Day 3 of our Valentine’s Weekend Getaway | St. Augustine, FL | Saturday, February 13, 2016
Today was our first full day actually vacationing in Florida. We rose early and drove into town to “beat the crowds” as we decided was best the previous day. We were able to get good 3 hour parking on a street near Flagler College, and so we started our walking tour here. The city has a trolley system that I read online is very convenient and takes you to all the must-see attractions, but of course dogs aren’t allowed so we just did our own thing. We were most interested in hitting the free attractions, but had a few pay-per-person places we knew we could visit with Charlotte if we needed something more to do. The weather was beautiful and we were excited to spend the day getting to know a new city.
So why did we decide to spend our first trip to Florida in St. Augustine? Well first off, it’s in our 350 mile radius where we can wander freely, so instead of requesting to get out of that we’re going as far as we can around it. Second, we had heard that St. Augustine was the “oldest perpetually occupied town in the continental US”, and since we love visiting historical sites, we thought that this place would be filled with that. As it turned out, the city happened to be a lot more touristy and had a lot less historical attractions than we would have liked, but we were able to find parts that we did really like.
We began our day with walking through Flagler College, a small liberal arts school with really cool architecture for the few buildings it had. We made a quick detour to check out the Memorial Presbyterian Church – a big, architecturally beautiful church with a dome and stained glass windows – and then wandered through some parks checking out memorials, historical plaques, churches, and the Cathedral. We then headed North on Charlotte Street (hey that’s our dog!) so that we could visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument – another cool giant fort!
Dogs are only allowed on the grounds and not on the inside of the fort, so I handed off my camera to Curtis and let him go through and take his time on the inside while Charlotte and I explored the grounds and then walked along the Matanzas River. Curtis easily spent an hour inside exploring and learning, so here I will have him share the history of this fort!
Many may know that the Spanish claimed Florida in the early 16th Century. But then after that, its history is a bit vague and then sometime after the War of 1812, America bought it from the Spanish. Or at least that’s about all I knew going into Florida
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon “found” Florida (he likely wasn’t actually the first to discover it, just the first official and recorded expedition) and named it “The Place of Flowers”. Due to its location near the Gulf Stream, it was a very strategic place for the Spanish Empire. Ships would leave Spain, follow the Canary Current south past the Canary Isles, cross the Atlantic on the North Equatorial Current ending up in the Caribbean, conduct their business and then follow the Gulf Stream up between the East Coast of Florida and the Bahamas and follow the Stream home.
However it wasn’t until 1565 that any type of permanent settlement was established. Then, St. Augustine was founded, making it the oldest perpetually occupied town in the Continental United States.
St. Augustine then served as a launching point for Spain’s rather unsuccessful attempt at colonizing the American Southeast. In reality, it served as a supply point for military expeditions against the French and eventually the British and was for all intent and purposes the Northern-most point of the Spanish American Empire (though I suppose Santa Fe may be further North).
In 1672, following an English raid on the town, the Spanish upped their fortifications and built the Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest masonry fort in the US). This is the Fort that pitted the Spanish against the English during those wars I spoke of previously.
In Queen Anne’s War, the British came down from the Carolina’s (burning what little settlements there were in Georgia) and laid siege to St. Augustine, burning the town but being foiled by the Fort. In the War of Jenkins Ear, Oglethorpe came down and laid siege to the town but was again foiled by the Fort.
Interestingly, because of all of these wars and sieges, the fort is pretty much the only existing structure in St. Augustine that dates before the 1700’s. What’s more is that whereas in Georgia and at Fort Frederica Britain and the Georgians were painted as the “good guys”; here in Florida, Oglethorpe is a marauding villain and aggressor. Just another interesting facet of war.
Following the French Indian War (which Spain was part of although there was little fighting done in Florida) Spain lost control of Havana Cuba to the British. Since Havana is apparently pretty important, Spain traded control of Havana for the entirety of Florida (which included the entirety of Florida as well as the southern halves of Mississippi and Alabama). Arguably one of the best real estate deals ever (right up there with the Louisiana Purchase). After the trade however, almost everyone (including the free-blacks at Fort Mose) left Florida for Cuba.
The British created the Colonies of East and West Florida, both of which were very much low population and frontier colonies, such that, when the Intolerable Acts were issued, Florida remained largely unaffected and thus loyal to the crown through the Revolution.
Too bad for them, because when Britain lost the war, Spain (for “helping”) was given Florida, again. But the Spanish population did not return. Rather, the always expansive Americans kept pushing in to backwoods regions of the colony and defying Spanish rule. So much so that they eventually created a free republic out of sections of West Florida which was eventually annexed by President Madison.
Finally, during the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson led many excursions into Florida during the Seminole War, essentially militantly taking control of the rest of Florida. Eventually, Spain got the message and sold Florida to the US for 5 million dollars and rights to parts of Texas.
But what of St. Augustine and the Castillo? After Oglethorpe’s assault, the town saw very little military action outside a few marauders here and there. During the British rule, the Fort was “renamed” Fort St. Mark (literally the same thing). And after it passed to US control (and renamed Fort Marion), it served as more of a prison for Native Americans captured during various Indian Wars in the South East and later the West including members of Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache Warriors.
