If traveling to Jacksonville and St Augustine, read the Florida History section on this website.
St Augustine –
St Augustine on the eastern Atlantic Ocean side of the Florida Peninsula is considered the oldest Spanish settlement in the United States, with the settlement first established on August 28th 1565 when 600 soldiers and settlers first arrived here from Spain under the command of Admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles (1519-1574).
The site was also the existing Timucuan Indian village of ‘Seloy’. The name, St Augustine was named in honor of Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the settlers were accompanied by Father Lopez de Mendoza Grajales and three other Franciscan brothers. There is a statue of Father Lopez de Mendoza Grajales at 27 Ocean Avenue.
St Augustine makes the claim to be the first town on the basis that it has been “continuously settled”, whereas Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico makes its claim on the fact that in August 1559 a Spanish settlement was established there, but by September the same year, the settlement was destroyed by a hurricane, and while a small military presence was maintained until 1561, it was then abandoned completely and it would not be until 1698 that the Spanish returned to establish a town again.
St Augustine certainly has a lot of history – involving battles, forts, pirates, wars, the city being burnt down, Spanish, Timucuan, Slaves and runaways slaves, British, French, Minorcans, Union and American forces and so a lot of amazing stories and history comes to life here in the old cobble stone streets in St Augustine.
One of the most beautiful sights to see is the Bridge of Lions, with its two Italian Carrera Marble Lions guarding the western entrance to the Bridge. The bridge provides a fitting entranceway to the old city of St Augustine, connecting the city with Anastasia Island and its beaches. With the lions on one end, classic archways, and four towers at the center where the two cantilevered bridge sections open to allow boats with high masts to pass under the bridge, it makes for a great photo from the water or land.
If you enjoy Golf, there is a spectacular golf course and the World Golf Hall of Fame and museum located just north of St Augustine off 1-95 Exit 323 on International Golf Parkway. The Golf Museum, course and club facilities are all built as a circle around a Lake in the Center – a truly world class facility. See www.worldgolfvillage.com Tel: 877 888 2002.
Anastasia Park on Anastasia Island – is where the St Augustine Amphitheatre is located. This is a stage for big music events during the year, so worth checking to see what is happening when you’re in town. It is located at 1340 c A1A South. Anastasia Island is about 14 miles long and 1 mile wide, and here you can see the old Fort Castillo de San Marcos, follow walking trails, head to 4 miles of sandy beaches, camp, windsurf, see hammock forests, canoe or kayak and just enjoy seeing wildlife and nature.
Old St Augustine is a very walkable city to see a lot of the History and there are certainly a lot of places to see. These are some of them –
- St George Street – this is the oldest street in St Augustine. Here you will find a number of historic buildings, including the Bull & Crown Pub and at #33 the entrance to the Colonial Quarter (see www.colonialquarter.com) with walkways around the 2 acre grounds where you will find a watchtower, blacksmith’s shop, musket drills, see cannons, and much more. It is a great way to get a feel for St Augustine’s history. They are also building a ‘caravel’ – a replica of a 50 feet long wooden boat used by the Spanish to first explore the Florida coastline in the 1600’s. Also look for the central ‘Plaza de la Constitution’ where there is an Obelisk in the Plaza.
- Fort Castillo de San Marcos – 1 South Castillo Drive. This is a massive fortification built in 1695 in stone and covering an area of around 20.5 acres. Tel: 904 829 6506 See www.nps.gov/casa While it is not the first fort to be built here, the earlier ones being built from logs of wood, this is the one that survived attack and can still be seen today.
- Fort Malanzas National Monument – 8635 A1A South. Stands next to the river. See www.nps.gov/foma Tel: 904 471 0116. There is also a Visitor Center here too, with stories about the Fort and its history.
- Mission of Nombre de Dios & Shrine – 27 Ocean Avenue. Tel: 904 824 2809. See www.missionandshrine.org Here you can see the Mission grounds, museum and shrine with original documents and religious artefacts that date back to the very first days of the Spanish settlement in St Augustine. Definitely worth seeing.
