Published: March 30th 2012April 30th 2011
Old St. Johns County Jail - St Augustine FL
Here is my V-E-R-Y tardy blog from April 2011. Sorry, folks. St. Augustine FL is about 1-1/2 hours northwest of our winter 2010-11 home in Sanford. Because there is so much to see and do in St. Augustine, we ruled out commuting, hooked up the Pilgrim and set out for a week in this delightful, historic destination. We arrived at the Stagecoach RV Park on Sunday, April 24, 2011 set up camp and relaxed for the rest of the day. I guess being stationary since December got me out of “set-up” shape! Stagecoach isn’t a destination park, but who needs a lot of amenities when the entertainment is a few miles away? The sites are level and spacious with a good amount of shade, and the internet is strong and dependable. The owners assured me that cable will be installed as soon it is available.
Our first order of business was the trolley tour. Regardless of the city, we find that a tour provides a great overview of the local history as well as an orientation to the various attractions. Walking around St. Augustine is a great option if you have the time. Wherever you venture in St. Augustine, you
It's Free - If You Take The Trolley
Old St. Augustine Museum - St. Augustine FL
will find the influence of Henry Flagler (1830-1913). Flagler partnered with John D. Rockefeller in the formation of Standard Oil and “discovered” an underdeveloped Florida when he brought his wife south from New York for her health in 1876. The Old St. John's County Jail (Flagler built it for the county to move the criminals away from his high-dollar resort hotel) and the Florida Heritage Museum are located at the main depot for the Old Town Trolley and admission is included in the cost of a trolley ticket. There are many other attractions in St. Augustine that are more worthwhile if your time is short; however, the jail tour is somewhat interesting and is led by an “inmate” in costume, and the museum is only a 10-15 minute activity.
We walked 4-5 blocks to Mission of Nombre de Dios where the first band of Spanish settlers landed on September 8, 1565 to form the first permanent Christian settlement in the New World and where Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales conducted the first Christian church service. There are no remnants of the mission; however, an old cemetery and several informational markers provide insight into the role of Catholicism in
Mission Nombre de Dios - St. Augustine FL
the era. Unfortunately, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche was closed on Monday. On our walk back to the trolley station, we stopped at the Juan Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth. Personally, the Fountain itself is an “oh, by the way…” in my opinion, but it’s hard to say you’ve seen St. Augustine without seeing the fountain. Ongoing archaeological digs, a cannon firing and the maritime artifacts are slightly more interesting. Then we stopped at The Old Senator – a 600 year-old oak tree that stands witness to Ponce de Leon’s arrival.
The next day we took the Old Town Trolley shuttle to the St. Augustine Lighthouse. This is another “must see” lighthouse. The keepers’ quarters and the light tower itself are well-restored and the displays are well-documented. The St. Augustine Lighthouse focuses more on the lives of the lighthouse keepers with interesting human interest stories; whereas, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse focuses more on the operational and functional aspects of the light station with an extensive collection of Fresnel lenses. Both are very different yet very interesting, and a trip to northwest Florida would be incomplete without visiting at least one of these jewels. After returning
St. Augustine Lighthouse - St. Augustine FL
to town, we embarked on the self-guided walking tour of Constitution Plaza and the historic downtown and walked across the Lion Bridge. As luck would have it, the draw bridge opened to allow the passage of a couple of sailboats while we were enjoying the view.
Arguably, the most interesting attraction in St. Augustine is the Lightner Museum. Henry Flagler built the Alcazar Hotel in 1888 for wealthy winter visitors. After the depression led to its closure in 1931, it was bought by Otto Lightner to house the 40-50,000 antiques and collectibles he acquired from Chicago millionaires-gone-broke after the crash of 1929. This museum has something for everybody – porcelain, crystal and stained glass; hand carved furniture, clocks and mirror frames with marble accents and gold inlays; collections of cigar labels, finials and matchbox labels; military, railroad and fire department buttons; shaving mugs; mounted land, sea and feathered specimens; and American Indian and African artifacts including a shrunken head and a mummy. Make sure to plan your visit to see the demonstration of the collection of “music machines” including a nickelodeon, a Violano Virtuoso, a cylinder music box, a Stella Grand Console music box and a Regina Orchestral Corona
A GRAND Grandfather Clock
Lightner Museum - St. Augustine FL
music box. Some of these “music boxes” are six feet tall and four feet wide!