While we were there, they had a canon firing demonstration. Charlotte and I were able to watch from the ground as Curtis watched from within the fort. Charlotte was more startled this time than she was at Fort Pulaski, but that’s because she had no idea it was coming since we were so far away. She was distracted by a lizard hanging out on the wall. We ran around and played on a green space, walked along the river, got belly rubs from tourists, and were scared of horses. (Well, just Charlotte on those last two 😉 ) Over all, even though we weren’t allowed to tour together, the fort itself was our favorite part of St. Augustine.
We made our way back to our car, walking down St. George Street, a road that’s closed off to vehicles so there’s people all over. The houses and buildings were built to look historic, but they were all shops, restaurants, and other touristy places – not exactly our scene, so we picked up the pace to get out of there. Once back at the car, we decided to drive to the Mission of Nombre de Dios to search for a letterbox series. Now it was past noon, and traffic both with pedestrians on the sidewalks and cars in the streets were heavy, but thankfully we were easily able to find parking at the mission, and parking and touring the mission were free! We enjoyed walking along the path and being as stealthy as we could while searching for the boxes. We were able to find maybe half of the many boxes hidden, and we were willing to accept that given the traffic of people and the multiple attempts made at some of our strikeouts. We also saw the “Great Cross” – a giant free standing cross.
Next, we headed North to Vilano Beach to find some letterboxes, metal detect, and go for a nice beach walk. We were the only ones for as far as we could see, which was a relief after being surrounded by people all day. The beach itself was pretty cool – there were parts where it was completely covered by little shells. Beautiful, yet painful for bare feet! We found both the letterboxes, and then Curtis was trying to do some metal detecting but Charlotte started acting out. After trying to discipline her and talking to her multiple times about her behavior, we finally gave up and decided to head back to the hotel. Not even 2 minutes after getting back on the road, she was fast asleep. Conclusion: We don’t need toddlers to have to experience the stress or embarrassment that comes when your child throws a temper tantrum in public. Charlotte makes sure we don’t miss out on any of that drama!
I know this post is getting long, but to wrap up our day, I need to share one last story: The story of how we came to find some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had in the middle of nowhere.
It started as we were driving back to our hotel. Maybe 3-4 miles out, traffic suddenly became very backed up. I checked my phone, and it looked like there was an accident or something. There wasn’t really any other way to get to our hotel, so we stuck it out and inched along with the rest of traffic. We assumed it was related to the interstate and thought that once we got past that, we’d be fine to get to our hotel, which was just a few blocks West of the interstate on the right. Because of that, we were in the left lane, which seemed to be moving faster, thinking that we could easily get over after the interstate.
However, it turned out that we were wrong – traffic was still just as backed up around and after the interstate. We were a bit confused at first because we couldn’t remember there being much after our hotel, but then we realized – there was an outlet mall. That’s right, traffic was backed up for at least 4 miles for people who were going to the outlet mall. THIS is why we dislike touristy areas, THIS is why we go out of our way to stay away from people. Oh, and the annoying thing is, this outlet mall had 2 official entrances, yet everyone was only going for the first one, causing more of a backup. We were finally getting close to our hotel, but no one would let us in to the right lane. Not wanting to back up traffic in the left lane (and not being very aggressive people) we just gave up and kept driving. We also didn’t have any desire to U-turn and go through that again (there wasn’t a way to turn left into our hotel heading East) so we just drove. After passing the mall, there really wasn’t anything else, just some beautiful Florida country side. Besides having no idea what we were doing or when we’d get back to the hotel, it was really a pleasant drive.
We decided we should go find dinner somewhere and bring it back with us so we wouldn’t have to go back out with the traffic, so I started searching on my phone where we could go. We both were hungry for barbecue, and Curtis mentioned he had seen a place that looked good on Google earlier. I couldn’t find exactly which one he was looking at, so I told him to pull over whenever he could so we could look together. He pulled into a parking lot near an intersection in the middle of nowhere that was pretty full of cars, and we realized that this just so happened to be a barbecue restaurant. I checked reviews on Google and saw that it had all 4-5 star ratings – but one recurring comment was “get there early because when they’re out of food they shut down”. I sent Curtis in to check it out while I waited with Charlotte. He reported that it was a madhouse in there, but they still had food, so we decided to try it out. The service was pretty fast considering how busy it was, and soon he was back with our meals and we made our way back to the hotel. Traffic was still backed up, but once we made it through, we were back in our hotel room eating the BEST barbecue we’d ever had! So if you’re ever around Jacksonville/St. Augustine, Florida and want to get away from society and eat some heavenly barbecue, Woodpeckers Backyard BBQ is the place to go!
And that wraps up our day in St. Augustine…come back soon for our last full day of vacationing in Florida (possibly ever…haha, just kidding)! If you want to see more pictures from St. Augustine, visit savingtimeinabottleimages.tumblr.com.