Finally! I made it to St. Augustine! I’ve been visiting Florida since I was four years old and have never taken the time to go to St. Augustine. It’s a three hour drive from Port St. Lucie where I visit family and I’m usually short on time, so I hadn’t taken the time to make the trip North. This trip we were moving at our own pace and could take as much time as we wanted.
We spent five days at the great Anastasia State Park, just a short drive across the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. Anastasia SP is one of Florida’s finest state parks. The park includes 1,600 acres of rich ecosystems and abundant wildlife. There was four miles of pristine beach, a tidal marsh teeming with plant and animal life, and nature trails through the maritime hammock and onto ancient sand dunes.
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the US. It was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and remained the capital of East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain. It was designated the capital of the Florida Territory until Tallahassee was made the capital in 1824. Since the late 19th century, St. Augustine’s distinct historical character has made the city a major tourist attraction and is also the headquarters for the Florida National Guard. I loved all the history in this Northern Florida city.
As usual, the first thing we did was take the trolley tour of the city to get the lay of the land and determine what to see in more detail. Then, using Trip Advisor’s Things to Do in St. Augustine, I was ready to strike out on my own.
First, I visited The Castillo de San Marcos which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. The fort was designed by the Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza and construction took 23 years and began in 1672, 107 years after the city’s founding. The Castillo is a masonry star fort made of a stone called cocquina (Spanish for “small shells”), made of ancient shells that have bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. Workers were brought in from Havana, Cuba to construct the fort in addition to Native American laborers. The coquina was quarried from the ‘King’s Quarry’ on Anastasia Island in what is today Anastasia State Park across Matanzas Bay from the Castillo, and ferried across to the construction site. The fort was interesting and contained various artifacts too. I did pick the wrong day to tour the fort. It was student field day and it was just me and about 200 grade school children. A little crazy!
The Lightner Museum is a museum of antiquities, mostly American Gilded Age pieces, housed within the historic Hotel Alcazar building. The museum houses many “hobby” collections that were purchased from wealthy people that desperately needed money at the end of the Gilded Age. Don’t miss this beautiful building and the extensive collections it houses, if you are in the area. I LOVED it! The building, built in 1887, is in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotel Alcazar was built by Henry Flagler.
Henry Flagler (January 2, 1830 – May 20, 1913) was an American industrialist and a founder of Standard Oil. Henry was a key figure in the development of the Atlantic coast of Florida and founder of what became the Florida East Coast Railway. He is known as the father of both Miami and Palm Beach, Florida. The history of Florida tourism and Flagler is interesting.
On the advice of his physician, Flagler traveled to Jacksonville for the winter with his first wife, Mary Flagler, who was quite ill. Two years after she died in 1881, he married again. The couple traveled to Saint Augustine. Flagler found the city charming, but the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate. Franklin Smith had just finished building Villa Zorayda and Flagler offered to buy it for his honeymoon. Smith would not sell, but he planted the seed of St. Augustine’s and Florida’s future in Flagler’s mind. Although Flagler remained on the board of directors of Standard Oil, he gave up his day-to-day involvement in the corporation to pursue his interests in Florida. He returned to St. Augustine in 1885 and made Smith an offer. If Smith could raise $50,000, Flagler would invest $150,000 and they would build a hotel together. Smith couldn’t come up with the funds, so Flagler began construction of the 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel (now part of Flagler College) by himself.
Realizing the need for a sound transportation system to support his hotel ventures, Flagler purchased short line railroads in what would later become known as the Florida East Coast Railway. He modernized the existing railroads for them to accommodate heavier loads and more traffic.
This project sparked Flagler’s interest in creating a new “American Riviera.” Two years later, Flagler expanded his Florida holdings. He built many hotels and continued the railroad all the way to Key West. His personal dedication to the state of Florida was demonstrated when he began construction on his private residence, Kirkside, in St. Augustine.
Villa Zorayda (mentioned above) is a house that was inspired by the 12th-century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. It was built by the eccentric Boston millionaire Frank Smith in 1883 as his private home. Frank was an amateur architect and pioneer experimenter in poured concrete construction. His winter home, Villa Zorayda, was the first residence built in the Moorish Revival style in Florida. His concrete building material and method was adopted by Henry Flagler for his nearby hotels and churches on an even grander scale. Villa Zorayda could also be considered the first example of fantasy architecture in Florida, and in some ways the progenitor of Disney World. I toured this colorful, imaginative house filled with antiques and art and enjoyed it very much.
There is a fairly new business in St. Augustine called the St Augustine Distillery. You can tour the Distillery and sample their goods…for free! They made Gin, Vodka, Rum and soon Bourbon. I didn’t know how “spirits” were made so it was very interesting for me. They source all ingredients from local farmers and make a very nice product. I did take a bottle of their vodka home with me.
I spent a lot of time just walking the beautiful, historic streets of St Augustine and thought more than once, “I could live here.”
After leaving St Augustine we traveled south a short distance to Sebastian Inlet State Park in Melbourne Beach. This would be our last stop before our month long stay in Ft. Pierce to visit family and spend the holidays.
Sebastian Inlet is a waterway that connects the Inter-coastal waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. There are three inlets in the area: Sebastian, Ft Pierce and St Lucie. The Sebastian Inlet is surrounded by the Sebastian Inlet State Park and has a very colorful past. This is a good place to begin exploring the “Treasure Coast” of Florida. This state park has the McLarty Treasure Museum and the Sebastian Fishing Museum which contain a wealth of information on the history of the area. In addition, the park has an abundance of birds…and I do mean an ABUNDANCE!
The McLarty Treasure Museum
The small museum is located at the south boundary of the park and situated on a survivors’ camp of the wreaked 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet. It contains artifacts, display and an observation deck overlooking the ocean. From 1500’s to the 1700’s, Spain mined vast quantities of silver and gold in the mountains of Mexico and South America. Made into ingots and coins, the treasure began its journey to Spain in wooden sailing vessels.The ill-fated fleet of ships were returning to Spain with precious metals, spices and the Queen’s dowery of jewels when a hurricane struck them off the Florida coast between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. The 1500 survivors set up a camp on the site of the present day museum and worked for four years to recover whatever they could from the ships. Then the ships were forgotten until the early 1960’s when the wrecks were rediscovered. Many, many artifacts have been recovered, but not the Queen’s chest of jewels. Still today, salvagers work to find the lost treasure.
The Sebastian Fishing Museum depicts the lives and history of the people who lived in Sebastian, interwoven with fishing and the Indian River Lagoon. Fishing was the lifeblood of the area for many years.
There were so many birds at the park and the waterways. And lots of fishermen. There is even a US Fish and Wildlife Refuge name Pelican Island. It is the first National Wildlife Refuge established in March, 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was established out of necessity to save the last brown pelican rookery on the east coast of Florida. It now provides habitat for over 30 different species of birds. Several thousand birds roost on Pelican Island nightly during migratory season, November through March. We spotted the very rare white pelicans during our short hike. Ralph also spotted a raccoon napping in a palm tree. There is a boardwalk that lists every National Wildlife Refuse in the country with the year it was established. Very cool. The feds do get things right once in a while!
The weather was very windy (26 – 40 mph) and a lot of rain. We discovered a couple leaks in the rig…not good. We will have to figure out where the leaks originate and fit them. This is not a problem we have in California due to the lack of rain.
Our next stop, Ft Pierce, is about 60 miles south where we will spend December and celebrate the holidays with family.