The trip from Flagler Beach to St Augustine was short and sweet with beautiful views as the road followed the oceanfront for some of the way. We settled into a site at our home St Augustine Elks Lodge for two nights where they have eight sites with electric and water hookups.
Our reason for stopping here was to visit historic St Augustine and in particular the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Bill grew up nearby and has been here many times. We got an early start and managed to get a parking spot right at the fort. The Castillo de San Marco is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Construction of the fort began in 1672 when Florida was part of the Spanish Empire. The fort is constructed from coquina stone, completed in 1695, and altered and renovated many times over the centuries. Coquina is a soft limestone of broken shells of shellfish. Coquina is the Spanish word for cockle and shellfish. Coquina rock is very good material to use in the construction of forts due to the coquina’s porous softness which allow cannonballs to sink into the walls of the fort rather than shatter or puncture the walls if they were made of granite. Coquina has been quarried and used as a building stone for over 400 years in the Caribbean and Florida.
When the British took control of Florida in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the fort was renamed Fort St Mark. In 1783 Florida was transferred back to Spain and then in 1821 as part of yet another treaty was given to the United States. It was renamed Fort Marion and declared a national monument in 1924. In 1942 it was turned over to the National Park Service and was renamed its original name of Castillo de San Marcos by an act of Congress. It was interesting to learn that the fort changed hands six times, all peaceful through treaty or agreement, among four different governments: the Spanish Empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America (with Spain and the United States having possession two times each).
While under U.S. control the fort was used as a military prison for Native American tribe members, including the Seminoles and their famous war chief Osceola and members of Geronimo’s Apache tribe. A form of Native American art called “Ledger Art” began during imprisonment at the fort.
We entered the fort through the “Sally Port” which is the only way in or out of the fort. There is a drawbridge and heavy sliding door to protect the entrance. The fort is made of over 400,000 blocks of coquina stone, all cut and set by hand. The outer walls of the fort vary from a thickness of 14 to 19 feet at the base to 9 feet towards the top. When the fort was completed in 1695 it was 22 feet high. The fort was originally built as a safe refuge for the St Augustine townspeople but also as a military warehouse. In 1702 when St Augustine was attacked by the British, about 1,500 soldiers and civilians lived in the fort for 51 days. Between 1738 and 1756 there was almost constant warfare between Spain and England and the walls of the fort were raised from 22 to 35 feet. By 1740 the gun deck mounted over 70 cannons of different sizes with the largest having a range of three and a half miles. The view allowed the fort to be defended by attack from land or sea. Under British control from 1763 to 1784, Florida was divided into East and West and became the 14th and 15th British colonies. These colonies remained loyal to England during the Revolutionary War. During the war 500 British soldiers lived in the fort with others living in the homes of citizens.
We were lucky to arrive just in time for a park ranger narrated tour which was very interesting and gave additional insight into the construction and life at the fort. After finishing our tour of the fort we walked over to the historical section of old St Augustine.
St Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European established settlement in the continental United States. The city was the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years. When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, St Augustine was the capital of the Florida Territory until 1824 when Tallahassee became the capital.
We walked down the center of the historic section but didn’t stay long. The street is cluttered with souvenir shops, wax museum, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, pirate museum, Gator Bob’s Trading Post, and restaurants. It is hard to distinguish the beauty of the Spanish influence on the buildings from the storefronts and restaurants. Much different from historic Williamsburg in Virginia which is like walking back in time to colonial America. I found the whole St Augustine historic district experience disconcerting and less than pleasant. I suppose it is all in what you are looking for. I was expecting something along the line of Williamsburg.
We both enjoyed visiting the fort and I think Bill enjoyed historic St Augustine more than I did. Perhaps I have been influenced by many trips to Colonial Williamsburg and my Virginia roots!
Next stop will be our last stop in Florida, Jacksonville.