A Walk Through St. Augustine

March 12, 2009 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a walk through St Augustine, one of the “Ten Most Walkable Cities in North America” according to AAA travel editors.

History of St. Augustine 

Spanish rule

The city of St. Augustine was founded by Juan Ponce de Leon, a spanish explorer, on September 8, 1565. Menéndez first sighted land on August 28, the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, and consequently named the settlement San Augustíne. Martín de Argüelles was born there one year later in 1566, the first child of European ancestry to be born in what is now the continental United States. This came 21 years before the English settlement at Roanoke Island in Virginia Colony, and 42 years before the successful settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Jamestown, Virginia. In all the territory under the jurisdiction of the United States, only European-established settlements in Puerto Rico are older than St. Augustine, with the oldest being Caparra, founded in 1508, whose inhabitants relocated and founded San Juan, in 1521.

In 1586 St. Augustine was attacked and burned by English privateer Sir Francis Drake. In 1668 it was plundered by English privateer Robert Searle and most of the inhabitants were killed. In 1702 and 1740 it was unsuccessfully attacked by British forces from their new colonies in the Carolinas and Georgia. The most serious of these came in the latter year, when James Oglethorpe of Georgia allied himself with Ahaya the Cowkeeper, chief of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe and conducted the Siege of St. Augustine during the War of Jenkin's Ear.

British rule
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War and gave Florida and St. Augustine to the British, an acquisition the British had been unable to take by force and keep due to the strong force there. St. Augustine came under British rule and served as a Loyalist colony during the American Revolutionary War. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 gave the American colonies north of Florida their independence, and ceded Florida to Spain in recognition of Spanish efforts on behalf of the American colonies during the war

American rule
Florida was under Spanish control again from 1784 to 1821. During this time, Spain was being invaded by Napoleon and was struggling to retain its colonies. Florida no longer held its past importance to Spain. The expanding United States, however, regarded Florida as vital to its interests. In 1821, the Adams-Onís Treaty peaceably turned the Spanish colonies in Florida and, with them, St. Augustine, over to the United States.

Florida was a United States territory until 1845 when it became a U.S. state. In 1861, the American Civil War began and Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. Days before Florida seceded, state troops took the fort at St. Augustine from a small Union garrison (one soldier) on January 7, 1861. However, federal troops loyal to the United States government reoccupied the city on March 11, 1862 and remained in control throughout the four-year-long war. In 1865, Florida rejoined the United States.

Spanish Colonial era buildings still existing in the city include the fortress Castillo de San Marcos. The fortress successfully repelled the British attacks of the 18th century, served as a prison for the Native American leader Osceola in 1837, and was occupied by Union troops during the American Civil War. It was removed from the Army's active duty rolls in 1900 after 205 years of service under five different flags. It is now the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

From Flagler to the present
In the late 19th century the railroad came to town, and led by northeastern industrialist Henry Flagler, St. Augustine became a winter resort for the very wealthy. A number of mansions and palatial grand hotels of this era still exist, some converted to other use, such as housing parts of Flagler College and museums. Flagler went on to develop much more of Florida's east coast, including his Florida East Coast Railway which eventually reached Key West in 1912.

The city is a popular tourist attraction, for the rich Spanish Colonial Revival Style architectural heritage as well as elite 19th century architecture. In 1938 the theme park Marineland opened just south of St. Augustine, becoming one of Florida's first themed parks and setting the stage for the development of this industry in the following decades. The city is also one terminus of the Old Spanish Trail, which in the 1920s linked St. Augustine to San Diego, California with 3000 miles of roadways.

Civil Rights movement
In addition to being a national tourist destination and the continental United States' oldest city settled by Europeans, St. Augustine was also a pivotal site for the civil rights movement in 1963 and 1964.

Despite the 1954 Supreme Court act in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that the "separate but equal" legal status of public schools made those schools inherently unequal, St. Augustine still had only 6 black children admitted into white schools. The homes of two of the families of these children were burned by local segregationists while other families were forced to move out of the county because the parents were fired from their jobs.

In 1963 a sit-in protest at a local diner ended in the arrest and imprisonment of 16 young black protestors and 7 juveniles. Four of the children, two of whom were 16 year old girls, were sent to “reform” school and retained for 6 months.

In September 1963, the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally of several hundred Klansmen on the outskirts of town. They seized NAACP leader and local dentist Robert Hayling and three other NAACP activists whom they beat with fists, chains, and clubs. The four men were rescued by Highway Patrol officers. St. Johns County Sheriff L. O. Davis arrested four white men for the beating and also arrested the four unarmed blacks for "assaulting" the large crowd of armed Klansmen. Charges against the Klansmen were dismissed, but Hayling was convicted of "criminal assault" against the KKK mob. In the summer of 1964 a massive non-violent direct action campaign was led by Hayling, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Dorothy Cotton and other major civil rights leaders intent on changing the conditions of blacks in St. Augustine.

