St. Augustine, Florida
From the make-believe of Disney to the history that lies a little over 100 miles away.  We quickly decided the best way to see this 435 year old city would be via sightseeing tram.  For $12 each we got a three day ticket on a tram that stopped all over town.  We parked at one of their lots, took the tram and got off whenever we wanted and reboarded at will.  Trams ran every 15 minutes.  Such a deal!

The city of St.  Augustine was founded 40 years before Jamestown and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.   The town boasts of the oldest house, the oldest wooden school house, the oldest store, and  The history goes something like this:

(continued following photos)
***1000 - 1400 A.D.  One thousand years ago large communities of natives had complex social systems and sophisticated politics.  They grew crops and hunted.  They were the first “snowbirds,” as they wintered in one location and returned to their main habitats when the weather was better. By 1400 the natives are living in large, stable villages and trading with nearby villages in better weather.   Politics and medicine were well developed. 

***1513 -  Ponce de Leon comes from his post as governor of Habana looking for the Fountain of Youth.  We visited the “purported” Fountain of Youth.  It is a genuine archeological site with digs currently going on, but whether or not the spring water we tasted is the one he found is pure speculation.

***1564 - French Huguenots established Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville.

***1565 - The Protestant colony made the Spanish king sit up and take notice of their lackadaisical attitude toward colonization, so in 1565, the King Phillip II sent Don Pedro Menendez with 700 soldiers and colonists to establish St.  Augustine (Menendez landed here on the feast of St.  Augustine) and destroy the French Protestants.  The Mission of Nombre de Dios was founded and the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in America's first permanent city.

***1586 - The famous English explorer, Sir Francis Drake, on his trip around the world, stumbles on St. Augustine and attacks and burns it.  The Spanish rebuild.

***1607 - 42 years after Menendez founded St. Augustine, the English found Jamestown.

***1660's - Smallpox, yellow fever and measles decimate the native population of Florida.

***1668 - The English pirate, Captain John Davis, plundered the town and killed 60 inhabitants.

***1672 - The Spanish crown finally got fed up with the English and other pirates burning and sacking their town, so they commissioned the building of the massive fort, Castillo de San Marcos.  The fort was constructed of coquina, a seashell/sand composition which was quarried on a nearby island.  The coquina was cut into blocks and allowed to dry in the sun.  It became rock hard, but they were uncertain of its durability, so they built the walls 14 feet thick.  After 23 years, the fort was completed in 1695 and has never been captured in battle.

***1702 - The English are back!  The townspeople took refuge in the fort for almost two months, and the English burned the town again and bombarded the fort with canon fire.  The canon balls either bounced off the coquina or were imbedded in its resilient surface.  At night the Spanish went out and collected the canon balls and shot them back at the English the next day.

***1742 - Tiny Fort Matanzas is constructed on an island at the mouth of the river inlet to St.  Augustine.  It successfully repelled another five attempts by General James Oglethorpe (founder of Georgia) to capture St.  Augustine. 

***1763 - Imagine how defeated the Spanish colonists must have felt when St.  Augustine was given to England in exchange for returning its prized Havana to Spain.  Many of the Spanish citizens returned to Havana (see Elian, 2000)

***1776 - St.  Augustine residents remain loyal to the king and several signers of the Declaration of Independence are imprisoned at the fort.

***1783 - The Treaty of Paris restores Florida to Spain and many citizens return from Havana and Mexico City.

***1797 - Cathedral of St. Augustine is completed.  The oldest parish in the nation, it has the oldest written records of American origin in the U.S. dating back to the 16th century.  It became a Cathedral in 1870 and a Minor Basilica in 1977.  The Department of Interior has classified it a National Landmark.

***1803 - With the Louisiana Purchase the United States feels it has a claim to West Florida.  In 1819 Spain cedes Florida to the United States, and in 1821 it becomes a U.S. territory.

***1835-1845 - Yellow fever again and Seminole Indian Wars precede statehood in 1845.

***1861 - Florida joins the Confederacy but is occupied by Union troops in 1862 for the remainder of the war.

***1875 - Tribal leaders of Plains Indian tribes are imprisoned at the fort. 

***1880's - Henry Flagler the co-founder of Standard Oil (Rockefeller was his partner) transforms the town he enjoys into a winter resort by building hotels, churches, a railroad,, a jail, and anything else the town needed.  It would be difficult to imagine the town without the 19th century additions this philanthropist made.  Two of his former hotels are now a college and a museum. 

***1924 - the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, and Fort Matanzas are declared national monuments.