The distinctive, coquina-clad structure on Aviles Street, in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine, was built in 1798 as a general store and residence for Andres Ximenez and his family. But a quarter-century later, the dwelling took on new significance when Margaret Cook purchased it and turned it into a successful boarding house, paving the way for future female entrepreneurs.
It was uncommon for women other than widows to own property in the early 1800s, but that didn’t deter Margaret. She hired her friend Eliza Whitehurst to manage the boarding house and to lend her name to the enterprise. Known as “Mrs. Whitehurst’s,” the establishment welcomed guests year-round—especially during the winter months, when the inevitable icy weather spurred Northern residents to travel south to Florida’s balmier climes. With this steady income, Margaret was able to make some improvements and replaced the original tabby floors with gleaming hardwood.