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St. Augustine, Florida

Dungeon Under the Stairs at the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

It's a pretty creepy lock-up. 

There’s nothing like a visit to St Augustine’s Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse Museum to bring back memories of those carefree elementary school days of the 18th century: dunce caps, a privy out back, a schoolmaster living overhead… And a creepy Harry Potter-esque dungeon under the stairs, where they put kids who misbehaved.

This is what detention looked like 200 years ago.

Located in the Minorcan Quarter of St. Augustine, the original structure of the schoolhouse was one-room in a single-story, with an outhouse and detached kitchen. It first appeared on tax rolls as far back as 1716, but it didn’t become a school until the first recorded owner got married and became the schoolmaster. With a new wife and kids to educate, the little cedar and cypress building was expanded to include a small upstairs living quarters.

Despite some features that now seem antiquated (like the dungeon and privy), in other ways the school was actually ahead of its time. It was the first to be co-ed in the United States, educating both boys and girls as early as 1788.

Since the mid-1930s the site has been a small museum, with displays of colonial life (including some spiffy animatronics), artifacts, early text books, and a never-completed Grove of Educators, an ambitious project intended to gather and showcase statues of educational pioneers from every country in the Americas (only a few countries participated).

Meanwhile, all these years poor Timmy has been stuck in that claustrophobic little dungeon–allegedly for biting–and maybe one day they’ll let him out. He claims that he’s “inocint,” but even if he did commit the offense, after more than two centuries he’s probably ready to behave himself by now.

Know Before You Go

The Old Wooden Schoolhouse Museum is near the Old City Gates in the Minorcan Quarter of St Augustine. They are open Sunday to Friday from 9am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 8pm. Admission is $4.95 for adults, $3.95 for kids (under 5 are free).

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