3/8-9/14 Saturday & Sunday at St. Augustine, FL (St. John’s RV-PPA ($26/night))
Today we were set to explore St. Augustine, so we drove to the Old Town Trolley Tours where you can park free all day. That’s worth $5-$10. They have a list of tourist sites/experiences. You can choose among them for discounted tickets. Using that list you can figure out if you want to purchase any of their packages of experiences which are cheaper but may include some you don’t want to do. You don’t have to pay for the trolley ride ($23), but we felt it was worth it – for 3 days of on and off guided rides around town. Their competition (Red Train) offered a special Spring Break option that our friends got: 2 people over 50 for $22 and 3 days of riding.
We explored this beautiful, fascinating city in 2 days. You need more than that. We hope to return another time for more of this fascinating place. I felt it would be easier to enjoy if I told the story of St. Augustine with images shared as the story unfolded. Thus you’ll get our 2 days rolled into one very large post. Hope your brain and computer can handle it!
St. Augustine (AH gus teen) is our nation’s oldest city-444 years old. On Columbus’ second voyage to America he brought Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico who traveled north to what is now St. Augustine. He named the new land “La Florida”; Spanish for flowers since it was the Easter season at that time. He discovered the Gulf stream, a current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico up the east coast thus shortening the voyage from the New World back to Spain. The King didn’t try very hard to settle Florida until the French tried to settle there, then he was infuriated, sending his admiral Menendez to rid his land of the Huguenots. Menendez named the city St. Augustine because his fleet reached Florida on the festival of San Augustin. Mass was held (now marked by this Great Cross which is over 208 feet tall, 70 tons) where he landed.
then he marched north to attack the French. The Frenchmen had sailed already to attack the Spanish but unfortunately ran into a terrible storm first and lost most of their ships. Thus when Menendez arrived at the French fort it was so lightly defended he easily captured it, then returned to find the surviving Frenchmen. When he found them, starving and exhausted, he asked if they were Catholic. When they didn’t convert to Catholicism he had them beheaded and dumped into the nearby bay. It’s now named Matanzas Bay which is slaughter/killing in Spanish. The natives had called it the Bay of Dancing Dolphin since dolphin can often be seen there. We didn’t, probably because we didn’t linger. It was settled one year after Shakespeare’s birth and one year after Michelangelo’s death.
The Old (Spanish) Colonial Quarter was a great rendition of the 16th through 18th centuries in St. Augustine. We had the best guide-so interesting and easy to understand. My favorite part was the blacksmith story. Grimm, our guide, has even trained under a Master Blacksmith and is an apprentice blacksmith. This was my favorite tour of them all.
Treasure ships stopped here before heading to Spain because of the Gulf Stream. Thus lots of pirates roamed the area. Only 2 pirate flags exist, this is one of them-the Jolly Roger design. Click on the next images to see how democratic their society was. The last is of the world’s only surviving pirate’s treasure chest. You would think the key hole was at the front but that was false – it was hidden on the top lid, visible in the mirrored image of the lid. It belonged to Thomas Tew. The small case at the bottom was for specially valuable items. The Pirate Museum, where we saw these, was truly entertaining. Anyone could get involved in a scavenger hunt and they had fun audio elements, including a “show” inside a very dark room.
British privateer Sir Francis Drake burnt St. Augustine to the ground in 1586, then it was attacked by pirate Robert Searles. So the Queen ordered that they built a stone fort on Matanzas Bay: Castille de San Marcos, completed in 1695. Made of Coquina (koh KEE nah), Spanish for tiny shells. This is a rock that is naturally formed in the ocean from limestone and fossilized shells from nearby Anastasia Island. It is very soft when first quarried, so it’s left to dry for 1 to 3 years before use in building. Canon shells couldn’t crack it, just were absorbed by it. St. Augustine was never defeated after this fort was built. The people would gather inside its walls when there was an attack. We learned that they didn’t want the animals staying inside (rather messy), so they built a dry moat around the fort. They left their animals (goats, chickens) out in the dry moat area to eat, drink and the like, then gathered them into the fort in the dark of night. Of course St. Augustine was attacked several more times, each time the city was burnt but survived because of the Castille.
When the Spanish walled the city in the 1700s the City Gate was the only way in and out.
Even though no one conquered the city once the fort was built it changed hands (via treaty or agreements) many times so 11 flags have flown over it through the years: In 1763 the Treaty of Paris gave Florida to the British in exchange for the return of Havana to the Spanish. During the Revolutionary War Florida remained loyal to the crown (many Tories escaped here from the north), but after the war ended a second Treaty of Paris returned Florida to the Spanish in 1784. In 1821 a peaceful transfer of power gave Florida to the US. It became the 27th state in 1845.
Henry Flagler visited the town in 1885 for the Ponce de Leon Day festival. He loved it and decided it would make a great resort town. Made rich by his efforts with Standard Oil, he began by purchasing the small railroads that led to St. Augustine, giving them a standardized gauge so guests could board in New York and ride all the way to St. Augustine without having to change trains. As you may remember from an earlier post he also continued his railroad all the way down to Key West, riding it that far just a year before he died. His vision of Florida, too, basically put the state on the map. He built 3 hotels. The Ponce de Leon was the grandest and 1st. The Hotel Alcazar was built across the street from it featuring more health and activities like spas, tennis courts, bowling alley and the world’s largest indoor swimming pool at the time. He purchased the Casa Monica hotel next to it. During the Depression these hotels were for sale for a long time. A Mr. Lightner was in Michigan running a very successful magazine called “Hobbies” and others. It’s still in existence as “Antiques”. He also started a museum of his hobbies, declaring that hobbies kept one youthful. Even though his museum was also quite successful, the neighborhood around it was deteriorating. People were less willing to go there. After hearing of the Hotels in St. Augustine, he came to see them. He loved the place, but only wanted one for his museum. The deal was he had to buy both Ponce de Leon and Alcazar for the amazing price of $150,000. He told the city he’d give the city the Ponce de Leon if they’d pay him $25,000 to improve the Alcazar. They jumped at that opportunity. Thus the Ponce de Leon became Flagler College and the Alcazar became The Lightner Museum (& City Hall).
Flagler College. The fencing chain is a replica of that used to go across the Bay to inflict damage on attacking ships. This was Flagler’s flagship hotel, the first made of poured concrete. He decorated it with marble, carved oak, murals and glass windows by Tiffany.
The Lightner Museum. The lady demonstrated several musical instruments, playing their disk, paper roll or cylinder.
He donated money to various churches including the Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine after the fire of 1887 damaged it. The second image is of the back of the church, the 3rd is of the front main area. The last is of a side chapel. This is a truly peaceful place, with quiet beautiful singing in the background when you visit. Sunday we thought we could ride the trolley to church there but discovered that was not to be. Mass was at 9 am but the first trolley left at 9:05 am. So we took a brisk 20 minute walk, with a little time for getting lost, to get there.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church
Old Jail (Built in 1891 by the company that later built Alcatraz, holding prisoners until 1955 when it became a tourist attraction). Henry Flagler didn’t like the county jail across from his hotels so he paid the county $10,000 to build a new one outside of town and to make it look nice including painting it pink. The sheriff’s home was built alongside but it had lots of height and windows. The gallows were built next to the hanging tree.
At the end of our first day in St. Augustine I enjoyed a serenade by nearby red winged blackbirds and a wonderful sunset. Lovely ending to a very full day.