Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Built To Last

Magnet # 336: Sights of St. Augustine

Material: Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By: Me

It's the longest continually occupied European established city in all of the United States and tomorrow marks the anniversary of St. Augustine's founding in 1565. While it had been explored as early as 1513 by Ponce de Leon, who supposedly thought he'd discovered the Fountain of Youth there, no previous attempt to settle the area had been successful. It was Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles who was finally able to create a settlement there. He spotted the land on August 28 and, as it was the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, he named it San Augustin. Just over a week later, he and his men had begun to take control of the area and from there, they were able to fight nearby Fort Caroline, the first French colony in the Americas, located in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Eventually, they were able to take control of that establishment for Spain. For decades, however, St. Augustine remained the only permanent, organized Spanish settlement in the Americas. It was of critical importance to the nation in maintaining control of the New World and driving out any groups that interfered with their goals there, particularly French and English Protestants. This, of course, made St. Augustine a target for attacks from both nations, who temporarily gained control of the area on separate occasions. All in all, Spain held the territory for over 200 years before they surrendered it to the British after the French and Indian War in exchange for control of Havana in 1763. And still, the Spanish were able to retake the settlement in 1784 and hold it until 1821, when they turned the area over to the United States, too occupied with battling Napoleon to care much about it. As part of the United States, St. Augustine continued on, neither impoverished nor thriving until the 1880s, when Henry Flagler, a wealthy businessman who was involved with Standard Oil, was charmed by it. He began turning the city into a winter resort for members of his affluent circle. Thanks in part to his efforts, many of the historic buildings in St. Augustine have been preserved for future generations and the city is now one of Florida's most popular tourist destinations.

I've been to St. Augustine both with my parents when I was growing up and on my own as an adult. It really has a feel all its own. It's charming, historic architecture is highly influenced by Spanish aesthetics, and yet, there are places that are somewhat rustic, like the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. And the buildings left there from the Flagler Era are stunning examples of Gilded Age style. The destinations there are quite varied, and could appeal to a wide variety of visitors. For families, attractions such as the Alligator Farm, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, and the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum are all great places to check out. And for the more refined crowd, a trip to the Lightner Museum, filled with stunning Gilded Age antiques, is a great idea. Finally, for travelers looking to have an encounter with the spooky, St. Augustine has two locations that are reputed to be haunted and have been visited by ghost seeking television programs, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum and, once again, Castillo de San Marcos. Really, it's hard to believe that a visitor could not find one spot to love in this historic locale. For me, it's only a brief three hour ride away, so I have no excuse not to stop by every so often. And while I've seen a good deal of what St. Augustine has to offer, I realize there's plenty more there to enjoy. I imagine I'll be there once again, in just a matter of time.


  1. Did you find any good restaurants on your last visit there? We're always looking for something different when we travel.

  2. I'm afraid I didn't get a chance to eat there, but I will be sure to mention any restaurants I try there in the future.