The City of St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement, founded by the Spanish in 1565. It was founded forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Throughout it’s history, the city has been under the governments of Spain, Britain and United States.
In the late 1880s, St. Augustine had its birth as a resort community with the arrival of Standard Oil co-founder Henry M. Flagler. He built two hotels and took over another to serve as the base of his Flagler System hotels. He also founded the Florida East Coast Railway as a means of transporting guests to and from the north to his hotels in St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami.
The heart of the city is its downtown Plaza de la Consitucion, with most of the historic buildings located within a block or two of the Plaza, to the north and to the south. The streets are full of scenic buildings, with both Spanish and British influences.
The Bridge of Lions spans the Intracoastal Waterway (Matanzas Bay) here. The bridge is part of State Road A1A, and connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. A pair of marble lions guard the bridge, which was begun in 1925 and completed in 1927. From its earliest days, it was hailed as “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie,” and has long been a symbol of the nation’s oldest city. The lions were removed in February 2005 and returned in March 2011.
The Department of Transportation declared the bridge “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete” in 1999 (yikes!), and after nearly 80 years of service, an official closing ceremony for the original Bridge of Lions was held in May of 2006 (the lions were removed in 2005). A temporary bridge was constructed, adjacent to the original bridge, and traffic was diverted to it while the original bridge was being rehabilitated and reconstructed. Renovations were completed in March of 2010, and the bridge reopened for use; the lions were returned a year later. The temporary bridge was removed and used as part of an artificial reef just offshore.
Castillo de San Marco is one of the oldest standing structures in North America, and the nation’s oldest masonry fort. It took 25 years to build, making it a VERY costly project for time. The fort was initially built by the Spanish, to protect their empire in America. It has flown six different flags, survived hurricanes, bombardments and sieges.
The fort was built in a star shape, formed by diamond-shaped projections (“bastions”) at each corner. This design eliminates blind spots for guards, and increase the fort’s firepower by allowing multiple cannons to fire on the same target (a crossfire effect). The Castillo de San Marco was attack many times in it’s history, but was never taken in battle.
The city of St. Augustine offers many tours: general history tours, culinary tours, haunted tours, and all types of pub crawls. There are several museums and boat tours as well. St George Street is very popular with tourists and locals; a long stretch of a pedestrian only street, lined with endless shops and restaurants. The city is well worth a visit!
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”