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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

St. Augustine, FL

Castillo de San Marcos

Nickname(s): Ancient City, Continental United States' Oldest City


St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish under Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. The first Christian worship service held in a permanent settlement in the continental United States was a Catholic Mass celebrated in St. Augustine. A few settlements were founded prior to St. Augustine but all failed, including the original Pensacola colony in West Florida, founded by Tristán de Luna y Arellano in 1559, with the area abandoned in 1561 due to hurricanes, famine and warring tribes. Fort Caroline, founded by the French (and including a number of free Africans) in 1564 in what is today Jacksonville, Florida only lasted a year before being obliterated by the Spanish in 1565.

Gothic Style House

Spanish rule

The city of St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on September 8, 1565. Menéndez first sighted land on August 28, the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, and consequently named the settlement San Agustín. Martín de Argüelles was born there one year later in 1566, the first child of European ancestry to be born in what is now the continental United States. This came 21 years before the English settlement at Roanoke Island in Virginia Colony, and 42 years before the successful settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Jamestown, Virginia. The first recorded birth of a black child, in the Cathedral Parish Archives, is for Augustin in the year 1606 (there were probably earlier black births, but this is the oldest one for whom a written record has been found--thirteen years before the conventional wisdom says that black people first arrived on these shores at Jamestown in 1619). In all the territory under the jurisdiction of the United States, only European-established settlements in Puerto Rico are older than St. Augustine, with the oldest being Caparra, founded in 1508, whose inhabitants relocated and founded San Juan, in 1521.

Map of St. Augustine depicting Sir Francis Drake's attack on the city by Baptista Boazio, 1589

In 1586 St. Augustine was attacked and burned by English privateer Sir Francis Drake. In 1668 it was plundered by English privateer Robert Searle and most of the inhabitants were killed. In 1702 and 1740 it was unsuccessfully attacked by British forces from their new colonies in the Carolinas and Georgia. The most serious of these came in the latter year, when James Oglethorpe of Georgia allied himself with Ahaya the Cowkeeper, chief of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe and conducted the Siege of St. Augustine during the War of Jenkin's Ear.

Public Market, Charlotte Street

The country's first legally sanctioned free community of ex-slaves was established in St. Augustine in 1738. Called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose, it served as the northern defense of the city, and was populated by those who had escaped from slavery in the British colonies to the north. The first Underground Railroad actually headed south, into Spanish Florida, where the policy was to give sanctuary to those who would join the Catholic Church and swear allegiance to the king of Spain. The battle of Fort Mose in 1740 was the turning point in a siege of the city by General James Oglethorpe of Georgia, and saved the city from being taken over by the British. The leader of Fort Mose was Capt. Francisco Menendez, who was born in Africa and twice escaped from slavery. The Fort Mose site is now owned by the Florida Park Service, and recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

Fort Matanzas

British rule

A fanciful depiction of St. Augustine in 1760, while under Spanish control

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War and gave Florida and St. Augustine to the British, an acquisition the British had been unable to take by force and keep due to the strong force there. St. Augustine came under British rule and served as a Loyalist colony during the American Revolutionary War. John Hancock was burned in effigy in the town plaza, and three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were held prisoner in St. Augustine.

Alcazar Hotel, 75 King Street

One of the great development efforts of the British period was the establishment in 1768 of a colony of indentured servants from the Mediterranean by Dr. Andrew Turnbull at New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine. Included were many Greeks (marking the first large scale Greek settlement here, an event now heralded by a Greek national shrine on St. George Street, in the heart of the tourist district), Italians, and, Minorcans from the Balearic Island of Minorca in the Mediterranean.

City Gate, Orange Street

The conditions at New Smyrna were abysmal, and the settlers rebelled, walking all the way to St. Augustine in 1777, where the governor gave them refuge. The story of the Minorcan colony is told, fictionally, in the book Spanish Bayonet by Stephen Vincent Benet, a prominent descendant of one of the leading Minorcan families of St. Augustine. The Minorcans, whose story bears many historic similarities to the Cajun settlers of Louisiana, stayed on in St. Augustine through all the subsequent changes of flags, to become the venerable families of the community, marking it with language, culture, cuisine and customs.

The majority of residents during the British period were black, as the British tried to establish a plantation economy as they had done with their colonies to the north.

Casa Monica,
Casa Monica, King & Cordova Streets

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 gave the American colonies north of Florida their independence, and ceded Florida to Spain in recognition of Spanish efforts on behalf of the American colonies during the war.

