Tag Archives: history

Visit Three Centuries of History in St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter

Costumed Performers in St. Augustine's Colonial Quarter
Costumed Performers in St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter

The state of Florida owns the land, the University of Florida manages the property, but entrepreneur Pat Croce anted up to $3 million to fund the reconstruction of the two-acre Colonial Quarter in downtown St. Augustine.

Instead of focusing only on the Spanish period, (as did the formerly named Spanish Quarter), St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter now encompasses three centuries of Florida history. To do so, the area is broken into four quadrants. The Spanish area includes the 16th century First City, 17th century Fortified Town and 18th century Spanish Garrison Town. The 18th century British area is called The 14th Colony and features a print shop, candle maker and Public House, a pub like restaurant.

Climb the watchtower in St. Augustine's Colonial Quarter
Climb the watchtower in St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter

The watchtower, one of the Quarter’s highlights,  allows visitors to climb the 35-foot high structure earning themselves a fabulous view over the Castillo de San Marcos (fort) and waterfront. The tower is similar to one the earliest settlers would have built for defensive purposes.

View of Castillo de San Marcos
View of Castillo de San Marcos

During my tour, the blacksmith bantered with guests as he forged away on a “J” hook, forming it from red-hot iron. The gunsmith caught attention by firing a musket, but the boatwright proved to be the most interesting. Craftsman Gary Kennedy is actually building a 55-foot ship, called a caravel, just like the ship Don Pedro Menendez used to sail into St. Augustine. It’s a long process; in fact, one he feels could take several years.

Blacksmith in the Colonial Quarter

Pat Croce said the area was designed as “Epcot meets Williamsburg; the difference being instead of countries it’s centuries.” He also said the goal was to allow visitors an opportunity to make memories.

Also memorable are the influx of costumed employees I see walking to work and overall adding to the ambiance of the city.

However, I was dismayed at the plastic plates, forks and knives offered diners in the two restaurants. When I questioned Mr. Croce, he informed me there was no room or nor permission for dishwashers. Sad fact. I regret this situation (and I certainly hope the problem gets solved soon), but the use of plastic is just wrong.

Dishes and utensils aside, I equally questioned the menu selections. The British Bull & Crown Public House offers paninis and kettle chips layered with bleu cheese dressing topped with a balsamic glaze.  They taste fantastic, but I can’t imagine them as a dish in colonial days. Hats off for offering Gato’ d’ Ametlla or Minorcan almond cake.

Bull & Crown Public House
Bull & Crown Public House

Yes, I am being harsh but with the University of Florida involved, I expected more.

Now, just so you don’t think I am overly critical of Pat Croce, I adore his Pirate Museum which sits adjacent to the Colonial Quarter. The attraction offers Smithsonian quality artifacts in an entertaining atmosphere.

Okay, I’ll give Croce and St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter a little more time to get up to grade. And, I’ll return when they add a Colonial Revue this summer and hope to give it grand reviews.

Meal preparation in a soldier's home.
Meal preparation in a soldier’s home.

For information: www.ColonialQuarter.com.

A Visit to Fort Mantanzas

Fort Matanzas National Monument

The Spanish built and manned Fort Matanzas (1740-42) to ward off British attacks on St. Augustine.
Visitors need to understand that the fort is located 14 miles south of St. Augustine (along A1A). The area, now Fort Matanzas National Monument,  is run by the National Park Service and located on Anastasia Island. The park is situated near the site of the killing of nearly 250 French Huguenots in 1565 by the Spanish, an act that gave the river and inlet the name Matanzas, Spanish for “slaughters.”
Upon arrival (free parking) watch the eight-minute film to learn about the fort and the area’s history. Then, take a Park Service boat over to Rattlesnake Island, a less than 5-minute boat ride. Rattlesnake Island, a barrier island is left to wildlife, except for official trips by the Park Rangers. The public may boat and fish the waterway, but are not permitted to use the fort’s dock.

Costumed Soldiers at Fort Matanzas

Fort Matanzas measures only 50 feet on each side with a 30-foot tower; so a visit becomes a quick exploration. If possible go on a day when the soldiers are in costume.

Here is a soldier near the Garita or sentry box.

.This is the soldier’s quarters.The officer’s quarters are a level above.Officer’s Quarters

A Spanish flag flies from the observation deck. You’ll also find a chimney for the hearth below.The powder magazine was build into the land-based side of the fort’s walls.

A cistern for water storage lies below the canon deck, but is not open to tourists.

When the soldiers fire the canon, all visitors must evacuate the structure.  Park Rangers gather them outside, and then explain the procedure and answers questions. The location allows only a side view of the canon from below, so you can’t see much of the soldiers’ participation in the activity.  As one of the reenactors said, “If you really want to watch a canon firing, go to the big fort- Castillo de San Marcos.”

