Nabbed a relatively good nights sleep under the canopy of trees in the sandy, free-style parking lot of a very cool restaurant on a canal, and drove closer to St. Augustine’s historic downtown in early morning. What a great town! The historic area doesn’t really come alive until around 10 a.m. and I was walking around the streets by 8 a.m., so got to see it before the mobs arrived. The age of the buildings and their excellent condition made it feel like a movie set, but the truth is these are the actual buildings that were originally built over three hundred years ago in the United States’ first city!
The streets are narrow and the buildings are butted up right next to each other. The oldest wooden school house in the U.S. is small and has no playground or yard around it to speak of at all. The Grist Mill is right across the street from it, and a brewery is just another block away. Everything was right next to each other, all within walking distance and a radius of less than a tenth of a mile.
While walking around I learned of some of the sights to see – Ripley’s Believe it Or Not building, Castillo de San Marcos (fortress of San Marcos), the Colonial Spanish Quarter, and the 72′ tallship Schooner “Freedom”. There’s also a Thomas Kinkade Gallery of Light, the Ghosts and Gravestones Night Tour by Trolley, Haunted Pub Tours, helicopter tours, eco-tours, scenic boat cruises, hearse rides – you name it, it’s here!
There are lots of ghost and haunting and paranormal tours and stories here, most likely due to the amazing number of back-and-forth wars beneath Spain and England for ownership of Florida, with St. Augustines’ fort (Castillo de San Marcos) taking the brunt of the force. It held amazingly well as it was made out of coquina (Ko-KEE-na) which was a locally quaried soft shellrock. It took 23 years for the fort to be constructed and was completed in 1695. In 1702,
English troops from South Carolina besieged the fort for fifty days, but since the 1500 Spanish citizens stayed in the fort and refused to surrender, the British finally burned the town of St. Augustine to the ground. All the buildings now standing are no older than 1702, though the town first originated in 1565.
Ponce de Leon, the intrepid Spanish explorer, had discovered Florida and claimed it for Spain in 1513. During his search for the Fountain of Youth, he found springs as the St. Augustine area that he thought were therapeutic, and there is now a sight-seeing attraction called the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine.
After steeping myself in the history of time long ago, I suddenly became aware of the present time – I needed to hit the road and head north to Brunswick, Georgia, where I would spend Thanksgiving with new sailboating friends I’d not yet met :)) At a marina I had still to locate, on a waterway, somewhere….