American rule

Florida was under Spanish control again from 1784 to 1821. During this time, Spain was being invaded by Napoleon and was struggling to retain its colonies. Florida no longer held its past importance to Spain. The expanding United States, however, regarded Florida as vital to its interests. In 1821, the Adams-Onís Treaty peaceably turned the Spanish colonies in Florida and, with them, St. Augustine, over to the United States.

Public Square, St. Augustine, ca. 1858

Florida was a United States territory until 1845 when it became a U.S. state. In 1861, the American Civil War began and Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. Days before Florida seceded, state troops took the fort at St. Augustine from a small Union garrison (one soldier) on January 7, 1861. However, federal troops loyal to the United States government reoccupied the city on March 11, 1862 and remained in control throughout the four-year-long war. In 1865, Florida rejoined the United States.

Freed slaves in St. Augustine established the community of Lincolnville in 1866. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, because of its origin, because it contains the city's largest collection of Victorian architecture, and because it was the launching place for demonstrations that led directly to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lightner Museum and City Hall

Spanish Colonial era buildings still existing in the city include the fortress Castillo de San Marcos. The fortress successfully repelled the British attacks of the 18th century, though it came under their control (and was renamed St. Mark's) as a result of the 1763 Treaty of Paris. When the Americans acquired it in 1821, they renamed it Fort Marion, after Francis Marion the "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution. During the Seminole War of 1835-1842 the fort served as a prison for the Native American leader Osceola as well as Coacoochee (Wildcat) and the famous Black Seminole John Cavallo (John Horse) in 1837, and was occupied by Union troops during the American Civil War. After the Civil War it was used twice, in the 1870s and then again in the 1880s, to house first Plains Indians and then Apaches who were captured in the west. The daughter of Geronimo was born at what was then called Fort Marion, and she was named Marion--though she later chose to change that. The fort was used as a military prison during the Spanish-American War of 1898. It was finally removed from the Army's active duty rolls in 1900 after 205 years of service under five different flags. It then began a career as St. Augustine's leading tourist attraction. It is now run by the National Park Service, and called the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

The Cathedral, St. George & Cathedral Streets

From Flagler to the present

The Ponce De Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, about 1901

In the late 19th century the railroad came to town, and led by northeastern industrialist Henry Flagler, St. Augustine became a winter resort for the very wealthy. A number of mansions and palatial grand hotels of this era still exist, some converted to other use, such as housing parts of Flagler College and museums. Flagler went on to develop much more of Florida's east coast, including his Florida East Coast Railway which eventually reached Key West in 1912. Flagler had Albert Spalding design a baseball park in St. Augustine, and the waiters at his hotels formed one of America's pioneer professional black baseball teams, the Ponce de Leon Giants. It later became the Cuban Giants, and one of the team members, Frank Grant, has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Perez-Sanchez House, 101 Charlotte Street

The hot and flavorful datil pepper was brought from Cuba to St. Augustine in the 1880s by jelly manufacturer S.B. Valls. It flourished in dooryard gardens, and became a distinctive element of local cuisine, particularly associated with the Minorcan families. Minorcan clam chowder, pilau (a rice dish), tomato-based hot sauce, Minorcan sausage, and datil pepper vinegar are some common uses. In the late 20th century a number of commercial manufacturers began presenting datil peppers to a national audience, and there is an annual Datil Pepper Festival.

Old Schoolhouse, 14 Saint George Street

In 1918 the Florida Baptist Academy moved from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, and became the Ancient City's first college. Over the years it was known as Florida Normal, then Florida Memorial College, before it moved to Miami in 1968, where it is now a university. It made a major impact on the community while it was here, providing cultural activities, job training and employment for the black community. During World War II it was chosen as the site for training the first blacks in the U. S. Signal Corps--that branch of the service's counterpart to the famous Tuskegee Airmen. Among its faculty members was Zora Neale Hurston, the famous black novelist and anthropologist. There is now a historic marker on the house where she lived at 791 West King Street (it was there that she completed work on her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road).

Flagler College

The city is a popular tourist attraction, for the rich Spanish Colonial Revival Style architectural heritage as well as elite 19th century architecture. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm, incorporated in 1908, is one of the oldest commercial tourist attractions in Florida. In 1938 the world's first oceanarium (because the term was coined for it), Marineland, opened just south of St. Augustine, becoming one of Florida's first theme parks and setting the stage for the development of this industry in the following decades. The city is one terminus of the Old Spanish Trail, a promotional effort of the 1920s linking St. Augustine to San Diego, California with 3000 miles of roadways.

