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    Musings: Authors do it Write!

    Published 3-26-2021

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    This is a city that continues to amaze, entertain, and educate visitors even those who have previously been here. As a frequent visitor to this old city, I can attest to the fact that there is always something new happening in America’s oldest continuously occupied city.
     The year officially recorded for Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing on the coast of today’s eastern Florida just north of the present day city of St. Augustine was 1513. When Ponce de Leon claimed what he probably thought was an island, he was technically laying claim to all of North America including Canada and Alaska for the throne of Spain.
    St. Augustine was officially founded in 1565. To put this historical timing into prospective, it was in the following century (1607) that the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia was founded. In 1620, the Pilgrims supposedly landed on that famous rock in Massachusetts.
    St Augustine was burned to the ground in 1586 by the English privateer Francis Drake. During the second burning of the city by invading British forces in 1702, only the stone coquina fort, Castillo de San Marcos, completed in the late 17th century, survived.
    As the oldest continuously occupied European city in the Continental United States, St Augustine boasts many other OLDEST firsts.
    The Gonzalez-Alvarez House on St. Frances St. is the Oldest House and the oldest known surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida.
    Built shortly after the British torched the city in 1702, this house is an important stop for its historical significance. Occupied since the 1600’s it has been open to the public since 1893. The adjoining museum and beautiful grounds enhance your visit. Around the corner on St George Street is another first, the St. Francis Inn.
     The original structure was built circa 1791 and expanded over the years. Converted to an inn, the first travelers were hosted in 1845. It is considered St Augustine’s oldest continuously operating inn. The current owner, Joe Finnegan, purchased this landmark property in 1985. He has successfully operated it for 36 years and claims the title of being the oldest innkeeper of the oldest Inn in the oldest city in the Continental United States United. He must be doing something right.
    When visiting a historic destination like St Augustine, visitors have two major decisions to make. The first is where to stay and the second is where to dine. The dining option should be easy in such a small city but it is not. There are more than 350 eating/dining options from which to choose. Take your pick: Spanish, Minorcan, French, Greek, Italian, American, and Thai restaurants are represented as are foods of other cultures.
    Ask for suggestions at the front desk of your inn/motel/hotel, from shopkeepers, even strangers. Everyone has his or her own favorite restaurant. In keeping with the Old City theme, the oldest restaurant in St. Augustine’s Historic District is The Columbia Restaurant on St George Street, now for suggestions as to where to say in St. Augustine.   
    When staying at someplace as historic as St Augustine, my preference has been to totally immerse myself in the location’s history. As a frequent visitor to this city, I have sampled the offerings of lookalike chain motels with their often impersonal help, boxy accommodations, and pre packaged hi-carb laden breakfasts. It doesn’t work for me. I prefer historic inns which some travelers might believe are out of their price range unless they do their home work.
    In St. Augustine, my favorite is the St. Francis Inn with its unique accommodations (each room is different) and guaranteed free parking plus many included free amenities.
    Guests at the St. Francis Inn are treated every morning to a different, freshly prepared hot breakfast that can be enjoyed in the dining room, your room, the shaded outdoor courtyard, or enclosed patios. Special dietary requests are accommodated when possible. Coffee and teas are always available and the afternoon happy hour brings a welcome respite from a day of sightseeing, while evening wines and a sinful late night dessert top off the day.
    There is a secluded swimming pool at the Inn, free use of bicycles, use of the Inn’s facilities at the pristine, wide, miles-long St. Augustine Ocean Beach. Free admission to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and discounted tickets to other attractions are available to guests. There are no hidden resort fees. The secret to the enjoyable stay at the St Francis is the unobtrusiveness of a knowledgeable and highly trained staff whose sole purpose is to insure guests a comfortable and unforgettable stay.
    One night I hope to see the famous St. Francis Inn ghost. On my last visit I thought it was finally happening until I realized it was only Joe Finnegan quietly making his nightly rounds. Now let’s look at some of the things that make St. Augustine so special to so many people. 
