Until you’ve been in old town St. Augustine, Florida on Halloween evening, you just have not seen Halloween! We spent the day playing tourist in America’s oldest city, and saw everything from pirates and soldiers to zombies, witches and werewolves. I think they were dressed up for Halloween? Maybe that’s just the way folks roll here, I don’t know.
Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the continental United States. At different times in the past it has been a Spanish stronghold, a British outpost, and a vital part of America’s coastal defense system.
There are lots of ways explore St. Augustine, including numerous tours on everything from trolleys to hearses, but we decided to just head out on our own using the maps supplied by the tourist centers.
Our first stop was at the González-Alvarez House, the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida. The site has been occupied since the 1600s and the present house dates to the early 1700s.
Next door was the Tovar house, where Spanish infantrymen José Tovar lived in 1763. Over the years the house has been inhabited by everybody from John Johnson, a Scottish merchant, to Civil War Union General Martin D. Hardin.
After admiring these and several other old homes in the neighborhood, we drove a few blocks to tour the magnificent old Castillo De San Marcos. Construction started on this ancient fort in 1672, but it took over 30 years to complete. The fort was impregnable, and though it came under attack many times through the years, it never fell to hostile action or surrendered.
We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the fort, climbing up on its parapets, admiring the old cannons, and just soaking up the history.
Now a National Monument administered by the National Park Service, the fort offer’s several Ranger-led tours and historical reenactments during the day. This is Ranger Samantha O’Boyle, who did an excellent presentation on the fort’s construction history.
This fellow was dressed up in period costume, and while I never make fun of a man wearing breeches while he’s carrying a musket and a sword, it was hard not to when he tried to demonstrate firing his flintlock musket and it failed to go off not once, not twice, but three times before he finally was successful! It sure made me appreciate the equipment I had when I was a soldier!
When we left the fort, we spent some time wandering along St. George Street, a pedestrian mall closed to vehicle traffic and lined with interesting little shops and restaurants.
You can find anything you want here, from souvenirs to Panama hats, a couple of places offering wine tasting, artwork and more. We stopped at St. Augustine Textiles, where we met Jon Williams. His shop sells all kinds of clothing and equipment for folks who are into historical reenactments. You need a replica of a 17th-century cutlass? Jon’s got it. How about a set of pantaloons, or a Spanish conquistador helmet? He’s got you covered.
All of that sightseeing sure works up an appetite. Several blog readers had suggested Pizza Time, and a couple of them told me it was the best pizza they had found anywhere in the country. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was darned good!
Wandering around a little more, we came to the beautiful Cathedral of St. Augustine, established in 1565. It is the oldest Catholic parish in the United States. Destroyed by English Raiders during Queen Anne’s war, the church was rebuilt between 1793 – 1797. In 1887, fire severely damaged the Cathedral, but the façade and walls were left standing and were preserved when the building was restored.
At the other end of St. George Street we came to the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country. Built over 200 years ago, while Florida was under the Spanish rule, it was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails.
It was getting late in the day and a lot of the shops were starting to close, so we left St. George Street and drove over the Bridge of Lions onto Anastasia Island. We stopped to admire the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which was completed in 1874. But this is not the first lighthouse on this location; the Spanish built a watchtower here in the 1500s, and others followed over the years.
And what’s a lighthouse without a ghost story? There are a couple associated with the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the most popular being that of two daughters of the light keeper, who were tragically drowned. Local legend says one of the girls can still be seen occasionally, peering out of an upstairs window.
While we were at the lighthouse, I checked the geocaching.com website and found that there was a cache nearby, so we decided to look for it. This was the first time I ever looked for a cache using my smart phone instead of my GPS, and it worked great, taking us right to it!
There is a lot to see and do here in St. Augustine and it would take an entire season to get to it all. I will have feature stories on America’s oldest city and Castillo De San Marcos in an upcoming issue of the Gypsy Journal.
As of 11 PM last night we still had not decided for sure if we were going to move to the Elks Lodge and stay a few more days, or drive 100 miles south to Titusville where we have some business we would like to take care of while we’re in the area. But check out time here is not until noon, so we have plenty of time to decide. Did I mention I really, really love this new laid-back lifestyle of ours?
Thought For The Day – They say that wisdom comes with old age, but I have found that sometimes old age arrives all by itself!