St. Augustine

IMG_7361St. Augustine is the place in the southeast where we first became aware of the incredibly complex history of this region – French, Spanish, English, American – every historic place keeps track of its shifting sovereignty throughout history, and posts signs informing you of the “Seven Flags” or whatever.  But as the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the US,  St. Augustine is right up there with New Orleans in being a place where this history is quite visible in the built environment, and not just when you read a sign or a textbook.

We first visited St. Augustine four years ago, and were surprised by its variety and beauty.  There is the Spanish period, which can be seen in the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort – not a reconstruction.  IMG_7281

There are Spanish-style buildings in the historic quarter. Along Prince George’s St., they are full of shops and tourists, so while one has to stroll through, the crowds can drive you crazy.DSCF9110

But once you pass south of the Plaza de la Constitucion (the oldest public park in the US),DSCF9238

you enter a historic district pretty free of tourists (as there are not many shops) , which isn’t ordered like any other place in this country – narrow streets, gates in walls, hidden courtyards.DSCF9119  DSCF9131  DSCF9159  DSCF9146

The 19th century part of the city has beautiful, eclectic residential neighborhoods, similar to those we’ve seen in other southern cities.  DSCF9166  DSCF9165

A unique neighborhood we explored on this trip is Lincolnville – begun after the Civil War, it is the historically African-American neighborhood originally inhabited by former slaves.  DSCF9198  DSCF9194  DSCF9201

There are buildings in various states of repair – some showing clear major remodels to add more space, some deteriorating, DSCF9202  and signs of creeping (sometimes rampant) gentrification on some blocks.  DSCF9183p

As the boom of Florida tourism hit the Atlantic coast in the 1880s, Henry Flagler developed much of downtown St. Augustine.  He hired Carrere and Hastings, who designed two exuberant hotels, one of which is now Flagler College, and the other is the city museum.  IMG_7358  IMG_7390

They are spectacular and wild, as is their Presbyterian church and rectory:  DSCF9255DSCF9242

For some reason, we saw a lot of quirky yards and installations in the city, which made us feel at home.  DSCF9176  DSCF9097

It’s a small city, with a great variety of places, periods, cultures and architecture.  It attracts a lot of daytrippers and tourists, but they are cleverly contained in one area, and don’t overrun the whole city – it is a place where residents can enjoy life without being on display all the time.  It seems to be the one place in Florida where the past hasn’t been dwarfed by the present.

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