- Fort Mose and the Village of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa – dates from 1738. The original fort was built from wooden logs but no longer exists. This fort was the home of runaway slaves who had run away from the British and American slave owners in Georgia and South Carolina, seeking to gain their freedom in Spanish controlled ‘La Florida’. If the slaves agreed to become Spanish citizens and Catholics, they were able to become free. The journey from the plantations to freedom was however extremely dangerous, and if caught by their plantation slave owner, death or floggings were an inevitable punishment. See www.fortmose.org Fort Mose is now a 40 acre parkland – popular for birding and there is a museum and Visitor Center located here to tell more of the history.
- St Augustine Lighthouse and Museum – 100 Red Cox Road. See www.staugustinelighthouse.com The lighthouse was built in 1871 and has great views from the top, and also interesting tours to see and learn about ship wrecks, pirates and other stories.
- St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum – 12 S. Castillo Drive. Tel: 877 467 5863 See www.thepiratemuseum.com This is the place to learn about pirates and their treasures.
- Lightner Museum – 75 King St. Tel: 904 824 2874. See www.lightnermuseum.org This has an amazing collection of antiquities and 19th century furniture and glassware. Some items are absolutely stunning, so well worth the time to come here. Check out the gilded gold rocking chair. Incredible.
- Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse – 14 St George Street. Tel: 1 888 653 7245. See www.oldestwoodenschoolhouse.com This one room schoolhouse dates back to around 1700. The classroom was on the ground floor and the schoolmaster’s living quarters were above it with the kitchen in a separate building and also a privy (Toilet) outside too. There is also a pecan nut tree in the grounds, said to be about 250 years old, and also a large chain that wraps around the school, designed to stop the school being blown away if a hurricane came by.
- Oldest House (Gonzalez-Alverez House) – this is located at 14 Francis Street, and built in the 1700’s. The Historical Society opens the house to the public, so have lots of good information about the house, the museum artefacts and gardens that are here.
- O’Reilly House – 131 Aviles Street. This is a small house museum originally the house of Father Miguel O’Reilly, and said also to be on the site of the ‘oldest house’. Following the Civil War, French nuns of the Sisters of St Joseph ran a school here to teach former Slaves who had been freed following the Civil War. Also at 20 Aviles Street see the Ximenez Fatio House Museum in a grand two storey building.
- Spanish Military Hospital Museum – 3 Aviles Street. Tel: 904 342 7730. See www.spanishmilitaryhospitalmuseum.com If you remember the poem of William Wordsworth called “The Leech Gatherer” you might recall that ‘leeches’ were used to suck bad blood from people. Leeches are in fact still used today on some bad wounds as a means of cleaning them. Here in the museum you can learn about leeches, and also see how the sick were treated in the early days.
- Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine – 38 Cathedral Place. See www.thefirstparish.org . The Catholic Church and the Franciscan Fathers can trace their history here in St Augustine right back to 1565, but this Cathedral was built in 1887, earlier churches having been destroyed by fire.
- Flagler College – 74 King Street. Tel: 800 304 4208 See www.flagler.edu The College is named after Henry R. Flagler (see Florida History) and was once the Hotel Ponce de Leon. It is now a Liberal Arts College, but has a number of historic buildings on-site, including the old hotel, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Also on campus are the Molly Wiley Art Building, Markland House (built in 1839) and the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum.
- Old St Johns County Jail – 167 San Marco Avenue. Tel: 904 829 3800 This Jail was used for prisoners between 1891 and 1953. The Jail was constructed to look like a classic home to disguise it from looking like a jail. It was built by P.J Pauley Jail Company, the same company that built the notorious Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.
- Old Florida Museum – 259 San Marco Avenue. Tel: 904 824 8874. See www.oldfloridamuseum.com The museum showcases some of the ways that people lived in the early days, and here you can learn about spinning yarn, working a loom, grinding corn and building a wattle fence among other activities.
