St. Augustine: America's Oldest City
The quaint city of St. Augustine
in Florida served as a popular winter vacation spot for wealthy New England families
in Victorian times and today provides a charming respite from
modern inconveniences. The city is the oldest European settlement in the United States, founded by
Spanish soldiers in 1565, and boasts a number of attractions that date from the Renaissance
through the Edwardian period. The venerable architecture of the city recalls an era when
Spain wielded a mighty hand in the New World. Although the exotic Spanish influence prominent
along the city's cobbled streets, there is the surprisingly harmonious inclusion of British
and colonial design elements from the Georgian and Victorian periods in particular, which only
enhances St. Augustine's enduring charm.
For example, the impressive Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, built in 1672, offers visitors an awe-inspiring glimpse into military life in early America.
The fort served primarily as an outpost of the Spanish Empire, also protecting the sea route
for treasure ships returning to Spain. During the 18th century, the Castillo was transferred from
Spanish control to the British, and later back to the Spanish, who remained in power in Florida until the area was
purchased by the United States in 1821. Called Fort Marion at this time, the
Castillo was made a National Monument in 1924 and became part of the National
Park system in 1933. The park consists of the original historic Castillo fortress
itself with its attendant grounds comprising over twenty five acres. Today, visitors can enjoy
living history displays, torchlight tours and cannon firing demonstrations here.
The Lightner Museum displays the grandeur of the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods.
It is located in the former Hotel Alcazar, which was built in 1887 in the Spanish
Renaissance style. The hotel was owned by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler, who commissioned architects
Carrere and Hastings (who later designed the New York Public Library and the U.S. Senate office building)
for the project. Today, it houses treasured relics of America's Gilded Age, such as costumes, furnishings, mechanical
musical instruments and other artifacts. The Lightner collection includes
beautiful examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
St. Augustine also offers visitors a glimpse into many old houses and historic sites. The
Gonzalez-Alvarez House (also known as the "Oldest House" in America)
is one of the country's best-documented and studied old houses in America. The Ximenez-Fatio House
was built about 1798 by Andres Ximenez, a Spanish storekeeper, and reflects both Spanish and English design principles.
The Llambia's House
is another of St. Augustine's oldest restored original buildings. It dates back to the
final year of the first Spanish occupation, circa 1763. In addition, history enthusiasts can visit
The Oldest Store Museum. Once
the town's general store, it now boasts over 100,000 items from the original store during the turn-of-the-century.
The Oldest Wooden School House
in America, built prior to 1763, likewise remains as it was over two centuries ago.
At the Mission de Nombre de Dios, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in 1565 and proclaimed site for Spain and the Church.
Tourists can also visit the Museum of Weapons & Early American History,
which boasts a plethora of authentic military weapons from 1500 through 1900, as well as documents from the
colonial period. The Old Florida Museum offers guests
the unique opportunity to participate in daily living activities from pre-European times to 1926, while the
Spanish Quarter Village recreates
life in mid-18th century St. Augustine. The Government House Museum
provides the complete history of St. Augustine through archeological artifacts excavated in St. Augustine and
from shipwrecks off the coast of Florida. Additionally, the Ponce De Leon's Fountain of Youth
National Archeological Park offers the fabled Fountain of Youth discovered in 1513. The park today contains
foundations and artifacts of the first St. Augustine mission and colony.
The city boasts a plethora of quaint bed and breakfast inns, antique shops, galleries, boutiques, and romantic restaurants,
as well as recreational diversions such as parasailing, jet-skiing, and golf. In particular, the surrounding
forty-two miles of pristine beaches beckon families, couples and water sports enthusiasts, offering secluded dunes,
ocean front parks and charter sailing. In the evenings, enjoy moonlit carriage rides, English country dances,
walking tours, and outdoor concerts. St. Augustine truly is a historic place that the whole family can enjoy.
Castillo de San Marcos
Old St. Augustine Village
Spanish Quarter Museum