June 24, 2019

AMERICA’S OLDEST CITY: THE CHARMS OF HISTORIC ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

Stu and I attended the 2019 Florida Birding and Photo Fest in St. Augustine, Florida and were totally captivated by the birds, the city, the food and the residents of America’s oldest city!

 

West African Crowned Crane
This West African Crowned Crane was showing off its crown at the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida.

 

The charms of historic St. Augustine, Florida will keep you enthralled, no matter what your interests! St. Augustine is America’s oldest city and has 400 years of history and culture to enjoy! This city dates from 1563!

 

 

Of course, we had heard of Juan Ponce de Leon, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Flagler and the Timucua Indians. What we didn’t know is that all are a part of the history of the coastline between St. Augustine and nearby Jacksonville.

 

 

When you visit St. Augustine, don’t expect a sleepy little historic district. St. Augustine is lively with residents and visitors relishing the gourmet restaurants, outdoor cafes, galleries, historic homes, gift shops, pedestrian streets, seawall walkways and upscale shops. Every evening, along the seawall, you’ll find dog walkers, “bench sitters,” joggers, photographers and couples. There is even a mini golf course along the seawall! A Spanish galleon sits in the bay, setting imaginations on fire.

 

 

Seawall walk by Matanzas Bay

 Ponce de Leon statue in Ponce de Leon Circle in St. Augustine, Fla.

 

Bayfront Bed & Breakfasts are gorgeous and relaxing

 

Dominating the waterfront is Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental U.S. dating from the 17th century. America practically began there. Some 300 years of colonial wars took place beginning in the 1500s and St. Augustine was not immune.

 

 

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida

 

Construction of the fort began in 1672, which was 107 years after the city was founded! The fort changed hands six times, with four different countries claiming ownership:

 

  • Spain (1695-1763) and (1783-1821)

 

  • Kingdom of Great Britain (1763-1783)

 

  • Confederate States of America (1861-1865)

 

  • The United States of America (1821-1861) and 1865 to present.

 

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

 

WALK THE COBBLESTONE STREETS!

 

 

Walking the intersecting narrow streets and alleys of St. Augustine was our favorite pastime. Never physically lost, we became lost in time! St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-founded city in America. The entire historic district is filled with architectural gems from the Spanish colonial period and each historic period thereafter.

 

 

The entire historic district and downtown area can be easily walked so park your car (free after 5 p.m.-check the Parking Lot at the Castillo de San Marcos first) and stroll the streets!

 

 

The Bridge of Lions (dating from 1925) is considered by some to be the most beautiful bridge in the South and spans the Matanzas Bay. Sit on one of the many benches and watch the sailboats glide by. Stay for sunset and you will see the lights which line the bridge welcome evening with their soft glow. A pair of lions guard the entrance to the bridge and are copies of the Medici lions found in Florence, Italy.

 

 

 

The lions were commissioned in 1925 (completed in 1927) and were sculpted by Italian sculptor, F. Romanelli.

Made of Carrera marble, the lions are named, “Firm” and “Faithful.”

 

 

The positioning of the oldest buildings in St. Augustine was influenced by a royal decree of 1573. The decree required the placement of buildings and walls along the street edge for defensive purposes. Take a look at some of the historic architecture in historic St. Augustine:

 

 

The Canova-Prince Murlat House. Second Spanish Colonial Period ca. 1815. Napolean’s nephew and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among the guests of owner Antonio Canova in 1827.

Now an inn, this house was built in 1894.

Cobbletone street in historic St. Augustine

Governor’s House, constructed of coquina, served as the Governor’s official residence from 1710 during the First Spanish Period until 1812 in the Second Spanish Period.

A cascading bougainvilla’s falling petals decorate the gutters on a charming side street looking back toward downtown St. Augustine.

Solana House circa 1805. This house is now an inn. Manuel Solana served in the Spanish Army as a Mounted Dragoon. The Solana family lived in the house until 1867.

