St. Augustine, Florida is definitely a place that I visited both before and after 1977. I went there with my parents in the 1970s (and maybe visited it with my mom, aunt, and uncle in the late 1960s if memory serves) and in 1989 and then, for good measure, I made a return visit with my now-ex-husband in 1992.
In the United States, most people makes a big deal out of the Mayflower, like it is the very beginning of United States history. I’ve even read a (pretty bad) young adult book in which the protagonist’s love interest is supposedly a descendant of Mayflower immigrants, as if that made him royalty or something along those lines. As a result, it made a real impression on me when I was told that St. Augustine was the “oldest city” in the United States. That is, of course, an oversimplification, since St. Augustine is technically the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States. The Native Americans had cities long before the Europeans got here.
St. Augustine got its name because the coast of Florida was first sighted by the settlers of the area on August 28, 1565. August 28 is the feast day of St. Augustine. If they’d been running a day earlier, the city would be named “Santa Monica,” and if they’d been a day later, I don’t know what they would have named it, since August 29 is the Feast Day of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. Maybe they just would have gone with “San Juan de Bautista,” or “San Juan” for short. Spanish settlers did this a lot. I live in a city that was named for the day that the missionaries met the local Coahuiltecan tribe, the Payaya,
There are, as one would expect, a lot of historical buildings in St. Augustine, though no wooden buildings older than 1702, because the British burned the city in that year. There is the “Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse,” which is not actually the oldest at all, since the actual oldest schoolhouse in existence in the United States, to our ability to determine, is on Staten Island and is roughly 20 years older than the St. Augustine schoolhouse.
It was always kind of a thrill to walk down the streets of St. Augustine and think about how this is as old as it gets (in terms of permanent European settlements at least) in the United States. Probably the most interesting building to visit, as far as I am concerned, is the Castillo de San Marcos, which presumably was founded on or around April 25, the Feast Day of St. Mark the Evangelist. The Castillo de San Marcos is older than 1702, since it was built of coquina, a sedimentary rock formed of shells bonded together, and thus it survived the 1702 fire.
Some of the most memorable buildings of St. Augustine are comparatively modern. In the late 1800s a tycoon by the name of Henry Flagler moved to St. Augustine. He commissioned a number of elaborate buildings which are there to this day. Among the buildings he commissioned are the Ponce de Leon Hotel (which is now home to Flagler College), the Alcazar Hotel (now the Lightner Building, containing a museum and the St. Augustine City Hall), and the Memorial Presbyterian Church (which is still a church).
Author’s Note: I wrote this and queued it up for June 26, then remembered bits and pieces of another place I’ve been, farther north in Florida than St. Augustine: Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, Florida. I don’t really remember much about it, though. I remember a building with a colonnaded porch (the museum, apparently), trees covered with Spanish moss, and my mom explaining that the correct name of the river is “Suwannee” and not “Swanee.” That last is how I came to be pretty sure that the park I remember is the one in Florida and not the Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia. The river looks closer to the Florida park than it does to the Georgia one. I also cannot see any buildings with columns in any photographs of the Georgia park.
(originally posted June 26, 2015)