Francisco Marin House, 47 Marine Street

The rich black history of the area, long neglected, has started to be recognized for its importance. There is now a permanently marked Freedom Trail of historic sites of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and a museum at the site of Fort Mose, the pioneer free black settlement from the 1700s. Excelsior School, built in 1925 as the first public high school for blacks (previously, only whites had access to public high school in St. Augustine), was saved from demolition in 1979 and has now become the Ancient City's first museum of black history. Only in 2009, however, did the city's official website first mention black history.

Canova-DeMedicis House, 46 Bridge Street

Civil rights movement

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In addition to being a national tourist destination and the continental United States' oldest city settled by Europeans, St. Augustine was also a pivotal site for the civil rights movement in 1963 and 1964.

Long-Sanchez House, 43 Marine Street

Despite the 1954 Supreme Court act in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that the "separate but equal" legal status of public schools made those schools inherently unequal, St. Augustine still had only six black children admitted into white schools. The homes of two of the families of these children were burned by local segregationists while other families were forced to move out of the county because the parents were fired from their jobs.

Minorcan Chapel, 39 Saint George Street

In 1963 a sit-in protest at the local Woolworth's lunch counter ended in the arrest and imprisonment of 16 young black protesters and seven juveniles. Four of the children, two of whom were 16 year old girls, were sent to “reform” school and retained for six months. The St. Augustine Four, as they came to be known, JoeAnn Anderson, Audrey Nell Edwards, Willie Carl Singleton and Samuel White, had their case publicized as an egregious injustice by Jackie Robinson, the national NAACP, the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and others. Finally, a special action of the governor and cabinet of Florida freed them in January 1964.

Grace Methodist Church, Carrera & Cordova Streets

In September 1963, the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally of several hundred Klansmen on the outskirts of town. They seized NAACP leader and local dentist Robert Hayling and three other NAACP activists (Clyde Jenkins, James Jackson and James Hauser) whom they beat with fists, chains, and clubs. The four men were rescued by Highway Patrol officers. St. Johns County Sheriff L. O. Davis arrested four white men for the beating and also arrested the four unarmed blacks for "assaulting" the large crowd of armed Klansmen. Charges against the Klansmen were dismissed, but Hayling was convicted of "criminal assault" against the KKK mob.

Gaspar Papy House, 36 Aviles Street

In the spring of 1964, Dr. Hayling put out a call to northern college students to come to St. Augustine for spring break, not to go to the beach, but to take part in civil rights activities. Accompanying them were four prominent Boston women: three wives of Episcopal bishops, and the fourth the wife of the vice president of the John Hancock Insurance Company. It was front page news on April 1, 1964 when one of them, Mrs. Mary Parkman Peabody, the 72 year old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, was arrested in an integrated group at the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge, north of town.

Don Manuel Solana House, 20 Charlotte Street

That event brought the movement in St. Augustine to international attention. Over the next few months, the city got more publicity than it ever had in its many centuries of existence. The massive non-violent direct action campaign was led by Hayling, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff including: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams, C. T. Vivian, Fred Shuttlesworth, Willie Bolden, J. T. Johnson, Dorothy Cotton and others. Civil rights activists made St. Augustine the stage for a moral drama enacted before a world audience.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

From May until July 1964 protesters endured abuse, beatings, and verbal assaults without any retaliation. By absorbing the violence and hate instead of striking back the protesters gained national sympathy and were a key factor in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The movement engaged in nightly marches down King Street. The protesters were met by white segregationists who violently assaulted them. Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and incarcerated. The jail was filled, so subsequent detainees were kept in an uncovered stockade in the hot sun.

Antonio J. Triay House, 42 Spanish Street

When attempts were made to integrate the beaches of Anastasia Island, demonstrators were beaten and driven into the water by segregationists. Some of the protesters could not swim and had to be saved from possible drowning by other demonstrators.

Fernandez-Llambias House, 31 Saint Francis Street

St. Augustine was the only place in Florida where Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested, on June 11, 1964 on the steps of the Monson motel restaurant. He wrote a "Letter from the St. Augustine Jail" to his old friend, Rabbi Israel Dresner, in New Jersey, urging him to recruit rabbis to come to St. Augustine and take part in the movement. The result was the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history on June 18, 1964 at the Monson motel.

Garcia-Dummitt House, 279 Saint George Street

The demonstrations came to a climax when a group of black and white protesters jumped into the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge. In response to the protest the manager of the motel, James Brock, who was the president of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association, was photographed pouring acid into the pool to get the protesters out. Photographs of this, and of a policeman jumping into the pool to arrest them, were broadcast around the world and became some of the most famous images of the entire civil rights movement. The motel and pool were demolished in March 2003, despite five years of protests, thus eliminating one of the nation's important landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement. A Hilton Hotel was built on the site.

