The Old Powder House Inn History –
A building that stored gunpowder and ammunition for the Spanish military once sat on the property The Old Powder House now sits on. That dome shaped coquina storage building was built in the 1700s. It was constructed outside the city walls in case of an explosion taking place.
- Our inn was moved to this property from another part of town in 1901. It was used as a private home.
- In 1916 the home was broken up into several apartments.
- In 1925 part of the home was also run as a store.
- Then, in the 1930’s it became an apartment building . It was first known as the Mary Frances Apartments. In the 1960’s it became the Paris Apartments.
- And finally, in 1989 it became the Old Powder House Inn.
As the story goes, it went back to its original name because over the years, people still always referred to it as the Old Powder House. Giving directions, “Oh I know where that is, just turn left at the Old Powder House.” Or “just go up the street from the Old Powder House.”
So just know that when you stay with us, you’re a part of history!
Hauntings with Travel Writer Dave Hunter
Dave Hunter is the award-winning author of “Along I-75” and “Along Florida’s Expressways” – the quintessential guides for those driving to and in Florida. With his researcher wife Kathy, he enjoys travelling with history, gathering unusual and mysterious local stories.
The following article appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of CSANews, the official magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association:
I’m sitting in the haunted bedroom of a haunted inn, in St. Augustine, Florida, arguably the most haunted city in North America. Kathy and I will be sleeping here for the next two nights in the room where Mrs. Capo, the building’s original owner, frequently returns for a ghostly visit.
Do you believe in ghosts? I’m not sure whether I do or not, so I prefer to keep an open mind about all things unexplainable. During the next few days, we will be visiting a number of local “possessed” sites but right now it’s daylight, so all is well. But what will happen when the shadows deepen and the curtains of night envelop our “place of rest”?
The Old Powder House Inn
For a haunted house, the Old Powder House Inn has an unexpected feeling of tranquillity. Located within the ancient town’s defence walls (now gone), it got its name from the gunpowder house which used to be on the same property. Over a cup of tea, we talk to our host Katie about her experiences. After purchasing the inn, one of her first guests turned out to have a “sixth sense” and told her that there were at least three spirits in residence.
“They were all calm and peaceful ghosts,” Katie was told, “who have remained there to continue enjoying their years in the old house.”
Katie calls them her “nice” ghosts. But they are quite active and “things” continue to happen within the inn, often on a weekly basis.
Several years ago, we stayed in “Memories” on the ground floor. This lovely bed-sitting room’s unseen occupant is a five-year-old girl who died of consumption in the early 1900s. Katie decorated the room with Victorian furniture and, without mentioning it to anybody, added two antique dolls for the little ghost to play with.
Recently, a lady stayed there without knowing its reputation. At breakfast the following morning, she told Katie that she had felt the presence of a tiny ghost in the room who had a message for the innkeeper, “Thank you for the dolls.”
Our room tonight is “Serenity.” It’s on the second floor and Mrs. Capo wants her guests to keep it tidy. She is very particular about the room’s knick-knacks. For instance, there are two bronze giraffe statuettes which she likes to keep side by side and if they are moved, she will “tidy” them during the night. The same with discarded shoes – they must be left lined up at bedtime.
And woe betide the untidy woman who leaves her bra draped on a chair. In the morning, it will be found hanging up in the closet because, as has happened several times in the past few months, Mrs. Capo feels that such unmentionables should not be seen.
Ghostly Encounters Tour
Tonight, to get us into the spirit of things, we will tour the town’s ancient cobbled streets with Ghostly Encounters but, before leaving Serenity, I scatter my shoes around and leave the two giraffes in disarray (I don’t own a bra!).
Tim, our guide, knows the city’s history well. Settled in 1565, it was the first Spanish town site in the New World. In 1589, Sit Francis Drake sacked and burnt the town in reprisal for Spain’s failed attempt to invade England the previous year…so over the years its lanes and byways have seen much death and destruction, making it a fertile ground for hauntings.