- Ripley’s Odditorium – 19 St Marco Avenue. See www.ripleys.com This has lots of quirky and squeamish oddities to see.
- Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park – 11 Magnolia Avenue. Tel: 904 829 3168. See www.fountainofyouthflorida.com The historic park covers an area of 15 acres on the waterfront next to the Matanzas River. The park is named after the ‘Fountain of Youth’ that the Spanish thought existed somewhere in this area. Did they find it? Right here in the Park is a small spring inside a stone building. Perhaps this is it. In the early days of Spanish exploration, the main thing they were looking for was gold and treasures to take back with them to Spain. There were many rumours, stories of great wealth to be found, and one such story was that there was a ‘Fountain of Youth’ that those who drank from it would have eternal youth. Take a drink from this spring, and maybe you will indeed have eternal youth. There is also a Timucua Burial ground here and a statue of Ponce de Leon where he is thought to have landed in 1513.
- St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park – 999 Anastasia Boulevard. Tel: 904 824 3337. See www.alligatorfarm.com . This farm dates back to 1893 and has been operating ever since that time. Today you can even Zipline across the top of the Alligators.
- Abbott Tract Historic District – around Pine, St Marco and Shenandoah Avenues.
- Model Land Company Historic District – around Ponce de Leon Boulevard, King, Cordova and Orange Street.
- King Street – see # 48 (Government House), #74 (Hotel Ponce de Leon), #79 (Alcazar Hotel),# 83 (Villa Zorayda ), #93 ½ (Xavier Lopez House), # 102 (Markland),
- Fullerwood Park Historic District – bounded on north by Hildreth Drive and on the south by Macaris Street.
- Nelmar Terrace Historic District – Alfred St, San Carlos Avenue, San Marcos Avenue.
- North City Historic District – Castillo Drive.
- Old Town Trolley Tours – See www.oldtowntrolleytours.com/st-augustine . This is a hop-on- hop-off open sided tour trolley that stops at the main tourist locations, with an on-board commentary too.
- Red Train Tours – See www.ripleys.com/redtrain This hop-on-hop off tour has been running for many years and also takes you to the main tourist points of interest.
TOURS – of the waterways
St Augustine is almost surrounded by water with the rivers, wetlands, saltpans and ocean all here. There are the historic locations, bird watching, fishing, dolphin spotting, beaches, islands all here and a number of companies can either take you on tours or hire a boat or kayak for you. These are some of the companies offering these services –
Head to 111 Avenida Menendez for tickets
- Black Raven Pirate Ship –Tel: 904 826 0000 See www.blackravenadventures.com
- Captain Jack’s Ghost Boat Tours – Tel: 904 496 6550 See www.ghostboattour.com
- St Augustine Scenic Cruise – Tel: 904 824 1806 See www.scenic-cruise.com
- Schooner Freedom Charters – Tel: 904 810 1010 See www.schoonerfreedom.com
- St Augustine ECO Tours – Tel: 904 377 7245 See www.staugustineecotours.com
Certainly if you like history and want to get to know more about the United States and the story of how the country all came together, St Augustine is a great place to discover and learn more about it. The great beaches just minutes away, tropical climate, waterways, shopping, golf courses, restaurants and hotels all make it a good place to stay and enjoy.
Jacksonville is just 42 miles north of St Augustine and located at the mouth of the St John’s River, just a little way inland from the Atlantic Ocean where there are many great beaches up and down the coastline. They call the city “the River City” due to the importance placed on the River and Port, with the port used as a large cargo port for cars and other goods coming into or leaving Florida. The river itself is the longest in Florida, with eight bridges crossing over it in Jacksonville, with the most prominent being the Acosta Bridge, which at night is lit up with blue neon lights. The River is big but flows slowly, with Jacksonville itself just 40 feet above sea level. Fishing, windsurfing and boating are popular, and ferries cross the river from
The city has a population of around 820,000 people, but in the wider city over a million people and like many American cities, Jacksonville has sprawled outwards from its center creating a large suburbia. Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) is around 12 miles from the City Center, with limos, taxis, shuttle buses and rental cars available.