Ortega-MacMillan House, 224 Saint George Street


In modern times, St. Augustine has mostly been spared the wrath of tropical cyclones. The only direct hit was Hurricane Dora, which came ashore just after midnight on September 10, 1964. Prior to Dora, no hurricane had struck northeast Florida from the east since record-keeping began in 1851.

Points Of Interest

Alligator Farm

Anastasia State Park

Bridge of Lions

Casa Monica Hotel

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Cathedral of St. Augustine

Excelsior School Museum of African American History

Flagler College, part of which is the former Ponce de León Hotel

Fort Matanzas National Monument

Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

Fort Mose Historic State Park

Fountain of Youth

Freedom Trail of Historic Sites of the Civil Rights Movement

Gonzalez-Alvarez House (Oldest House)

Grace United Methodist Church

Lightner Museum, in the former Hotel Alcazar

Old St. Johns County Jail

Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum

The Spanish Military Hospital Museum

San Sebastian Winery

St. Augustine Airport FAA code is: SGJ

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum

St. Augustine Amphitheatre

World Golf Hall of Fame & IMAX Theater at World Golf Village

Ximenez-Fatio House museum

Zorayda Castle

Notable residents

Jim Albrecht, World Series Of Poker Tournament Director, Commentator and Film Consultant

Murray Armstrong, 5-time NCAA champion hockey coach

Jorge Biassou Black General in 1790s

Richard Boone, actor

Willie Galimore, football player

Dr. Robert B. Hayling, civil rights leader

Richard Henry Pratt, soldier and educator

Ray Charles, pianist

Frederick Delius, composer

Henry Flagler, industrialist

William H. Gray, congressman and president of the United Negro College Fund

Lindy Infante, professional football coach

Stetson Kennedy, Author

Scott Lagasse Jr., NASCAR racer

John C. Lilly, dolphin scientist

Johnny Mize, baseball player

Prince Achille Murat, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte

David Nolan, author and historian

Osceola, Seminole War leader (held prisoner at Fort Marion, now Castillo de San Marcos)

Scott Player, Punter NFL

Tom Petty, rock musician

Marcus Roberts, musician

Tom Gabel, lead singer of Against Me!

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, novelist

Steve Spurrier, College/Pro Football coach

Jack D. Hunter, novelist

Edmund Kirby Smith, Confederate General

John M. Schofield Union general

William W. Loring, Confederate General

Edmund Jackson Davis, governor

George McGovern, 1972 presidential candidate

Martin D. Hardin, Union general

Richard Aloysius Twine, pioneer Black photographer

Travis Tomko, Pro Wrestler

Gamble Rogers, folksinger

Martin Johnson Heade, artist

Zora Neale Hurston, novelist and folklorist

Earl Cunningham, artist

Willie Irvin, pro football player

James Branch Cabell, novelist

Doug Carn, jazz musician

Idella Parker, author

Felix Varela, Cuban national hero

Tim Tebow, College football player

Howell W. Melton, United States District Judge

Howell W. Melton Jr., Managing Partner of Holland & Knight

Debby Moore (Debbie McDade), jazz singer

Peter Taylor, novelist

Jacob Lawrence, artist

De Mesa-Sanchez House, 43 Saint George Street

Gonzalez-Alvarez House, 14 Saint Francis Street (Oldest House)

Don Joseph Tovar House, 22 Saint Francis Street

City Library, Aviles Street & Artillery Lane

The Cathedral Rectory, Saint George & Cathedral Streets

Old Spanish Treasury, 143 Saint George & Treasury Streets

Huertas-Canova House, 250 Saint George Street

Don Juan Paredes House, 54 Saint George Street

Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church, Parsonage

Don Pedro Horruytiner House, 214 Saint George Street

Trinity Church (Episcopal), Saint George & King Streets

Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church, Valencia & Sevilla Streets

Augustus Poujoud House, 105-107 Saint George Street

Hotel Ponce de Leon
Construction View Of Dining Room
Exterior View Of Dining Room
Dining Room
Ballroom Fireplace
Hotel Ponce de Leon, King, Valencia, Sevilla & Cordova Streets

Ximenez-Fatio House, 22 Aviles Street

Aerial View
Castillo de San Marcos, 1 Castillo Drive

Don Raimundo Arrivas House, 44 South George Street

Click Here For St. Augustine Website