The Spanish landed in St. Augustine in 1565, claimed it and built a settlement.  Francis Drake raided the town in 1586. Afterward,  the Spanish erected Castillo de San Marcos for their protection, a massive coquina fort still standing in the city (completed in 1695). In 1740, Governor James Oglethorpe and his British troops from Georgia blockaded the St. Augustine inlet or harbor. The Spanish held Castillo de San Marco during the 39-day siege, which was halted when hurricane season arrived and Oglethorpe withdrew.
To prevent the British from attacking via the Matanzas River (a weak point in the city’s defense at the  rear) the Spaniards constructed an outpost –Fort Matanzas. Oglethorpe returned in 1742 with 12 ships, but the soldiers drove off the attack with the little fort’s canon. Fort Matanzas was never attacked again.

Like Castillo de San Marco, Fort Matanzas was built of coquina stone and covered inside and out with white lime plaster. Usually, only one officer, four privates of the infantry and two gunners manned the fort. Soldiers were assigned there as a part of their regular rotation among the outposts and missions near St. Augustine. The tour of duty at Fort Matanzas was one month.

What happened to the fort?
As part of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, signed to end the French and Indian War, all property in Florida was transferred to Britain. After the American Revolution, a second Treaty of Paris returned Florida to Spain. Fort Matanzas continued to be staffed but was not maintained. When Florida became a state in 1819, Spain transferred the land to the US. The fort had become so badly deteriorated that soldiers could no longer live inside. All that remained were two eight-pounder Spanish cannons originally mounted in 1793. They remain to this day. The US took possession in 1821 but never occupied the site.
Military personnel were later sent to examine the ruins. They determined that Fort Matanzas had only historical value as the exterior surfaces were overrun with vegetation and its walls had cracked.

History lovers gained Fort Matanzas on July 18, 1916, when $1025 was granted by Congress for the repair of the historical structure. On October 15, 1924, using the power granted in the Antiquities Act, President Calvin Coolidge named five sites, including Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos, as national monuments. On August 19, 1927, he issued another order, assigning all the lands around the fort, not included in the national monument to the Department of Agriculture, as a bird refuge.

Things I Didn’t Know About the Alamo

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

As best I can recall, my early U.S. history lessons focused on Jamestown, the Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers; perhaps due to my growing up in Arlington, Virginia. As the end of school year approached, the teacher hurriedly moved on to Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, and the California gold rush. I can’t remember ever studying the Spanish-American War, causes of WWI or a mention of Japanese sent to internment camps during WWII.

My eyes were opened last fall when I visited New Mexico for the first time. There, I became acquainted with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass, and the Texas Camel Corps.

Recently, I made a trip to San Antonio, Texas, and sad to say, I didn’t remember much about the Alamo.  Sure, I’d heard of bloodshed and bravery, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis. But, I didn’t understand the background of the battle.  Fortunately, I had an excellent tour guide who provided me with details concerning the events and left me with a desire to learn more.


So, here’s what I’ve since discovered:

Battle of The Alamo


The original Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) was constructed in 1718, and for 70 years served as a home to missionaries and Native Americans who converted to the faith.

In 1793, Spanish officials took over San Antonio’s five missions and distributed their lands. In the early 1800’s the site became a Spanish military station and in 1814 the Mexican’s took over.

In December 1835, during the Texas Revolution, a Mexican contingent was forced to surrender to Texans and Tejano volunteers (Texans of Spanish descent) fighting in San Antonio. The Texas group then used the Alamo as their base.

In January 1836, Sam Houston requested permission to “blow up the Alamo” as he didn’t think that group had enough men to defend it. He wanted the supplies and canyons moved  to Gonzales for his use, but Texas Governor Henry Smith denied the request.

A group of only 200 defended the Alamo for 13 days against General Santa Anna and his 5,000 strong Mexican army.  On March 6, 1836, the final battle erupted before daybreak when the Mexicans scaled the walls, rushed into the compound and seized the property.

Visitors to the Alamo!

Twenty six women and children survived including the widow of Gregorio Esparza and his four children. While Gregorio fought for freedom inside the Alamo, his brother Enrique had joined the Mexican army.  Enrique survived and claimed his brothers’ body for burial, the only Christian burial Santa Anna permitted. All the other defenders were cremated.  The manager of La Cantera Resort, where I stayed, showed me the Esparza Library in the hotel, honoring the family.

In 1884, the Alamo was sold to a grocery firm who wanted, in turn, to sell it to a hotel developer. Many people were opposed, especially Clara Driscoll who gave thousands of dollars to prevent the hotel construction. Driscoll eventually worked out a plan to purchase the property for the state.

In 1905, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) became custodians of the Alamo and remain so today. However, they are being investigated by the state of Texas for neglecting to properly maintain and preserve the site.

The Alamo receives no taxpayer funding and offers free admission to an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year. This year they are celebrating the Alamo’s 175th anniversary.

And, UK’s music legend, Phil Collins, has the largest private collection of Alamo memorabilia in the world.


So, there you have it, lessons learned from travel: I better understand the sacred piece of Texas history and promise to Remember the Alamo.


Debi at The Alamo- No photos allowed inside, so everyone takes a shot of the exterior.

The Alamo Gardens