Late in the month of August, 1565 a small armada of Spanish ships arrived off the coast of northeast Florida. They had been sent across the Atlantic by the Spanish King with the intent of establishing a colony in the New World in advance of their chief rivals the French. On September 6th the fleet sailed into Matanzas Bay, disembarked, and began construction of a fortified settlement which they named Saint Augustine. With the establishment of Saint Augustine the Spanish had indeed beat the French to the colonization punch along with every other European power...by more than a few years. It wouldn't be for another 42 years that the English would successfully settle the America's, another 43 for the French, and the Pilgrims would land for another 55 years! Though the early years were touch-and-go for a while, the tiny Spanish foothold in Florida held firm and today St. Augustine stands as the oldest permanent settlement in North America celebrating its 450th Anniversary in 2015.
The early years of St. Augustine were filled with danger for the early colonists. Unrest with local native tribes were a constant source of tension as was the constant threat of raids by enemies of the Spanish Empire. Indeed, in the first hundred years of its existence, the community was burned down twice at the hands of the British. The first raid occurred in 1586 while the another, more brazen attack occurred in 1668. It was after this attack that the Spanish concluded better defenses were required to protect the community and began construction of a large fort which they named Castillo de San Marcos. The fortress wasn't completed until 1695 but still stands guard today over the city and is the oldest surviving fortification in the country. After the attacks of 1668 life at St. Augustine began to stabilize a bit and the community began to slowly grow as it established itself as a minor center of trade. Then came the Seven Years War.
Spain, unfortunately, sided with the losing side (France) in the war. Upon the signing of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Spain was forced to give up its holdings in Florida to the British crown. So, after nearly 200-years of Spanish rule, the British Union Jack now flew over St. Augustine. It wouldn't stay there long. In 1775 war broke out between Great Britain and her colonies in America. Luckily for the residents of St. Augustine the war never reached the city walls. The war drug on for eight years and, over the course of the conflict Spain proved a major source of aid for the colonies. Therefore, with the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the newly independent United States recognized this assistance by returning Florida and the city to the Spanish Crown. Thus began what is now known as the Second Spanish Period at St. Augustine. It was more of a symbolic rule though than anything that might mean a return to Spanish greatness for the town. Spain had limited ability and very little interest in its holdings in Florida. Thus is was that, in 1821 with the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty, that yet another new flag was raised over St Augustine. Florida was now part of the United States.
The city of St. Augustine and its fort, now dubbed a more American-sounding Fort Marion, became a focus of activity in the intervening years as Florida dealt with first the Seminole Wars and the the American Civil War. Though Florida ended up joining the Confederacy, and St. Augustine did spend a short period of time under the Stars and Bars, it was quickly occupied peacefully by the Union and remained in Federal control for the remainder of the war. In the 1880's yet another major change descended on St. Augustine, this time in the form of American oil magnate Henry Flagler. Flagler arrived in St. Augustine as a result of his planned Florida East Coast Railway and made it his base of operations. Visioning the throngs of people his new railroad would bring to St. Augustine and Florida Flagler soon began efforts to transform the historic town into a new resort and tourism destination. Many of the city's most magnificent structures were built with Flagler money, including the posh Alcazar Hotel (now the Lightener Museum) and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College). Flagler built park, he built churches, he built a hospital, he established archaeological studies. To this day the St. Augustine you see still has the handiwork of Henry Flagler everywhere.
Since Flagler's time St. Augustine has remained a place where history and leisure intertwine. The crowds Flagler visited are very much a modern reality, as you'll experience on any visit to the city. Most days the narrow old streets are teeming with visitors from all corners of the country and the world. Historic buildings have been lovingly preserved and/or reconstructed but this is by no means a 'historic park' of any type. Most old buildings have been repurposed into retail or commercial establishments looking for their piece of the tourist dollar. This can be a bit disappointing to a lover of more pure history, like myself, but its still a fascinating town to explore...if anything due to its 450-year pedigree which is unmatched in this country.
So it is that in this album I embark on a quick but fairly thorough walking tour of the historic districts historic structures. Guided by a cheap $4 booklet I managed tour the old Spanish district as well as the historic Flagler-inspired downtown. I've tried to include background info on each of the sites from the limited resources at my disposal but, honestly, this album is better served as a 'taster' of what St. Augustine has to offer the history affectionatto. That said I now invite you on a short exploration of the oldest city on the continent...there's a lot to see as I'm sure you'll discover. As always...please ENJOY!!!