The original inhabitants of the area were Timucua Indian tribes – Mocama, Saturiwa and Utina tribal groups, and in 1513 the Spanish under the command of Admiral Ponce de Leon claimed all of ‘La Florida’ in the name of Spain.
While Spain claimed all of ‘La Florida’ as their territory, a group of Huguenot French Christians in 1562 led by a French Naval Officer, Jean Ribault sailed from France to the St John’s River with the intention of establishing a settlement there. After assessing the site, they decided on a new site further north in Georgia, naming their new settlement, Charlesfort. They would remain there until 1564, abandoning Charlesfort and returning to the St John’s River, where they built a log timber fort, naming it ‘Fort Caroline’.
In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles established the Spanish settlement at St Augustine. A battle on sea and land between the French and Spanish ensued (See Florida History section on website), with the Spanish triumphing and most of the French, including Jean Ribault were either killed in battle or hung for their crimes. It is said that this was mainly because they were Heretics (being Huguenots) and not Catholics, and Fort Caroline was renamed as Fort San Mateo. Further confrontation between the French Huguenots and Spanish would also occur in 1568, when the Fort was burnt down, but then the Spanish rebuilt it then abandoned it in 1569, rebuilding a new Fort, naming it ‘Fort St Nicolas’.
The settlement remained under Spanish control until 1763, then British for the next 20 years until 1783 who named it ‘Cowford’, returning to Spain that year where it would remain Spanish territory until 1821 when ‘La Florida’ was sold by the Spanish to the United States. They in turn named the town ‘Jacksonville’ in honor of General Andrew Jackson.
During the Civil War, Florida was one of the 13 states forming the Confederate States of America, and Jacksonville played an important as a port for supplies of food to the Confederate States. Union forces tried to blockade the port, and Jacksonville see-sawed in control between the two sides, with Union forces ultimately gaining control of Jacksonville . The Battle of Olustee on February 20th, 1864 to the west of Jacksonville was one of the most deadly in the Civil War with the Confederates winning this 5 hour battle, but with large numbers of casualties on both sides. Both sides employed around 5000 troops, and on the Union side there were 202 deaths, 1152 wounded and 506 missing, while the Confederates also suffered large losses too, with 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. Today you can visit the site of the battle at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park- 50 miles west of Jacksonville off Exit 1-10 off US 90. In Jacksonville itself you can see more about the Civil War at the MOSH Museum of Science and History (See www.themosh.org 1025 Museum Circle in the City Center near the Southbank Riverwalk. Also for collectibles – see Uncle Davey’s Civil War Antiques & Collectibles at 6140 St Augustine Rd (See www.uncledaveys.com Tel: 904 730 8932)
The Civil War had been fought over the issue of Slavery and territorial control, and Florida had been a slave state from its very beginnings, though African Slaves were treated quite differently under Spanish as opposed to British and American Rule and Laws. Under Spanish Law, Slaves could earn their freedom, own property once freed and had rights under a ‘Task system’ – where once they completed the ‘tasks’ for the day, they were then free to work for themselves, whereas under the British and American systems slaves were considered property – ‘goods and chattels’ to be bought and sold, with almost no rights.
There were certainly good plantations, slave masters and Slave traders and bad ones too; ones who taught and trained their slaves in the many skills that are needed in life and ones who didn’t. African Slaves also brought with them their own stories, music, language and skills too in building, trades, agriculture and labour, and much of the South was built using their labour. There are literally hundreds of thousands of stories that have emerged from the days of Slavery.
‘History’ is both a simple yet complex story of people, politics, religion, race, class systems, power, sex, morals, criminal behaviour, beliefs, economics, laws, doctrines, disease, natural disasters, economic prosperity, fortunes and misfortunes, rights and wrongs and it is the interplay of all these good and bad stories that become history over time, and while in many ways we don’t recognize it, history is happening and evolving every day.
Here in Jacksonville there is a lot of history, and one of the places you should try and visit is the Kingsley Plantation in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve on Fort George Island.
