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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark ST. AUGUSTINE

Location: St. Johns County.

The first permanent European settlement within the present United States and a longtime seat of Spanish power in the New World, St. Augustine was established in 1565 by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. His purpose, which was successfully executed, was to drive out the French, who had founded a settlement at Fort Caroline the previous year. From his strategically located and easily defended new base, Menéndez destroyed the fort and massacred a French force, led by Jean Ribaut, which had set out from Fort Caroline to attack the Spanish but had been shipwrecked south of St. Augustine. As a result, France lost its hold in the region.

The Spanish controlled St. Augustine during two periods: 1565-1763 and 1783-1821. During the first period, when their power in the New World was at its zenith, the city was a vital center of imperial activity. It was the military base of operations for countering British and French influence in the region and headquarters of the missionary effort to convert the Indians, which involved the establishment of a series of missions in the present States of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.

Old Spanish Kitchen
Old Spanish Kitchen, photographed from the "Oldest House," in St. Augstine. (Courtesy, J. Carver Harris, Photographer.)

As the focal point of Spanish power in the region, St. Augustine was frequently attacked—particularly by the principal antagonists of the Spanish in the region, the English. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake raided and burned the city, but the colonists returned and rebuilt it. Throughout the following century, English buccaneers, Indians, and other raiding parties harassed it; as a defense, in 1672 the authorities began to build the major fortification, Castillo de San Marcos.

The first period of Spanish influence in the region ended in effect in 1742, when Gen. James Oglethorpe, British commander in Georgia and South Carolina, who 2 years earlier had seriously threatened St. Augustine, defeated the Spanish when they tried to capture Fort Frederica. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris confirmed British control of Florida. When the British occupied St. Augustine, most of the colonists fled to Cuba, whose sovereignty had been transferred back to Spain by the British in exchange for Florida. Yet the city prospered under British rule. During the War for Independence, it was a refuge for Tories and an important base for British operations against the southern colonies.

By 1783, when Spain regained Florida, her international influence was waning, especially in the New World. In 1819, she ceded Florida to the United States by treaty; and, in 1821, the same year the treaty was finally ratified, she lost all her territory in North America because of the Mexican Revolution. For these reasons, and also because of the initial encroachment of American frontiersmen, Spanish reoccupation of St. Augustine in 1783 was little more than nominal.

dining room
Dining Room of "Oldest House," in St. Augustine. The house, constructed about 1703, now serves as headquarters of the St. Augustine Historical Society. (Courtesy, J. Carver Harris, Photographer.)

St. Augustine still reveals much of its Spanish inheritance. It has many narrow, winding streets, which end abruptly in cross streets. Of particular note is the Plaza de la Constitución, which contains a public market and is lined by important civic buildings. Established in 1598, it is the oldest public square in the United States. Its name commemorates the Spanish liberal constitution of 1812. Many extant or reconstructed buildings reflect Spanish influence. Some of these are described below:

(1) The "Oldest House," 14 St. Francis Street. This house, which features coquina walls and hand-hewn beams, was constructed about 1703 on a site occupied since at least the early 1600's. The St. Augustine Historical Society owns it and uses it for its headquarters. Adjoining the house is the Webb Memorial Library and Museum.

(2) Llambias House, 31 St. Francis Street. Built during the first Spanish occupation, this house was constructed of coquina. It is named after one of its owners, T. Llambias, one of a group of Minorcan immigrants who relocated from New Smyrna to St. Augustine during the British occupation in 1777. Now restored, it is operated by the St. Augustine Historical Society.

(3) Old Spanish Treasury, corner of St. George and Treasury Streets. This is one of the best examples of Spanish architecture of the later period. It is a flat-roofed house, which has white shutters. The first story is of yellow stuccoed stone; the second, of wood. The house is furnished with 19th-century pieces. The Woman's Exchange maintains it as a museum and operates an adjoining shop.

(4) Old Spanish Inn, 43 St. George Street. One of St. Augustine's oldest surviving buildings, it has been restored to resemble an early 18th-century inn in Spain. Nine rooms are furnished with authentic Spanish pieces brought from Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona.

(5) Fatio House, on Aviles Street just south of the public library. This is a two-story stuccoed building of coquina which has a red tile roof. In excellent condition, it was built by Andrew Ximenez between 1806 and 1821 in a style associated with the second Spanish occupation. The old slave quarters, kitchen, patio, and balconies provide space for gift-shops, painters' studios, and apartments.

Celebrating its 400th anniversary in 1965 with special ceremonies and programs throughout the year, St. Augustine launched additional reconstruction projects.

NHL Designation: 04/15/70

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005