Category Archives: Florida History

Lake Placid: a History in Pictures

Surprises Await in Lake Placid

We headed up central Florida’s Rte 27 and stopped for lunch at the All American restaurant in Lake Placid. I wasn’t overly impressed. Even though the sign offered breakfast and lunch, apparently they only serve breakfast on Sundays. I was told I could have a BLT, except they didn’t have tomatoes. My omelet was fine, but the potatoes were dry and tasteless and screamed for butter, salt, and pepper, in that order.

Lake Placid was not a complete bust, though. Known as the “The Caladium Capital of the World”, we thoroughly enjoyed the pictorial history of the area, as told in murals throughout the downtown area:Lake Placid #1

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The holdup of the Tropical State Bank in Lake Placid caused quite a stir back in the day. The boy depicted, Grady Parrish, was instrumental in foiling the attempted 1931 bank robbery. He received $10 for his effort. The mural has four dollar signs hidden within the painting.

Other murals depicted the prehistoric days of the area, settlement, and significant events in Lake Placid historyLake Placid #12

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The Florida panther is endangered now. My ancestors claimed their cry sounded like a woman screaming in the woods.

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One of the murals depicted the turpentine business that boomed back in the early days of settlement, but the camps date back to Colonial times.

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Before and during the Civil War, the camps were worked by slaves. After emancipation, former slaves viewed Blacks who joined the camps as traitors who signed away their newly obtained freedom. In the early 1900s, prisoners were released to work in the camps. The turpentine camps were deep in the pinewoods, isolated and known to be rough places. Camp bosses also ran the commissary; the only place workers could buy needed items. Unfortunately, most camp bosses charged outrageously high prices, which kept the workers in servitude, since most were not pain in money, but in scrip, which could only be redeemed at the company store. Those who tried to run away from their debts were hunted down. The work was dangerous, hot, and hard. Children born in the camps oftentimes knew no other kind of life.

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The woods around Lake Placid are quieter now. The bottom dropped out of the industry in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, the market for turpentine had collapsed. Sawmills took their place, as the dead trees were turned into boards that helped to build area homes. Heart pine stood up well to the Florida elements and insects did not find a welcome home for boring in.

The town of Lake Placid is surrounded by twenty-seven freshwater lakes and is a popular tourist destination. Lake Placid itself is far more accessible that Lake Okeechobee. Originally called Lake Stearns, the name of the lake was changed by in the late 1920s by a suggestion by Dr. Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.

Lake Placid
We finished our trip with a shopping spree for antiques in Arcadia before heading home, glad for a getaway that expanded our knowledge on Florida history.

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

Twenty-five miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks is a small fishing community located in Florida’s Big Bend where the St. Marks River and the Wakulla River converge. The Gulf port on the Apalachee Bay was first developed by Spanish explorers in the 17th century who built a fort that played an important role during the Civil War.

The fort’s foundation is located within the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. Bicyclists and horseback riders enjoy the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park, a sixteen mile long trail that finishes on the St. Marks waterfront. Some believe the fort’s tower once held torches to guide boats safely, which would make it the site of the first lighthouse in the country.

The current lighthouse, St. Marks Light, was built in 1828. It is interesting to note that construction costs for the lighthouse exceeded the allocated $6,000 budget by more than $5,000. Even worse, the first one was rejected because it had hollow walls (you’d think someone would have caught that), so the lighthouse was rebuilt and it was put into use by 1830. Hmmm…a project that costs twice as much as predicted, poorly planned, and poorly executed? Yep. It was a government job! Time and erosion took its inevitable toll and a new lighthouse was built further inland in 1842.

St. Mark’s NWR and Wakulla Springs State Park draw visitors from all states and is popular with birders. The area’s ecosystem ranges from saltwater estuaries and bracken marshes to swamps and forest.

Boating and fishing are big here, of course, so arranging a fishing charter or contacting an outfitter is easy.  Lodging accommodations range from trailer parks to inns (there are various motels and hotels in nearby towns, as well). The Shell Island Fish Camp, located directly on the Wakulla River, offers accommodations that range from motel, cabins (2 bedrooms, kitchen and bath), tents, campers, and a limited number of RV campsites with water, electric, and dump station. A full service marina provides boat rentals and boat repairs.