From May until July 1964 protesters endured abuse, beatings, and verbal assaults without any retaliation. By absorbing the violence and hate instead of striking back the protesters gained national sympathy and, it is thought, were a key factor in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The movement engaged in nightly marches down King Street. The protesters were met by white segregationists who violently assaulted them. Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and incarcerated. The jail was filled, so subsequent detainees were kept in an uncovered stockade in the hot sun.

When attempts were made to integrate the beaches of Anastasia Island, demonstrators were beaten and driven into the water by police and segregationists. Some of the protesters could not swim and had to be saved from possible drowning by other demonstrators.

The demonstrations came to a climax when a group of black and white protesters jumped into the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge, an entirely white hotel where several other protests had been held. In response to the protest the owner of the hotel, James Brock, who was a usually shy and passive man, was photographed pouring muriatic acid into the pool to get the protesters out. Photographs of this, and of a policeman jumping into the pool to arrest them, were broadcast around the world and became some of the most famous images of the entire civil rights movement. The motel and pool were demolished in March, 2003, eliminating a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.



St. Augustine Historic District Photo Tour


A. Uptown District

Straddling San Marco Avenue, Uptown St. Augustine is an area filled with art galleries, antique shops, retail boutique shops, hotels and restaurants.


B. Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum

Ripley's oldest Odditorium, located in the Castle Warden, was purchased shortly after his death in 1949 and opened in 1950. Prior to becoming home to Ripley's vast collections from his many travels, "The Castle" as it is known, was once a hotel which played host to many famous guests, including Ripley himself and author/owner Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. "The Castle" was originally a Moorish Revival style mansion, built in 1887 by millionaire William Warden as a winter home. The popularity and success of this museum led Ripley's associates to open new establishments throughout the United States and the world. But "The Castle" remains the permanent home of Ripley's personal collections and is the flagship of the Odditoriums. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is also rumored to be haunted. Segments of the most recent Ripley's TV series were filmed here, including the opening credits. Among the attractions here are a mummified cat, a 1/12 scale model of the original Ferris wheel made out of Erector sets, life and death masks of famous celebrities (including Abe Lincoln), and shamanistic apparatus from cultures around the world.



C. Castillo de San Marcos

The Castillo de San Marcos is a Spanish built fort located along the Matanzas River, just northeast of the original city gates. It was known as Fort Marion from 1821 until 1942, and Fort St. Mark from 1763 until 1784 while under British control.


The Spanish Quarter


D. St. George Street

In the 17th and early 18th century, St. George Street was known as San Patricio Street.  Today, the street is a popular pedestrian mall in the heart of the Spanish Quarter.

E. Charlotte Street 

During the 18th century, Charlotte Street was known as the "Street of the Merchants". During this era, it has been said that Charlotte Street was the main local thoroughfare for the internal traffic of the city.



F. Avenida Menendez 




G. Flagler Memorial Church



H. The Ponce de León Hotel  / Flagler College

The Ponce de León Hotel was built 1885-87 by architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings for Henry Flagler, a real estate and railroad tycoon. Of all the Flagler Hotels, it was only one of three which survived the Great Depression. It has since become part of Flagler College.  The hotel was the first large scale building constructed entirely of poured concrete, and was sold to the college in 1967.

The Flagler College campus comprises fifteen buildings, some of which are located several blocks from the center of the campus. Ponce de Leon Hall is the focal point of the campus, where the female dormitories, as well as the dining hall, are located. The individual rooms consist of the former hotel rooms along with the former hotel employees' rooms. The male dormitories are located at Lewis House, which opened in 1987, and Cedar House, which was constructed in 2004. Most classes are taught in Kenan Hall, which is adjacent to Ponce de Leon Hall. Classes not taught here can be located in the Ringhaver Student Center,Proctor Library, in the Communications Building at 31 Cordova Street, in the Art Building directly behind Kenan Hall, or in the Flagler College Auditorium at 14 Granada Street. The campus is located in historical downtown St. Augustine. The school recently purchased the Florida East Coast Railway buildings which will be converted into dorms opening for the Fall Semester, 2008.



I. The Lightner Museum

The Lightner Museum is a museum of antiquities, mostly American Victorian, housed within a historic hotel building in downtown St. Augustine, Florida, USA. The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum occupies three floors of the former Hotel Alcazar, commissioned by Henry M. Flagler to appeal to wealthy tourists who traveled there on his railroad, and built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was designed by architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Ponce de León Hotel across the street (now part of Flagler College).

The hotel boasted a steam room, massage parlor, gymnasium, and sulfur baths, as well as the world's largest indoor swimming pool. However, after years as an elegant winter resort for wealthy patrons, the hotel closed in 1932. In 1946, Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner purchased the building to house his extensive collection of Victoriana. He opened the museum two years later, and later donated it to the city of St. Augustine.



J. Casa Monica Hotel

The Casa Monica Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the United States and is a member of the "Historic Hotels of America" National Trust. The hotel was built by Franklin Smith in 1888. Soon after completing the hotel Smith ran into financial difficulties and sold the Hotel including all fixtures, furnishings, linen, and all other chattel for $325,000USD to oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. Upon purchasing the hotel Henry Flagler renamed the Casa Monica to the "Cordova Hotel".