The fort that protected St. Augustine from the sea, Castillo de San Marcos, is the oldest masonry fort
in the United States and is now a National Monument. Even though Florida had been claimed for Spain by Ponce de Leon in 1513, France established Fort Caroline on the St. John’s River in 1564 and St. Augustine was attacked and burned by English explorer Sir Frances Drake in 1586. After the English established the colony of Charleston (now South Carolina) in 1670, it became apparent to the Spanish that protection for its northernmost settlement was crucial. Construction began in 1672, and the fort was completed in 1695. The name of the fort changed as the ownership of Florida changed from Spain to England and back again before the end of the Revolutionary War. Florida, and Castillo de San Marcos, remained under Spanish control until the United States acquired the territory in 1819. The Castillo was last used as a military prison during the Spanish-American War.
It is impossible to miss the Castillo if you spend any time in St. Augustine – it is right
Defending The Defenders
Castillo de San Marcos - St. Augustine FL
downtown on the main thoroughfare, San Marco Avenue. The design of the fort is simple - a hollow square with diamond-shaped bastions at each corner. Most of the rooms are open and reflect the appropriate uses – chapel, storage rooms, and the guard rooms. Interestingly, the soldiers lived in town with their families and came to the Castillo for a 24-hour guard shift. The guard rooms provided an area to relax, sleep and cook. Another interesting feature is the shot furnace. When attacked from the sea, the cannonballs would be heated to red-hot in the furnace and fired into the wooden ships, setting them ablaze. According to the National Park Service, Castillo de San Marcos is “…the oldest masonry fort and the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States.” Enough said – a must see.
Even though Castillo de San Marcos protected St. Augustine from a seaward attack from the east, the San Sebastian River flowed southward just west of St. Augustine and emptied into the Matanzas River which in turn emptied into the Atlantic Ocean. British Gen. James Oglethorpe entered the Matanzas Inlet and sailed into the San Sebastian River to attack St.
Augustine from the east in 1740. The Castillo de San Marcos withstood the 27-day bombardment, but a need for defense of the Matanzas Inlet became apparent. Construction of Fort Matanzas began that year and was completed in 1742. When the fort was nearing completion, Oglethope returned with 12 ships. The cannon of Fort Matanzas fired on the scouting craft and the warships left the area. Fort Matanzas had passed its first and only test of battle.
In 1564, French warships had been sent to attack St. Augustine in retaliation for a Spanish attack on Ft. Caroline but a hurricane carried the ships too far south and they were wrecked on the coast. Adm. Pedro Menendez de Aviles learned from the Timucuan Indians that about 130 white men were stranded on the beach. Menendez ordered the slaughter of almost all of them. Two weeks later a similar event occurred to a similar number of Frenchmen. From that time forward, the inlet was known as Matanzas – Spanish for “slaughters.” With food supplies already low, were Menendez’s deeds vengeance or did they merely assure survival for those under his command? The fort is on an island and the National Park Service
Flagler College - St. Augustine FL
operates a free shuttle ferry. Fort Matanzas is small and provides an interesting contrast to Castillo de San Marcos – life in a small outpost vs. life in a major fortress. Park Service rangers are quite helpful and informed. Definitely worth a visit if you have the time.
Our last stop in St. Augustine was Flagler College. The administration building is the former Hotel Ponce de Leon which was built as a luxury hotel by, again his name arises, Henry Morrison Flagler - industrialist, oil magnate and railroad pioneer. Originally, the twin towers of the hotel were water storage tanks which contained 8,000 gallons each, providing running water for hotel guests; and, thanks to Flagler’s friend Thomas Edison, the hotel was one of the first buildings in the nation to have electricity. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the “good stuff” can be seen in the former hotel lobby for free; however, the nominally-priced tour takes you to some other non-public areas where murals, paintings, sculptures, rugs and furniture are on display plus the docent provides very interesting commentary and background. Construction began in 1885, and the building was completed in 1887.
Around St. Augustine FL
Two years – AMAZING!!! The extensive woodwork, the Tiffany glass and the ceiling murals make the hotel lobby a must see – take the tour if at all possible.
Except for the day trips in Florida, I think this gets me caught up. Sorry for the delay, but better late than never – I hope.
There are more photos below