When reading my favorite travel blogs one day I found an interesting post about St. Augustine, Florida. I had heard of the town before and saw it on the map, but never thought of it as a place I would want to visit.
However, as I continued reading I learned about the importance of this tiny city to the foundation of the Unite States. Plus, learning that this is the place where Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth caught my interest. I started to really want to visit that place. So, I made it happen for my family.
Educational Family Travel
Educational travel is something that I have been doing more and more lately. Having two young boys it is important to visit places where they can learn something. Add in pirates and a beach to this educational destination and you have the perfect place for my boys.
What truly surprised me was to see and experience how adorable and quaint the city is. The whole place is great for walking, especially the historic district. The narrow streets are bordered with gorgeous old buildings and trees hanging over them. It made me think about the Old South rather than Florida. But the most fun was St. George Street which is closed off to allow pedestrian traffic only. The street is also home to most of the historic landmarks.
St. Augustine History in a Nutshell
- Governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León was the first one to explore the vicinity of St. Augustine in 1513 who claimed the region for the Spanish crown.
- Between 1562 and 1564 the French made two attempts to colonize the area and failed.
- St. Augustine was the capital of Florida for over 200 years.
- It was founded by the Spaniards in 1565.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land on August 28, 1565, it was the feast day of Augustine of Hippo. That’s where its name comes from.
- You can still find the remains of their first fort in what is now the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
- Shortly after being founded, one of the frenchmen who previously failed to colonize the area tried to steal the fort from Ménendez but failed once more.
- In 1566, Martín de Argüelles was born, he was the first European child who was recorded as born in the continental United States.
- Also in 1566 Saturiwa, a hostile native community, burned down St. Augustine. So it had to be relocated.
- Then in April 1568 the French soldier Dominique de Gourgues led an attack on Spanish holdings.
- English privateer Sir Francis Drake raided St. Augustine, burning it and driving surviving Spanish settlers into the wilderness in June 6, 1586. But he didn’t have enough forces or authority to establish an English settlement and had to leave the area soon after.
- In 1668 English privateer Robert Searle attacked and plundered St. Augustine. It resulted in the construction of a stronger fortification in 1672, it received the name of the Castillo de San Marcos.
- The British created settlements south, along the coast, and encouraged slaves to escape. If they later converted to Catholicism and swore allegiance to the king of Spain they were given freedom. In 1938 Fort Mose was legally recognized as a free community of former slaves.
- British forces unsuccessfully attacked St. Augustine from their colonies in the Carolinas and Georgia in 1740.
- In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War between Spain and England. Spain ceded Florida and St. Augustine to the British.
- James Grant was appointed the first governor of East Florida in 1764.
- Then a new Treaty of Paris in 1783 gave the American colonies, north of Florida, their independence and ceded Florida to Spain.
- The second Spanish period only lasted until 1821 when Florida was turned over to the US.
- Castillo de San Marcos was renamed as “Swam Fox” in 1821. It was later used during the Semiole War as prison from where 22 prisoners managed to escape.
- During the American Civil War Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.
- After the war in 1866, freedmen in St. Augustine established the community of Lincolnville. It became a key setting for the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine a century later.
- Henry Flagler, a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, arrived in St. Augustine in the 1880s. He was the driving force behind turning the city into a winter resort for the wealthy northern elite.
- Flagler commissioned a famous New York architectural firm to design a number of extravagant buildings in St. Augustine, among them the Ponce de Leon Hotel and the Alcazar Hotel.
- In the 1880s, the waiters at his hotels, under the leadership of Frank P. Thompson, formed one of America’s pioneer “Professional Negro League Baseball Teams”, the Ponce de Leon Giants.
- The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is one of the oldest commercial tourist attractions in Florida.
- Historic Excelsior School, built in 1925 as the first public high school for blacks in St. Augustine. It is now the city’s first museum of African-American history.
Fun Facts About St. Augustine, Florida
- St. Augustine was the first city in America, therefore the oldest city in the United States.
- The legendary spring, the Fountain of Youth, made famous by explorer Ponce de Leon, is in St. Augustine and located on what is now known as the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
- St. Augustine has its own Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
- St. Augustine has three forts called: Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mantanzas, and Fort Mose. They were all built to protect the city.
- The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Its construction took a quarter of a century, with many later additions and modifications.
- St. Augustine has the narrowest street in the U.S. – Treasury Street is only 7 feet wide!
- St. Augustine also has the oldest port in the continental United States.
- The oldest schoolhouse of the country is also in St. Augustine. It was built in 1716.
- Out of the territories under the jurisdiction of the US, only Puerto Rico has continuously occupied European-established settlements older than St. Augustine.
- The city has a privately funded Freedom Trail of historic sites of the civil rights movement, and a museum at the Fort Mose site. The location of the 1738 free black community.
- Potter’s Wax Museum is the oldest wax museum in the country, predating Madame Tussaud’s and the famed Hollywood Wax Museum.
- The Great Cross is 208-feet tall and made of stainless steel. It is on the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios (off San Marco Avenue).
- It is the only place in Florida where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested during a non-violent attempt to eat at the former Monson Restaurant.
- The most famous alumnus of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine is the famed soul singer Ray Charles.