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Friday, March 2, 2012

St. Augustine and the Forts


Many times when we hit a “new” city we find a tour. In this case we hopped aboard the Old Town Trolley for a 22-stop one-hour ride through Old St. Augustine. Yes, it is all very commercial but it did give us broad overview and ideas of places we wanted to go back to and explore in more depth.

Besides Castillo de San Marcos it was most interesting learning about the influence of Henry Flagler and seeing the Hotel he built which now houses Flagler College. Where did Flagler get all his money you ask? He along with John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil.

Needless to say we also made our way down St. George Street – which like the Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall is a pedestrian mall full of shops and restaurants.

Yes, St. Augustine is an interesting city full of history but as mentioned above the biggest draw for us was three historic sites that told the story of both French and Spanish occupation, British rule and ultimately Florida statehood.

Castillo de San Marcos was the Spanish empires northernmost outpost. Construction started in 1672 and completed in 1695. It was built to fortify St. Augustine and protect the Spanish Galleons loaded with gold and silver and “exotic” spices looted from South and Central America natives from pirate raids as they sailed the Gulf Stream back to Spain. We all know about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth – but his most significant discovery was the Gulf Steam.) It is an impressive place and still has great view of the Intracoastal Waterway and Matanzas Bay.

Downstream about 14 miles from St. Augustine is Fort Matanzas National Monument. This like Castillo de San Marcos was part of the Spanish defense system against the British. To get to the Fort you take a very short boat ride with a park ranger as your guide and historian.

 Our final trip was to Fort Caroline National Memorial and Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. This is where the French – who interestingly enough founded this fort in 1564 in attempt to lay claim to North America and a year before St. Augustine was founded. Unlike the Coquina Rock construction of Castillo de San Marcos, this fort was built from timber and has long since disappeared – but all the history was none-the-less the history is fascinating.

Combine the history of all three forts and starting with the 1513 Spanish claim to Florida you have several hundred years of European history being played out in the new world.

Tomorrow is JoAnne's Birthday and we will be celebrating at the Columbia Restaurant in St. Augustine.


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