The Preserve covers an area of around 46,000 acres of land, woods, wetlands, waterways, salt marshes and while most people come here for the fishing, nature walks and baoating there are also a number of historic sites to see. The Preserve is named in respect to the Timucuan people who originally inhabited this whole area prior to the first Europeans arriving on their shores, with shell middens (mounds of shells) now the only marker to their civilisation being here. The French Huguenots also built Fort de la Caroline here and a monument marks the spot. There are also the remnants of San Juan del Puerto – the Spanish Mission.
Most interesting of all is the Kingsley Plantation – a plantation owned by a Quaker, Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. (1765-1843) born in Bristol England, who at age five emigrated with his family to South Carolina. His father, Zephaniah Kingsley Sr. then sent his son to be educated in England, and he only returned to Charleston, South Carolina in 1793. The name ‘Zephaniah’ comes from the ‘Book of Zephaniah’ in the Old Testament.
Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. became a merchant, shipping and slave trader, slave smuggler as well as plantation owner, not only having a large number of slaves, but also marrying a 13 year old slave girl, Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley (1783-1870) and also having 3 other African Slave wives too, and raising 9 children. He had bought Anna in Cuba, but she was born in Senegal, and married her in Cuba, and while he was able to petition the Spanish authorities to free Anna and her children from Slavery, his marriage to her was not recognized by the Spanish, though following his death, she was able to claim property rights. Under American Law, Inter-racial marriage was forbidden.
There is a lot more to this whole story, but today at the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island you can see the original Plantation home (built 1797-1798) almost certainly using slave labour, the separate kitchen, barn and 25 Slave Cabins. These buildings were built using what is called ‘Cement Tabby’ – with sand from the river and the lime needed coming from shells taken from the shell middens left behind by the Timucuan and fired in a kiln. If you look closely at the ‘cement tabby’ you will be able to see small pieces of shell in the mortar. I am not sure if there is a connection between a ‘Tortoise Shell Cat’ and the description of the cat as a ‘Tabby’, but maybe there is.
By way of interest, in Sydney Australia, the first buildings also used a lime mortar, the lime coming from Aboriginal shell middens and also fired in kilns, in the same way as it was done here on Fort George Island. The Kingsley Plantation is located at 11676 Palmetto Avenue in the northern end of Fort George Island. Tel: 904 251 3537.
The Fort Caroline Memorial is also located on the island too at 12713 Fort Caroline Rd (Tel: 904 641 7155). The whole park is managed by the NPS (National Park Service).
Also on the island is the Ribault Club Golf Course and a clubhouse that dates back to the 1920’s when it was a private club for members. There is a visitor Center here too (Tel: 904 251 1050) and behind the club there are hire facilities for Kayaks, canoes and small boats.
Today Jacksonville has a population of 820,000 people, and over a million people in the greater Jacksonville area. Of these roughly 60% are white, 30% African American, 8% Hispanic and just 0.1% are Native American.
There are a number of places to see in Jacksonville and these are some of them –
- Hemming Plaza – is located in the center of the City. The Plaza was once the Village Green, with the Courthouse and City Hall located nearby. There are a number of galleries in the area too, the most notable one being the MOCA.
- St John’s River and the waterways and beaches that run up and down the coastline – are all center stage attractions in Jacksonville, with boardwalks and waterways renowned for their birds with lots of inlets and bays to explore by boat.
- Also head to or stay in Jacksonville Beach and also Atlantic Beach with its miles of sandy beaches. Jacksonville Beach has the 1000 feet long pier that heads out into the ocean , a favorite place for people to walk along or fish from.
- The Riverside-Avondale district has around 5000 historic homes located here. A visit to the Avondale and Riverside districts will give you a feel for old Jacksonville, with nice houses, shops and restaurants located here too. Look for King Street, Five Points in St John’s Avenue. They also have a Trolley bus that runs along a set route, but it only runs about once a month on a weekend, though this may change.
