens excavation and found documentation that showed the role of the wives in the ownership of property. 

“When you start to work with this many records about the same people over and over, there’s a sense that you start to know them,” she said.

Deagan, Shepard and Parker work to translate their research into something the public can access.

Deagan said, “In terms of history and historic preservation, I sometimes suspect that people really like their kind of mythological ideas about things or the commonly held information better than they like the results.”

Kyra Lucas, a master’s student studying historic preservation and museum studies, said she was impressed with the preservationists’ work.

“Who we are as a people, as a country and a society is based on what we have been, and the future is based on what we can learn from the past,” Lucas said.

About Aileen Mack

Aileen is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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