    The Fountain of Youth is the oldest tourist attraction in Florida. Its owners boast that it is “The World’s Oldest Existing Theme Park.” In the past if you had visited it once, there was no reason to return. But now descendants of the previous owners have brought it back to life. Archeologists have uncovered foundations of early Native American settlements. Restorations are underway to recreate those villages and special events are held throughout the year. 
    The iconic landmark of St. Augustine is Castillo de San Marcos, a coquina stone fort and the oldest existing masonry fort in the United States. Construction began in 1672, 107 years after incorporation of the city, and was completed 23 years later.
    Attacking forces had twice tried to take the fort in the 1700’s but it never was taken. Visitors can take self-guided or docent-led tours inside its walls. Many are surprised to learn of the time the United States imprisoned leaders of the Seminole Nation inside the fortress
    Located across the street from the fort is the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, one of the city’s most highly rated attractions, featuring authentic pirate artifacts dating back more than 300 years.
    Interactive exhibits offer unique experiences for learning about this era of history. Visitors will also have a once in a lifetime experience of seeing the world’s only remaining authentic pirate’s treasure chest. It is a great stop for all ages with lots of hands-on-activities. The museum’s motto is PLEASE TOUCH.
        pirate and treasure museum bilding
    This is a walking city. Once you park your car, almost everything of interest can be reached on foot. But before you embark on a self-guided tour it is highly recommend that you take one of the city’s hop-on, hop-off sightseeing trolley tours. You will see the major attractions, be given a detailed history of St. Augustine, with a bit of local humor thrown in, and then decide what you want to return to and visit.
       The heart of St. Augustine’s Old Town is at King and St. George Streets. Everything radiates from here: sightseeing tours, museums, attractions, restaurants, and lodgings.
    St. George St. is a traffic free pedestrian-friendly walkway. It is lined with buildings and shops selling history, food, trinkets, and t-shirts. Some visitors have been heard to comment negatively on the commercial use for this historic area without realizing that in the old days the taverns were the favorite stops for locals and visitors. It’s still true today. The old shops sold, buggy whips, muskets, produce and anything necessary for survival of the citizens. It has always been a street of merchants. 
    One block south of St. George St. is Aviles St. the oldest street in the oldest city and a street that will take you to the oldest house. This cobblestone byway with its historic homes is a photographer’s delight. On the walk south, note the old tabby walls on the west side with indentations of cannon balls still visible from the invasions of pirates in the 1700’s 
    Most prominent in central St Augustine is Flagler College, originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel and one of the first major hotels built by the Flagler System (Henry Flagler). Flagler College is today one of the top rated four-year liberal arts colleges in the country. Original museum quality art and décor throughout the building have been preserved. Tiffany windows in the dining room are reportedly insured for multiple millions of dollars. A guided tour is the only way for the public to experience the magnificent interiors. Do take the tour. It is worthwhile.
    Henry Flagler also built the Alcazar Hotel across the street for the more athletically inclined of his guests. It featured a huge indoor swimming pool, exercise rooms, Turkish baths, steam room, and a message room and was the center for physically active guests at both hotels.
    The Alcazar Hotel was purchased in 1946 and reopened as the Lightner Museum. Its three floors display an eclectic collection of the treasures of America’s Gilded Age and probably has representations of every family heirloom your ancestors ever possessed. It is often referred to as America’s attic.
    Florida and Henry Flagler are forever entwined but no more so than in St. Augustine. Mr. Flagler and his family are buried here in the Memorial Presbyterian Church on Valencia St. just across from Flagler College. The church, built by Flagler, was completed in 1888 to honor his deceased daughter.
       st augustine's oldest schoolhouse 
    At the north end of the Old Town on St. George St. is the iconic and picturesque Oldest Wooden School House in Florida. It was first recorded on tax rolls in 1716. None of the original wooden buildings in St. Augustine dated prior to 1702, the year the British set fire to the city.
    A couple of days in St. Augustine are a good introduction to the riches of this city but hardly long enough to really learn about the city and all it has to offer.
    Mark your calendars for St. Augustine’s next BIG celebration in 2065. It will be the 500th year of the city’s founding. But before then, consider visiting during a less crowded time. Special events and festivals are held throughout the year.
    For complete information: https://www.floridashistoriccoast.com/







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