The Sweet Magnolia Inn Bed and Breakfast offers a slightly different ambience. Its history as a general store, boarding house, brothel, church, city hall, possible bootleg warehouse, hotel, and hurricane shelter offer up many a story on a warm summer night. In its current dress, the B&B stays true to its roots, right down to a fishpond built in the shape of Florida, including the keys.

A vintage shot of my mother, in her first year of college, 1948. She’s the one closest to the shrimping boat:

Mom #9

And St. Marks today:

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We enjoyed our visit and would go again for a more in depth exploration of the area.

A quick note for those who are leaving me notes regarding the website hosting. My tech guru is currently out of the country. When he gets back, I’ll show him your notes and get feedback. In the meantime, thanks for your interest and positive comments (they are very much appreciated!) and please be patient. I will respond to them when I can.

 

Oysters are King in Apalachicola

Apalachicola, King of the Forgotten Coast

We’d cancelled our reservations at the Gibson Inn for the murder mystery weekend in Apalachicola, mainly because the theme was football-based, which did not interest me. After we drove past it, we felt we’d made the right choice, since it sat right in the middle of town with traffic on all four sides. Great for shopping, but relaxing by the water would have required compromise. Instead, we chose the Apalachicola River Inn, which reminded me of a riverboat since the building sat out over the water.

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The view from the private balcony:

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That night, the reflection of a full moon shimmered over the still water as the buzz of distant insects played in the background, broken only by the splash of breeching mullet that landed with a plop.

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Early morning river commute:

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Later the same day:

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We’d had our complimentary drink in the bar the night before and took full advantage of the free breakfast the next morning. I ordered eggs over easy, shrimp and grits, and juice. Shrimp and grits sounds better than it is. I found it too spicy for early morning.

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The rest of the morning was spent in historical downtown Apalachicola. The art museum was closed (we tried on our way home, too, but they were still closed) so we just poked our heads in shops and galleries.

Naturally, we stopped at Boss Oyster for lunch:

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In fact, we had oysters, in one form or another at almost every meal during our too-short stay and we could not resist purchasing more to take back home. I don’t know why the Apalachicola bi-valves taste better than those harvested from other areas, but I assure you, the difference in taste as well as in size is remarkable.

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The town itself is quite beautiful with many historic homes and buildings, yet carries a certain ruggedness that only a true fishing village can. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, Apalachicola’s sponge trade was booming, helping it to grow into the third busiest port in the nation. Today, it might be less well known if not for its reputation as a source of superior oysters and shrimp. My husband offered to take me on a boat ride, but I thought the offer was rigged:

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After all, papa was a rollin’ stone:

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Funniest name I saw on a boat? “Breakin’ Wind”. I asked my husband if that was his boat, but he said it couldn’t be because the “Pain in the Butt” wasn’t moored close by!

We had a lot of fun in Apalachicola and I look forward to a return trip and more oysters. On my to-do list for our return visit: Fort Gasden in the Apalachicola National Forest, part of the Florida Black Heritage Trail, and a closer exploration of the islands that protect the Apalachicola Bay: Flag Island, Sand, St. Vincent Island, St. George Island, and Cape St. George Island.

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A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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Florida May Day Celebrations: 1950s

May Day Celebrations in Florida During the 1950s

It’s May Day. No one really celebrates it anymore. When I was in the 1st grade and again in the 3rd grade, I attended a little country school in Florida. There were two grades to a room and after 8th grade you had to take the bus into the city to go to school. Our bus picked us up at the front gate, engulfed in a dust cloud kicked up off the dirt road by the big tires. After a hard rain, the road would have ridges like a washboard until the county came through to grade again, making bus rides during those times particularly jarring.

By the time we arrived at the wood schoolhouse, we were packed in, 3 to a school bus seat large enough for two adults. We wore shorts and were allowed to attend school barefoot, which I found gloriously liberating in comparison to schooling in the Boston area.

My third grade teacher stuck up for me when the kids laughed because I didn’t know what a gopher was, saying we were both right…it WAS a brown, furry rodent like I said and it WAS a land turtle like the Betts boy said. That’s when my cousin Shelly and I did our best head toss and walked off, refusing to give any more time to such a dumb boy. All he was good for was playing a guitar.

In April, our teacher announced that we would be having a May Day celebration and she would teach us to dance around a May Pole.

We walked out to the schoolyard and a pole with many beautiful colored ribbons attached to it. In a few minutes, we would take a ribbon that was attached to the pole. For now, they were secured at the bottom to keep them from tangling but the breeze made them flutter in the middle. We were told to stand in a circle around the pole, boy/girl/boy/girl. When the music started, we joined hands and stepped to the center, then took our assigned streamer in our right hand and returned to the outside of the circle. We were then told to turn and face our neighbor to the right.

