Youthful enthusiasm in the heart of a deaf man, a state appropriation and donated land set the stage for the creation of our school.
Early history shows that the origins of what later became the Florida school campus began with land grants given by Enquire White, the Spanish Governor, to Domingo Seguí in 1791, Juan Genoply in 1807, and Antonio Montero in 1808. Genoply later acquired property from Seguí and Montero, which was known as the Genoply Tract. Ownership of the land exchanged hands several times until the 1880s. Today, the FSDB campus is much larger, bordered on the east by estuaries and waterways and on the west by San Marco Avenue. On the north and south boundaries are the historic neighborhoods of Fullerwood Park and Nelmar Terrace.
Enthusiasm in the heart of a young deaf man, a state appropriation, and donated land set the stage for the creation of what is now the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB). In 1882, Thomas Hines Coleman, a young deaf man, prepared to graduate from Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) in Washington, DC. He had previously graduated from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and knew he wanted to make education his life’s work. Florida was one of the few states that had not yet made provision for the education of children who were deaf or blind. Coleman wrote to Florida Governor William Dunnington Bloxham and found that he supported the concept of such a school.
The governor convinced the state legislature to set aside $10,000 for each of the years 1883 and 1884 to begin the work of the school. The state requested bids from interested towns for the site and accepted a $1,000 cash bid from the City of St. Augustine. Five acres of land between San Marco Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway were donated by Captain Edward E. Vaill, who owned the St. Augustine Hotel. The property was described as a “very desirable one that commands a magnificent view.
Contractor William A. MacDuff erected the first three Wooden School Buildings on the south campus on Genoply Street, completed in December at a cost of $12,749. The first floor of each building served as classrooms, with dormitories and staff living quarters on the second floors.
The school opened on February 2, 1885 as the Florida Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb. At that time, the word “dumb” meant a person who was mute, or did not speak. Tuition was to be “absolutely free,” and the indigent were to be provided with clothes as well. When Thomas Coleman declined to become principal for health reasons, C.H. Hill, a teacher at the Maryland Deaf-Mute Institute, was offered the job. When he did not accept, Park Terrell, an educator from Columbus, OH was hired as the first principal at a salary of $1,800. Coleman was the head teacher, and Mrs. M. D. Taylor was the matron. The school operated under a Board of Managers from 1885 to 1903, which consisted of the Florida governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, the state attorney general, and the state treasurer.