- Jacksonville Landing – 2. W. Independent Drive is a shopping center next to St John’s River. The shops are located around the open square with fountains and open air seating to just sit and enjoy the ambience. Also located here is the Jacksonville Maritime Museum. See www.jacksonvillemaritimeheritagecenter.org Tel: 904 355 1101.
- Riverside Walkways are located on north and south sides of the River – overlooking the River, boats and just walking along the Riverside Walkways is a great way to feel the vibe of the City.
- The Friendship Fountain – 1015 Museum Cir. – The Fountains have changing colored lights at night and are located on the west side of Downtown almost directly opposite the Wells Fargo high rise building on the other side of the river. When it was built in 1941, the Friendship Fountain was the biggest in the world. This is a good place to take photos too.
- River Cruise – see www.jaxrivercruises.com Tel: 904 306 2200 located at 1840 Perry Place.
- Kayak Hire – see www.kayakamelia.com 13030 Heckscher Drive. Tel: 904 251 0016. They also hire Segways too for guided tours of St George Island.
- Water Taxi – see www.jaxwatertaxi.com Tel: 904 630 2489 The Taxis operate more like a ferry service and leave from Jackson Landing on the Northside and from Friendship Fountain on the Southside. Also see www.jaxrivertaxi.com
- Jacksonville Beach Bike, Scooter, Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals – see www.bikescootoryakjax.com Tel: 904 595 7279 located at 1100 Shetter Ave, Suite 101 Jacksonville Beach.
- MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art – 333 N. Laura Street. See www.mocajacksonville.org Tel: 904 366 6911. The museum has one of the biggest contemporary art collections in the southern states.
- Museum of Science and History – Southbank Riverwalk, 1025 Museum Circle. See www.themosh.org The museum has changing exhibitions and a planetarium too.
- Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens – 829 Riverside Avenue. See www.cummer.org This Museum has European and American Paintings, as well as a special collection of Meissen Porcelain. The museum is set in a 2 ½ acre garden that dates back to 1903, with pools, arbors and a 150 feet high old oak tree.
- Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens – 370 Zoo Parkway (at the mouth of the Trout River). See www.jacksonvillezoo.org Tel: 904 757 4463. The Zoo covers 110 acres and first opened in 1914 and today has around 2000 animals to see from African animals to sea lions, frogs and a whole lot more.
- Cattyshack Sanctuary – 1860 Starratt Rd. See www.cattyshack.org Tel: 904 757 3603. A sanctuary for lions, tigers, leopards, and other big cats. It is opens at night too, when the big cats are most active.
- Jacksonville Fire Museum – 1406 Gator Bowl Boulevard tel: 904 630 0618 See www.jacksonvillefiremuseum.com
- Florida Theater – (for movies) 128 E. Forsyth Street first opened in 1927 and today shows the latest movies. See www.floridatheater.com
- Times Union Center for the Performing Arts – 300 water Street Tel: 904 633 6110. See www.jacksonville-broadway.com and www.artistseriesjax.org
- SPORT – Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena – 300 A.Phillip Randolph Boulevard. Tel: 904 630 3900. See www.jacksonvillearena.com This Arena is where the Dolphins Basketball Team play, with the Arena able to seat up to 15,000 people. For Jacksonville Jaguars Football team matches, see www.jaxevents.com . They play at Everbank Stadium, 1 Everbank Field Drive. Tel: 904 633 6100 Also see www.jaguars.com Everbank Stadium is also used for concerts and other big events too, so worth checking to see what’s on when you’re here.
- Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park – 500 Wonderwood Drive, Atlantic Beach. This is a great beach to head to on the ocean side, with fishing, kayaking, picnic spots, camping possible, 20 miles of trails and 60 acres of lake area on the lake side of the Park.
- Little Talbot Island State Park – 12157 Heckscher Drive, about 17 miles NE of Jacksonville on the A1A. This is just one of the many parks that are around the Jacksonville area. This island covers an area of around 2500 acres, with beaches, hiking trails, good campsites and facilities, with lots of birds to see too.