The boys took one step to the outside, the girls, a step to the inside. The teachers explained that we would weave the ribbons by walking, girls clockwise, boys, counterclockwise, lifting and lowering our ribbons so that they would weave over and under. I would hold my ribbon up so I could go over the streamer of the first boy, then duck down and walk under the ribbon of the next boy. The boys reversed the routine. As we circled the pole, our ribbons would wind around, covering more and more of the pole as our ribbons grew shorter. It took many practices to get it right, but on the big day, when the music started and we danced the Maypole Dance, those ribbons wound around perfectly and in the end, we had a very colorful pole.

Years later, I would learn of the pagan origins of the Maypole celebration and had a good laugh. I take the same stand on Maypole dancing as I do on trick or treating or hanging Christmas decorations: it’s all in the intention.

Slowing the Pace in Monticello, Florida

Slow Down and Relax in Monticello, Florida

Monticello (population around 2500) is a pretty little town and all traffic managed with one rotary and two blinking traffic lights. Have I mentioned how much I like north Florida? And small towns? The historic buildings were impressive and people would wave to you as they drove past, even the firemen in their fire truck! Most of the time, though, we’d drive for a long time before encountering traffic.

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We stayed at a quiet little bed & breakfast, but there are other options, as well, since Monticello is a mere 28 miles southeast of Tallahassee. Here one has a choice of several B&Bs, hotels, motels, a KOA campground, and all-inclusive resorts, such as the Honey Lake Resort Plantation & Spa in nearby Greenville. I’ve no idea why people want to run a Bed & Breakfast establishment. It ties you down for most weekends and most owners pack it in after a few years. There are easier ways to earn a living, not to mention those quirky old houses come with hefty maintenance costs. Can you imagine what liability insurance runs on these places?

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Have I mentioned that Monticello is also considered (at least by ABC TV) to be the most haunted small town in the U.S.? Make of it what you will. I look forward to a return trip to explore the area in depth, including the not-so-well-known, such as The Elizabeth School, an African American historical site, which is not open to the public, unfortunately, but there is another historical school in the area.

We spent our first day browsing through the storefronts: antiques, hardware, gift shops, luncheonettes, and oddly enough, considering the remote location, an opera house, considered to be haunted. Had a GREAT time shopping in antique stores until one saleswoman blew my fun. I’d set some things on her counter as I shopped and she was wrapping them up. I told her to wait because I might decide to put some things back and went back to browsing. Well, wouldn’t you know, she just HAD to sing out that I was up to $77.

“Just great,” I said, “Now why in the WORLD would you go and say that in front of my husband? Now I’m gonna have to stop.” She was laughing and apologized and when she told me she’d been married for 36 years, I told her she KNEW better! Whatever became of the sisterhood of secrets?

Thunder rolled that night, but I awoke to a sunny morning:

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We headed out later that morning to check out a piece of property that we’d heard about. We drove down miles and miles of red clay roads:

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Then we drove down more roads, equally as deserted:

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After a few wrong turns, we found our road and took our chances with ruts and wet clay:

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And found a quiet spot next to the water:

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Too soon, it was time to head the T-bird for home, with hopes of a return visit one day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

Since the previous night’s entertainment had not kept me up too late, I arose early and enjoyed my cup of tea while sitting on the balcony watching the morning surfing dudes trying to catch very small waves and a grandmother supervising three youngsters, one digging a hole to China, the other two kicking the sand back in. An hour later, we went and had our free continental breakfast, otherwise known as the feeding frenzy.

Free food seems to turn people into territorial animals. One family unit commandeered one of the two available toasters, so the rest of the crowd had to wait politely while Dad cooked up each child’s bagel (or toast), then did the same for his brother’s family. One of his kids later complained about the slim pickings (3 kinds of cereal, hard boiled eggs, the usual pastries…not the fanciest, not the sparsest I’ve seen) and Dad responded (in a loud voice) that if another Democrat got the Presidency, she’d better get used to it. Lovely. Threaten your kid over breakfast.

We did not go to the usual Cocoa Beach sites, such as the Kennedy Space Center, opting instead for beach time and just one or two stops, but there are plenty of attractions on the Florida Space Coast to appeal to all tastes, from the Ron Jon Surf School to the Cocoa Beach Spa to children’s attractions, such as The Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone.