We meet Tim at the small three-room Spanish Military Hospital, an historic building where I had an unusual experience a few years ago. I had arranged to tape a radio show from the room in which dying soldiers were given last rites. Earlier at our hotel, we charged our portable broadcast gear, cameras, video and sound units, and checked to ensure that all were in order. When we set up at the hospital, nothing workied even though each piece of equipment had its own separate power supply. Perlplexed, we arranged to come back several nights later.
On the night we returned, the equipment worked and we taped the show. Afterwards, one of the tour guides told us that we should have stayed the night our equipment died.
“We had a paid tour group come through,” she said, “and in the same room, the candles suddenly flickered out, leaving us in the window’s moonlight. The door by the beds flew open and heavy footsteps of an invisible entity strode across the creaking wooden floor. The tour group fled – everyone was so scared they left without asking for their money back!”
Leaving the hospital, we headed out down cobbled lanes and curving passages towards the original stone gates of the walled city. Here, Tim tells us, is St. Augustine’s most frequently seen ghost, Elizabeth, a teenage girl who died of yellow fever in 1821. She often appears standing and waving to an unseen person in the distance.
The citizens of St. Augustine take their ghost heritage very seriously and I note that occasionally, spooky mannequins can be seen staring out of cottage windows. We wander back along lantern-lit St, Gearge Street listening as Tim relates stories about the surrounding buildings, many of htem hundreds of years old…some with current occupants hundreds of years old as well! We pass the darkened Spanish Bakery. the site of another well-known apparition seen from time to time – an old Spanish washerwoman gathering sticks for her cauldron’s fire. From another far-off time, she never seems to notice the modern people who are rooted to the spot in shock whenever she appears. Finally, it’s time to head back to the inn since we have an early morning call to visit yet another houted location – the ladies’ washroom in a local restaurant.
Harry’s Seafood Restaurant
Imagine that you are dining here and need to go to the restroom. You follow the signs upstairs and go down a darkened hallway, when suddenly you see a man wearing a top hat and old fashioned clothes coming towards you. But there is something strange, because you can see right through him! This has happened to a number of people who have visited Harry’s Seafood Restaurant and Bar.
If you are female, you bravely continue to the end of the hall and through the door marked “Ladies”. Imagine your surprise when you glance at the mirror and see the face of an unknown woman staring back at you. You have just met Catalina, a soul from the days when the British army seized this building (then a private dwelling) from her parents. Twenty years later, the Spanish re-occupied the city and Catalina, now a grown woman, was able to regain its possession. She died here six years later, sad because she had never had time to enjoy the home she loved…so her possession continues.
Manager Tracy told me that unusual things happen at night after the restaurant closes. In fact, she and her bookkeeper refuse to stay in the building alone. Unexplainable shapes are seen gliding through corridors and eerie sounds emanate from behind closed doors.
Our time in haunted St. Augustine has come to an end. It has certainly been interesting but in “Serenity,” my shoes remain scattered and the two giraffe statuettes “untidy.” Perhaps Mrs. Capo is away visiting living (or dead) relatives.
There’s no doubt that St. Augustine is home to some very unusual and unexplainable phenomena. Whether there are ghosts here or not we will leave to those who study the paranormal. Several universities have conducted professional investigations in the town. But that’s another story…
We found out on the morning we were leaving the city that a ghost had recently been seen by many people and actually filmed at the nearby St. Augustine Lighthouse. The Atlanta Paranormal Society had arranged to spend a night on the property to conduct an investigation. Here’s what happened…
In early morning, two of the team’s experienced investigators with cameras were climbing the circular staircase several flights from the top when they filmed a hand coming down the banisters towards them. They stopped…and then a shadowy human head peered over the railings and down at them. They got it all on film – I’ve seen it, and it is quite remarkable. The investigators continued on the top and found the door to the outer deck locked. No windows were open and nobody was on the deck outside.
Many have viewed this video (it’s available commercially) and to date, no scientific explanation has been offered. Was it a large bird flying past an upper window and casting a shadow? No, it was an overcast, moonless night. Was somebody hiding on the top deck? The tower had been inspected and the only ground access, locked.
So what is in the film coming down the staircase towards the investigators? That’s another story.
No ghosts were harmed during the production of this article. All were Photoshoped in a very benign fashion. [Ed. Note: PhotoShop is a computer software product which enables ghost pictures to be faked.]