The Fascinating History of St. Augustine

A little bit of history on the city and the cool things that were left behind.
By
Samantha Kern
Ponce de Leon Hotel
Photo Credits
Ponce De Leon Hotel photo courtesy of St. Augustine, Florida / Facebook

St. Augustine is a beautiful area that everyone should visit at some point in their life. Located between Daytona and Jacksonville, this little treasure is full of history as one of the first settlements in Florida. The beach has beautiful white sands and blue waters, there’s a state park, museums that share the unique history of the area, a lighthouse, and other historical monuments left behind through the years. 

In 1513, the governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León was the first to explore the coasts of Florida, and while he may have searched what is now called St. Augustine, it was left alone until 1565. Both the French and Spanish wanted the entirety of Florida for themselves but all attempts had failed until this point. St. Augustine was established in 1565 by a man named Pedro Menéndez de Avilès. It is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States since its founding.

The original area was called San Agustìn in honor of the town that Menéndez grew up in. What was to be intended to be a base for further colonial expansion settled in its current location by the end of the 16th century after facing attacks by various Native American tribes and other European colonies. In 1586, the settlement was burned by the English and was left deserted for 80 years before another, more secure fort was established by the Spanish. The Castillo de San Marcos was used for both protection and as a prison. This building currently stands as the oldest fort in the United States and can be visited during daylight hours most days of the year.

During these years, there were multiple statues and monuments erected in the city but most were torn down once the Spanish Constitution of 1812 had been abolished; but one monument remains in the center of St. Augustine. 

After the Seven Years War ended in 1763, St. Augustine was handed over to the British but was under Spanish control from 1784 to 1821 before it was turned over to the United States. Florida then became an official possession of the United States in 1822 and gained statehood in 1845. 

St. Augustine had many owners over the years, but as the United States took over, the Florida East Coast Railway built its headquarters in the city. It’s also the home to the Alcazar Hotel and Ponce de León Hotel, both of which were originally built as luxury resorts for the wealthy. Now, the Alcazar Hotel has been transformed into the Lightner Museum that houses American Gilded Age pieces and the Ponce de León Hotel stands as part of Flagler College. 

St. Augustine is also one endpoint of the Old Spanish Trail, once the main route between coasts when it was opened for travel in 1929. The other end connects in San Diego, California. This auto trail spans across the United States with just under 3,000 miles of roadway from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, running through eight states. 

There's also a ton of events that take place here throughout the year. Because of the many wars that took place in St. Augustine, there are reenactments on various days to share the history of the area in fun and creative ways. There are also a lot of festivals that take place here, both throughout the town and on the beach that bring people from all over the state to see. 

Between the beautiful buildings and the sights, St. Augustine is a treasure of Florida that shouldn’t be missed. Although it can be hard to see and learn the entirety of the area in a single day, you should definitely check out the historical area.