There are numerous nearby parks, including the don’t-miss Thousand Islands Conservation Area in the Indian River Lagoon. Ninety percent of the conservation space is accessible only by boat, and kayaking and canoeing are popular here. I believe the Earth Day Festival is this weekend, April 20th, from 10 AM to 3 PM, in nearby Titusville. Whether your interest lies in learning more about the Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, Buck Lake Conservation Area or the Grant Flatwoods Sanctuary, the Florida Space Coast is steeped in Florida nature and historical preservation. And, really, who wouldn’t want to check out the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary?

Even though we did not visit Cape Canaveral, I thought I’d share some images of previous space shuttle launches. Usually all I get to see are the contrails:

Shuttle's Contrail

The February 2010 launch:

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Space Shuttle February  8 2010 #4

Space Shuttle February  8 2010

We zig zagged our way home using the smaller back roads. 441 is an interesting road, lots of back country, few lights, no cars. Some orange groves, but mostly dairy land…one VERY fancy ranch (on a different state road…can’t remember which one) with giant golden statues of stallions, some reared up on back legs, front legs pawing the air, on either side of the double wrought iron gates. It was a sod ranch, so it was hard to tie horses and sod together until I settled on fertilizer.

Too soon, we were home again, dreaming of our next Florida escape!

 

Florida’s Space Coast Destination: Cocoa Beach

How to Find Peace and Solitude in Florida’s Space Coast Destination Cocoa Beach

Welcome, new readers! This blog explores varied and beautiful areas of Florida. While my emphasis is on quieter, out of the way spots, we sometimes find our solitude in crowded areas. A recent trip proved that theory true. After a stressful week, we looked forward to loading up the T-bird and heading out for a few days. Destination? The Space Coast on the east coast of Florida.

The trip up was the usual wild ride on I-4. Traffic wasn’t too awful, but there are always one or two drivers that leave you shaking your head and wondering how they’ve been able to survive this world so long. There was Mr. Lawful Citizen, messing up traffic for miles because he’s going the speed limit and is going to make the rest of us drive slow, too. He was in the middle lane, nose stuck up in the air and just so pleased with himself. Everybody had to maneuver around him. At the opposite extreme, we also shared the road with Mr. I’ve-Got-a-Big-Truck-and-Know-How-to-Use-It, who tailgated while weaving in and out of traffic, getting nowhere fast.

I also spotted a lot of people who were texting while driving, but that bad habit may soon be a thing of the past, as Florida joins 44 other states and outlaws the practice. Unfortunately, texting while driving in Florida is a secondary offense so the person must be stopped for another reason first before the driver can be charged with texting and driving.

Cocoa Beach Light Show

After stopping in Orlando to visit our son, we headed for the east coast and managed to snag a lovely suite directly on the ocean in Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately, our late departure from Orlando meant a late check-in, so our nightlife consisted of a quick trip to the poolside bar for a couple of drinks to be carried back to our room. We sat on the balcony and listened to the waves and enjoyed the feeling of chilled skin.

The entertainment came to us. Turns out our end unit overlooked the beach AND the public beach access, which turned out to be the hangout for the hip hop crowd, who opened the van doors and turned up the volume on the boom box. I thought it would be a disaster, but the music, while a bit too “new-age” for my taste, wasn’t obnoxious…some had sort of a concert sound to it…maybe it was techno…who knows?

The kids themselves weren’t loud and when they began their light show with lasers, I thought they were quite creative. They’d play the laser light over the sea grape leaves, making them look as if they sparkled, and then shine the lights over the waves or shoot them in long lines down the beach access lane. Fun to watch from six stories up and I was sad to see them move down the beach, but also glad I wasn’t going to be kept up until the wee hours of the morning.

Part Two of our visit to Brevard County will be posted tomorrow.

Other Spots of Interest in the Salt Springs Florida Vicinity

Salt Springs, Florida Tourist Attractions Off the Beaten Path

Ocala National Forest is a Florida tourist attraction as well as an oasis of solitude and offers a wide variety of activities. Salt Springs sits in its upper half, nestled between Lake Kerr and Lake George. Nighttime activities are mostly limited to hot dog roasts and star gazing unless you care to venture into a nearby bar. You will, however, find restaurants, gas stations, post office, laundry facilities and shopping in the town of Salt Springs, lest you think this might be too much wilderness for your tastes.

