History in St. Augustine

Explore impressive art, imposing forts, centuries-old architecture and iconic sites

October 3, 2013
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Nicknamed the “Old City” or “Ancient City,” St. Augustine is a mosaic of historic people, places and events.

The oldest European settlement in the U.S., St. Augustine was discovered in 1565 – 42 years before the Jamestown colony in Virginia and 55 years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Its name comes from the day it was discovered, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine.

Start by sampling the water from the Fountain of Youth, one of St. Augustine’s oldest sites, located in the area first explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. It’s been the site of archaeological excavation for 80 years. Revived and ready, set out for an exploration of the city’s remarkable past.

Rich, Colorful History

St. Augustine has been home to several cultures – Native American, Spanish, British, French, African – and plenty of characters, from pirates to tycoons and millionaires. It is also home to many historical landmarks that have been preserved over the years. One of the most significant structures of St. Augustine’s heritage is the Castillo de San Marcos, a military fort built by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695 from coquina, a shell rock indigenous to the area. It has been under the rule of the Spanish, the British and the United States.

Located two miles north of the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mose (pronounced MO-SAY) was the first free black town in the U.S. and guarded the north access to St. Augustine. Destroyed in 1740 during an attack between England and Spain, the historic site is now a state park.

Flagler’s Legacy

Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil, developed St. Augustine as a winter resort area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of his notable structures is the Ponce de Leon Hotel, one of three he built in St. Augustine and the only one to survive the Great Depression. It is now the site of Flagler College. Tour Flagler to admire the Spanish Renaissance architecture and the stunning main lobby with an 80-foot domed ceiling.

A second Flagler hotel, the Hotel Alcazar, now houses the City of St. Augustine offices and the Lightner Museum, which features the collection of Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner, including Victorian art glass, musical instruments, costumes, furnishings and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

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