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St. Augustine in 1898

St. Augustine Under Three Flags


Mr. H. M. Flagler decided to build a winter hotel in St. Augustine; in 1885 the Ponce de Leon was commenced, it was completed in 1887. This magnificent pile is so well known, its broad columned loggias, superb decorations and tasteful furnishings, are of such world-wide reputation, that no further description is necessary; and, indeed, the same remark applies to Mr. Flagler's other hotels, the Alcazar and the Cordova, the former of which was built subsequently, while the latter was purchased from Mr. F. W. Smith. These three splendid structures, with their gardens of palm and other tropical trees and shrubs, their fountains and broad asphalt pavements, tile roofs and Moorish architecture, form a "coup d'œil" which must be see to be appreciated, as must the luxuriousness and comfort of their interiors. The Cordova building has received some alterations since it was built, the lower story having been converted into large roomy stores with modern plate glass fronts.

Mr. Flagler, not content with hotels and railroads, also built the Alicia Hospital, so that the sick of St. Augustine, whether residents or visitors, can always obtain the best medical aid and the most careful nursing. Another of the buildings erected by Mr. Flagler is the Presbyterian "Memorial" Church, which is one of, if not the finest church building in the South.

Old Fort Matanzas stands at the inlet of the same name; the date of its building is 1741; it is a pleasant sail of about eighteen miles from St. Augustine. At Matanzas, too, is a shell mound which covers some thirty acres of ground and which is well worthy of a visit. The defense of St. Augustine in 1763, as described by John Bartram in his work on Florida, were:—a line of earthworks surmounted by several rows of Spanish bayonets and a broad moat ran from the fort to the San Sebastian. On this line were placed the gates at the end of St. George street, a battery on the San Sebastian and two intermediate batteries, one of which was situated at the end of the present Cordova Street, and this was entirely removed in making the entrance to the San Marco Hotel; the remains of the other two are still extant. A line of the same earthwork and moat ran southerly where Cordova street now runs to a point nearly opposite the Post Cemetery, thence it ran east and connected with the Matanzas; of this no trace remains. A battery was located on either side of the mouth of the Maria Sanchez Creek and both are now plainly visible. Several batteries were placed at the Indian crossings of the San Sebastian; one, a little south of Ferry street, can still be traced. An outer line of the same nature as that described ran from the San Sebastian River to the Indian village of Topiqui, where is the site of the old Catholic Cemetery in the North City, seven minutes' walk from the gates; here are the ruins of the old chapel, which was built on the foundations of the ancient Indian church described by John Bartram as having a handsome tower. Another line constructed in the same manner as the inner ones ran from the Sebastian, at the place where the "Horn Bridge" crosses the river, to Fort Moosa. Fort Moosa was a coquina fort having four bastions and a moat. It was built on the Moosa (now called Moses) creek, at a spot about three quarters of a mile east of the Cremator and about two miles from St. Augustine. This historic spot is marked by coquina foundations, but the walls and watch tower are leveled and the well is filled up. Such, together with the fort, is a brief sketch of the defenses which kept at bay Palmer, Oglethorpe and McIntosh, and for the want of which the inhabitants of St. Augustine had to leave their homes and take refuge in the fort in 1702 when col. Daniels marched against the place and when Governor Moore burnt it. The old ruins are worth visiting, recalling, as they do, the past struggles between our forefathers and the Spaniards.

The Coquina Quarries on Anastasia Island extend from the lighthouse almost the entire length of the island; it is from these quarries that the stone was taken for the building of the fort.

The chimneys are situated somewhat south of the railway crossing; they, with the well, which is close to them are the only remains of the building which sheltered the quarrymen; legend says that a boucanier made this his headquarters, had his vessel in a creek, built a small house, some of the bricks of which are still to be seen in the fire-place, and here laid "perdu." the chimneys and the well are curious old relics and will repay inspection.

The old chimney and well at Casicola and the tall chimney at Hansons are relics of British days; they were built for the sugar industry.

The Monument on Anastasia Island opposite the mouth of the Sebastian, marks the grave of an Englishman who refused to take the oath of allegiance to Spain and was confined in the Fort until the day before his death. He was not allowed burial on consecrated ground. His widow afterwards married the Commanding General.

The Dade Memorial takes the form of three plain pyramids. They are erected in the Post Cemetery and mark the graves of the gallant men who fell at the commencement of the Florida war, massacred by the Indians, and whose remains were subsequently interred in this spot.

The Old King's Forge is a relic of the building of Fort Marion; it was here that the iron work for the fort was forged. It stood near the fort on Bay street.

The Spanish Monument in the Plaza was erected, as the plate on it says, in commemoration of the adoption of the Spanish Constitution in 1812, and is the only memorial of that event left, all the rest having been destroyed on the downfall of the Constitution.

The Old Lighthouse, built by the Spanish and added to by the British, was washed away by the sea in June 1880; the debris still strew the beach.

The New Lighthouse, built by the government, is one of the finest on the coast, from its summit a grand panorama of sea and land, of river and foliage, and of the town with its grey old fort and its modern towers and domes delights the eye and repays the visitor for the toilsome ascent. The view over the government reservation, the golf links of St. Augustine, from the Palmetto Hotel, including as it does the gates and fort, with the river and ocean in the distance, and the old, so called, Huguenot Cemetery with its somber cedar foliage in the foreground is very fine.

The Huguenot Cemetery was formerly the Potters field, where ex-communicants and military criminals were buried; the dates on the tombs are not very ancient, 1821 being the oldest, but very many of the graves bear no inscription; the nature of the place in its earliest days would not lead to a perpetuation of the memory of those interred there; the spot is worth inspection.

The Old Building on Cathedral street was built for, and used as a convent; when the new convent was built this old structure was used as a school, and subsequently, when Messrs. Carcaba, the famous Havana cigar manufacturers, were left without a place of business, the great fire of 1895 counting them among its victims, the bishop gave them the use of the old convent, and so in this ancient building where the sisters lived their retired lives, with the statue of the Virgin over the door, is now heard the bustle and hum of a thriving modern factory.

Treasury Street is one of the curiosities of the town commencing at Bay street it is so very narrow that two people can shake hands across it; proceeding westward it gradually widens until where it runs into Cordova street it is a respectable width.

The Public Library Building, with its arched front, is one of the typical Spanish houses; this structure was the King's bakery; since those times it has been put to several business purposes and was finally purchased by Mr. J. M. Wilson and presented to the city; it contains a good library of some 3,500 volumes. The "Historical, Literary and Scientific Society" has an excellent museum of curiosities in the Old House at the corner of Treasury and Bay streets. The house was built for the Spanish Royal Officials in the year 1689. the double wall at the base of the building was to protect it from the sea, as it was built previous to the sea wall.

The De Leon Springs is a favorite resort; attached to it is a legend that here one of Ponce de Leon's lieutenants found the far-famed fountain of youth.

The Old House on St. Francis street is said to be the oldest in the States; it was occupied originally by the monks of St. Francis, but became the property of a deputy of the Spanish Government in 1590 and remained in that family until 1882.

Excerpt from Wylie, H. S. "The Modern Town" St. Augustine Under Three Flags, Record Press, St. Augustine, 1898, pp. 5–26.


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