A quick trip to the visitor center will familiarize you with the area and offers a chance to learn about on-going efforts to protect this natural habitat from deterioration. If you’re interested in exploring the origins of Paleoindians and the days of mastodons and saber tooth tigers, this is the place for you. Nearby Welaka Maritime Museum is well-known for its hand-crafted wooden boats, but time did not allow, so it is added to our “Must See on the Return Trip” list for this magical area of Florida.

The Salt Spring Recreation Area between the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers and nearby Lake George teems with activities. The campground offers full RV hookups as well as a tent area. Salt Spring vacation rentals abound, as do homes and land for sale, for those who find this area fills their soul with peace and harmony.

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Salt Springs Activities

Approximately 82 feet wide and 25 feet deep, the spring bubbles from the west bank of the Withlacoochee River. Rising deep from underneath the earth, the natural mineral spring water is laden with potassium, magnesium and sodium, giving its name to the area: salt.

Swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear 74º (F) waters offers up glimpses into a primeval past and certified cave divers explore to their heart’s content. There is no boating or fishing allowed in the swimming pool which is lined with sidewalks and concrete walls that allow for easy access.

Others are attracted to the boating and fishing. Salt Spring, Lake George and surrounding area boat rentals are easy to find and range from paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks to power and pontoon boats. Anglers also enjoy fishing the four mile long Salt Spring Run (downstream of the swimming area and marina, of course).

For those who prefer to discover the area on foot, 1400 miles of scenic trail await you. Besides hiking, you’ll find amenities such as basketball and horseshoes.

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Life is decidedly slower in the forest and time slips away before you get your fill of nighttime bear-watching and wild flower arrangements.

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St. Augustine, FL: European in Flavor, Yet Uniquely American

St. Augustine, Florida: Sights and Sites

Rich in history as the oldest, continuously occupied settlement in the U.S., the historic district of St. Augustine is charming. Unlike Key West’s tropical island atmosphere, St. Augustine is decidedly more European in flavor. The city has wisely preserved the colonial buildings, which lean heavily on the Spanish/Moorish influence. In ways, it reminded me of a seacoast New England, with houses hard up on the cobblestone roads.

We started our explorations at The Fountain of Youth, reportedly the only freshwater spring in the area. Because Florida is very close to sea level and built on limestone, our fresh water supply comes from the aquifers that run through the soft limestone, unlike the deep artesian wells up north. The untreated water smells and tastes like rotten eggs. I’m told the hard water, full of minerals, is good for the heart. I like mine just fine after it’s been through a water softening system, thank you very much. Still, I bought 10 bottles of water in the gift shop to bring home to all my girlfriends. When I got home, I saw that, written in itty-bitty print on the side of the label, were the words: “Not For Consumption.” HUH?!?

The grounds were pleasant and the artifacts discovered over the years were fun to look at. We then went to Old Florida Museum, which is small, hands-on, and better for kids. The Old Fort, or Castillo De San Marcos, is made of coquina, a local compressed shellrock. The short history: The Spanish took the land from the Timacuan Indians, claimed all of North America as “Florida”, then left for home. The French came over and tried to take over as squatters, but the Spanish returned and drove them out. They built a fort; pirates or the English knocked it down, so the Spanish built a new fort out of coquina shell. The soft coquina walls absorbed the cannon shot from invaders, rather cracking them. At night, when the shelling stopped, the settlers would leave the fort, dig the cannon balls out of the walls and lob them back at the ships the next morning.

The lighthouse museum was our next stop, with heavy emphasis on World War Two and the story of the four Nazi spies that landed on the beach there. I loved the architecture of the lighthouse keeper’s home. Its brick basement is unusual for Florida and being so close to the shore, I was surprised it wasn’t flooded. The basement held two of the largest cisterns for rainwater that I’ve ever seen. Guess they didn’t like Ponce DeLeon’s water, either!

The afternoon was spent at the San Sebastian Winery. We bought a case. I also picked up a very cool cork remover that compresses so that you can recork the bottle. After the winery, we went shopping in the historic district, where I found a great clay urn that was perfect for the garden.

We finished the day with a lovely dinner overlooking the bayfront, then back to the hotel room for champagne and chocolate. A longer visit is in order for next time. There were a lot of sights we skipped, many museums we sighed over as we passed them by, and jazz and coffee bars left unexplored.