In 1902 a short bridge was constructed over Cordova Street that connected the second floors of the Cordova Hotel (formerly Casa Monica) and the Hotel Alcazar. At the completion of the bridge the Cordova Hotel was again renamed, this time to "Alcazar's Annex". In 1903 the Alcazar and Alcazar's Annex were considered one hotel and advertised as "enlarged and redecorated". In 1932, the "Annex" portion of the hotel was closed due to the depression and slowed economy. In 1945, the bridge between the Annex portion (Casa Monica Hotel) and the Alcazar Hotel was removed.

February 1962 St. John's County Commission voted to purchase the former Casa Monica Hotel for $250,000USD for use as the St. John's County Courthouse. The renovation took over 6 years to complete. May 1968 the dedication of the St. John's County Courthouse is held in St. Augustine, FL following the significant renovation. For nearly 30 years the former Casa Monica Hotel was the St. John's County Courthouse.

In February 1997 Richard Kessler, president of Kessler Collection, purchased the building from the St. John's County and began to restore the building to its original elegance of 1888. The renovation was completed in less than 2 years and opened, fully restored, in December 1999 under the original name the "Casa Monica Hotel". Richard Kessler and architect Howard W. Davis decided to keep the historic style of the hotel and use the Moorish-style appearance with Spanish architecture. Today the Casa Monica Hotel operates as part of the Kessler Collection in Orlando, FL and is the only hotel in St. Augustine to be given AAA's Four-Diamond award and is a member of the Preferred Hotels organization.



K. Plaza de la Constitución

Historic St. Augustine is centered around the Plaza de la Constitución.  Established by Spanish Royal Ordinances in 1573, it is the oldest public park in the United States.  It is surrounded by former Spanish era government buildings that have been converted into museums and retail uses. 





Potters Wax Museum was founded by George L. Potter in 1949.  Today, the museum over 160 wax life-like figures.


L. Bridge of Lions 

The Bridge of Lions is a bascule bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway leading to Anastasia Island. Lions made of marble used to guard the bridge, built in 1926 and 1927 across Matanzas Bay. As a part of an ongoing reconstruction project, the lions were removed in February 2005, and are expected to return about five years from that date.   A new "temporary" bridge has been installed and once the project is complete, the temporary bridge will be removed and used as a part of an artificial reef offshore.



M. Avilés Street

Named for the home city of St. Augustine's founder, Aviles, Spain, Aviles Street was one of St. Augustine's earliest commercial corridors.



N. San Sebastian Winery 


San Sebastian Winery, founded in 1996 is located at 157 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida in one of Henry Flagler’s old East Coast Railway buildings located just a few blocks from historic downtown.  According to historians, the St. Augustine area is the birthplace of American wine, dating back to 1562.   Founded in 1996, and housed in one of Henry Flagler's old East Coast Railway buildings, the San Sebastian Winery offers tours and wine tastings seven days a week.  The facility also includes "The Cellar Upstairs" Wine, Jazz & Blues Bar on the rooftop.


O. Lincolnville Historic District

The Lincolnville Historic District is bounded by Cedar, Riberia, Cerro and Washington Streets and DeSoto Place.  It contains 548 historic buildings.

St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest city in the United States, and until 1964, one of the most segregated. A dentist and NAACP representative named Robert Hayling from the historic subdivision of Lincolnville initiated the protest actions that eventually ended discrimination in the old city. Lincolnville, established in 1866, was the major black residential subdivision in St. Augustine, and many of its residents were politically active. The historic district contains a large collection of 19th and early 20th century residences and churches.

In 1963, Hayling organized campaigns against local segregated public facilities catering to tourists. He also urged the White House not to support the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine set to take place in September 1965. When both efforts failed, he appealed to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for help.

The SCLC called on New England universities to send volunteers to the city for March 1964 demonstrations and asked Lincolnville residents to provide food and lodging. By the end of one week of protests, police had arrested hundreds of demonstrators, including a delegation of rabbis and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts. White vigilantes terrorized local businesses that dared to serve African Americans.

In early June, Martin Luther King, Jr., came to St. Augustine and took part in a sit-in at Monson's Motor Lodge. The same month, the SCLC arranged for baseball star Jackie Robinson to address a civil rights rally in Lincolnville. The publicity surrounding these two events hastened Congress' passage of the Civil Rights Act on June 20, 1964.

Local segregationists initially refused to comply with the new Act. For example, when Monson's manager noticed African Americans in the motel swimming pool, he threw acid into the water, then drained the pool and stationed guards around it. Angry white mobs also beat "wade-in" demonstrators at local beaches as well as the police assigned to protect them.

The end of segregation in St. Augustine demonstrated that even the most closed communities could not uphold segregation in the face of determined resistance.




P. This residential area, south of the downtown core, contains Florida's oldest surviving Spanish Colonial House and a diverse mix of housing options. 


Photo tour by Ennis Davis