30° 8' North
St. Augustine, Florida Celebrates 450 Years
On a voyage of discovery and desperation from Puerto Rico in March, 1513, explorer Ponce de Leon’s navigator, Anton de Alaminos, charted the position of their 3 ships as 30 degrees 8 minutes north latitude, just south of what is now Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Wading ashore on Palm Sunday, Ponce de Leon claimed the land for the Kingdom of Aragon and Castile. He named Florida after the Spanish description of Easter as a feast of flowers: Pascua Florida. As simple as that, these first documented visitors of European culture to an isolated coast set in motion events that would affect all of the Americas.
Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine 52 years later in 1565, slightly south of Leon’s landing and near an artesian spring. The site is now a privately owned tourism attraction with excavations of the original colony plus exhibits.
The debate continues, though, as to whether Ponce de Leon ever sought a fountain of youth that’s since become a legend. But one thing is certain: everyone drinks the water. Hope springs eternal.
St. Augustine is celebrating its 450th anniversary throughout 2015 with a full calendar of events. Join the party!
I was in Ponte Vedra the weekend of April 2-3, 2013 when a 500th Anniversary re-enactment of Ponce de Leon's landing took place on a stretch of deserted beach. Parking our rental car at at the GTM Research Reserve North Beach Parking Access on A1A, we followed a modest group of bystanders across the road and over the dunes onto the sand. Members of the Historic Florida Militia were instantly recognizable in their period clothing. After the 12:00 noon ceremony everyone walked back across the road to unveil a historical marker, interpretive signage and 15-foot statue of Ponce de Leon.
Next day, April 3rd, was to be the main enactment in St. Augustine itself, so after some light refreshments at the beach unveiling, we drove the 25 minutes into town to explore its nooks and crannies. St. Augustine is small, quaint, delightful and almost too cute. Cobblestoned streets tend to be short, atmospheric and choc a bloc with souvenir shops and eateries. As the number one street food, ice cream cones outnumber people.
In our wanderings we found the Pirate Museum to be a particularly genuine piece of history — much more than a mere curiosity for children — from its rare Jolly Roger flag to Captain Hook's appendage in Disney's Peter Pan film.
The Bridge of Lions is a community icon just as much as the beloved Spanish Castillo de San Marcos. Using an Art filter on my Olympus camera I decided to render the bridge as a 1920s postcard. A pirate cruise glided past, returning to port as I headed for the bridge to photograph the city's silhouetted hotels and churches. The Old Town was just coming alive with lights when I noticed a couple of people throwing shadows on the walls of the Castillo.
Home base for our stay was the St. Francis Inn B&B, a historic Spanish dwelling from 1791. Here's a shot of our second floor room (no elevators, this is a historic building), my wicked vanilla cinammon latte just before the first slurp, and one of two breakfast rooms.
By the time we walked down to the river landing to see Ponce de Leon arrive once again (sort of like Santa Claus), a substantial crowd had gathered to watch. In due course Leon's boat arrived, he and his crew landed with a bit of difficulty in the mud (few things were perfect in history), then speeches were given at a statue of the explorer while a few hecklers protested colonial treatment of aboriginals. A commemorative mass followed in the Cathedral Basilica which included dedication of an exact replica of the baptismal font in which Ponce was christened in the village of Santervás de Campos, Spain.
The short walk and carriage ride from the basilica to Flagler College led to the unveiling of a 4-piece set of quincentennial La Florida commemorative stamps by the United States Postal Service. The ceremony ended with shouts of "Viva La Florida! [Floreedah!]. All the representatives involved then offered to sign the First Day Issue envelopes distributed as gifts — a nice touch to an official ceremony.
With time to spare before an evening event, we strolled into the Ponce de Leon Hotel lobby to crane our necks for a view of the spectacular Rotunda.
The Fountain of Youth Archaelogical Park was hosting a special evening in honor of the man of the day, Señor Leon. Acoustical guitarists James and Sylvia Kalal played Spanish songs as wine, canapes and conversation ignored heavy showers pummeling the garden pavilion. Host John Fraser, one of the family owners, proudly cited the park as "another piece of the puzzle" in the founding of St. Augustine.
Everything's in place for a big celebration on a human scale. 2013 is party time in St. Augustine!
© 2013 by Gary Crallé
Updated April 2022
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