Saint Augustine Florida
Saint Augustine Florida
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States. Forty-two years before the English colonized Jamestown and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established at St. Augustine this nation's first enduring settlement.
The architectural legacy of the city's past is much younger, testimony to the impermanent quality of the earliest structures and to St. Augustine's troubled history. Only the venerable Castillo de San Marcos, completed in the late seventeenth century, survived destruction of the city by invading British forces in 1702.
Throughout the modern city and within its Historic Colonial District, there remain thirty-six buildings of colonial origin and another forty that are reconstructed models of colonial buildings. St. Augustine can boast that it contains the only urban nucleus in the United States whose street pattern and architectural ambiance reflect Spanish origins.
On September 8, 1565, with much pomp and circumstance and 600 voyagers cheering, MenÚndez set foot on the shores of Florida. In honor of the saint whose feast day fell on the day he first sighted shore, MenÚndez named the colonial settlement St. Augustine. St. Augustine was to serve two purposes: as a military outpost, or PRESIDIO, for the defense of Florida, and a base for Catholic missionary settlements throughout the southeastern part of North America. Maintaining St. Augustine as a permanent military colony, however, was a mighty task. Without the courage, perseverance, and tenacity of the early settlers, it is doubtful that the community would have survived.
Henry Flagler, a former partner of John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company, decided to create in St. Augustine a winter resort for wealthy Americans. He owned a railroad company that in 1886 linked St. Augustine by rail with the populous cities of the east coast. In 1887, his company began construction of two large and ornate hotels and a year later added a third that had been planned and begun by another developer. Flagler's architects changed the appearance of St. Augustine, fashioning building styles that in time came to characterize the look of cities throughout Florida. For a time, St. Augustine was the winter tourist mecca of the United States.
In the early twentieth century, however, the very rich found other parts of Florida to which they could escape. With them fled Flagler's dream of turning St. Augustine into the "Newport of the South." St. Augustine nevertheless remained a tourist town. As Americans took to the highways in search of a vacation land, St. Augustine became a destination for automobile-borne visitors. The tourism industry came to dominate the local economy.
The city celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1965 and undertook in cooperation with the State of Florida a program to restore parts of the colonial city. In 1997 the City took over full responsibility for what locally had become known as the "Restoration" and with it management of the more than thirty-six buildings that had been reconstructed or restored to their historic appearance.
The first of Henry Flagler's three great hotels, the Ponce de Leon, was adapted for use as an institution of higher learning in 1971. As Flagler College, it expanded to embrace a student body of some 1,700 by the end of the century, offering a traditional four-year arts and science degree program. The second of his hotels, the Alcazar, has since 1948 contained the Lightner Museum, (and in 1973 the City of St. Augustine municipal offices). The third Flagler hotel, originally called the Casa Monica, stood vacant for thirty-five years before St. Johns County converted it for use a county courthouse in 1965. In 1999, under private ownership, the building was restored to its original function, and is now the only one of Flagler's three great hotels still serving that purpose.
Some 2 million visitors annually make their way to St. Augustine, lured by the sense of discovering a unique historic part of America. While the venerable Castillo de San Marcos remains the traditional magnet for visitors, there are many other appealing historical sites and vistas.
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