Outdoor cafes by the Military Museum

Stone house in the historic district

Wall plaque in the historic district

Garden entrance to a home on an historic side street

Down an alley

Alley house with a small garden

 

 

A FEW OF THE MUSEUMS & HISTORIC STRUCTURES

 

Tovar House. This house at 22 St. Francis Street was a “house of thin walls of tabby, in fair condition.” These are the comments on a map drawn up in 1788! Archeologists from the University of Florida, identify the house with Joseph Tovar during the first Spanish evacuation in the 1760s. Researchers think the Tovar House is one of the earliest coquina buildings still standing today.*

St. Francis Barracks in located on Marine Street and was named for St. Francis of Assisi. The barracks were constructed between 1724 and 1755 by friars of the Order of St. Francis. These buildings replaced wooden structures burned by the English in 1702. The British turned the structure into a military building in 1763, after Florida became a possession of the British.

The Ximenez-Fatio House was built circa 1798 by Spanish merchant Andres Ximenez as a general store, tavern, and family residence. There is an outside kitchen building. It is considered one of St. Augustine’s best preserved Spanish Colonial dwellings. It is an example of a boarding house common during the Colonial Period. A rare Spanish Caravaca cross (circa 1650) was found in the attic.
 

 

Father Miguel O’Reilly House Museum. Built circa 1691 during the First Spanish Period in St. Augustine.It became a parish house in 1785 when it was bought by an Irish priest in the service of the Spanish crown. From 1794-1802, Father O’Reilly taught Father Felix Verela. Father Verela is now under consideration for sainthood. -Exisiting Tabby & Coquina Walls c 1691 -Lorenzo Jose De Leon Residence in 1725 –Father Miguel O’Reilly Parish Home from 1784-1812 -First Convent of Sisters of St. Joseph 1866 -St. Joseph Academy from 1876-1920

 

 

 The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is thought to be the oldest house in St. Augustine, dating to 1723. Located at 14 St. Francis Street.

 

 

THE ARTS & FOOD

 

 

Our first evening, we dined on an outdoor patio under sparkling outdoor bulbs while listening to a bubbling fountain. We watched the adventures of a tiny lizard in the patio plantings at Catch 27. It was magical.  Munching on gourmet fish and shrimp tacos, we listened to the live music from other restaurants waft into the evening air. Music is a large part of St. Augustine’s vibe.  The food is so outstanding everywhere that we recommend getting to restaurants and cafes either early or after 8 p.m.-they fill quickly.

 

Galleries and Antique Bookstores abound

St. Augustine Arts Association

 

 

Be certain to visit the fabulous Lightner Museum, which was showing Degas paintings while we were in town. Take in the First Friday Art Walks that take place from 5-9 p.m. beginning in the Plaza de la Constitucion or visit the local community theatre.

 

 

We were entertained by seeing one of St. Augustine’s horse-drawn carriages clop-clop down a cobblestone street and stop in front of an art gallery. The gallery owner came to the sidewalk with oats bucket in hand and fed the horse. Turns out, this is a regular stop for the horse! The carriage driver told me the horse gets upset when they drive by and the owner isn’t there!

 

 

A regular stop for this carriage is an art gallery where the owner feeds oats to the horse every time she comes by!

 

NATURE

 

 

If you are a birder, you need to get yourself to St. Augustine! Don’t miss the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida. Your grandchildren will love it and so will you! Whether at the Alligator Farm or exploring a local marsh, you’ll find the diversity of birds thrilling. Take a look at just a couple of the beautiful birds in and around St. Augustine.

 

 

Eye Of The Peacock
Photographed this head shot of the Tri-Colored Heron on the grounds of Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida 

The Peacock Headshot
This Peacock was hanging around on the grounds of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, Florida.

 

 

VISIT THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH!

 

Smaltzy? We didn’t care. We did it! The grounds hold more than the “fountain” and we learned a lot about local Native Americans. The views were great!

 

 

https://youtu.be/SBAdFpcEOv0

 

 

https://youtu.be/cDTwaDfE_lg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You see? St. Augustine is for everyone!!

 

St. Augustine, after just one visit, became one of our favorite cities. We cannot wait to go back! If you have not been yet, you are missing one of America’s greatest gems!

 

*The St. Augustine Record. Written by Peter.Willott@StAugustine.com Posted July 12, 2015,

 

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