When the Pilgrims landed in 1620 on Plymouth Rock, the Spaniards had already a colonial experiment going on. St., Augustine, Florida, is the oldest occupied European-founded city in the United States. It existed before the American Revolutionary War, women’s suffrage and affirmative action, and this multicultural city’s impressive history can be seen through its architecture.
St. Augustine is home to Spanish-style buildings and also the English and French architectural-style buildings. When pairing these influences with the colonial, plantation-style buildings, miles of white sand, and more than a few tourist attractions, and visitors can have an experience they’ll never forget.
Conquistadors explored St. Augustine in early 1513, but it wasn’t established until September of 1565, that’s when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés constructed a fort near the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy, which effectively claimed Florida for Spain. But when 1702 rolled around, that’s when the British attacked. They weren’t able to conquer the fort that defended the town, but they succeeded in burning most of the city to the ground.
Most of the buildings were rebuilt in the spirit of the early settlement.
In 1738, the country’s first freed-slave settlement was established in Fort Mose, which provided safety to about 100 Africans who faced enslavement in the English colonies. The community, which had sheltered more than 20 households, contributes to St. Augustine’s multiculturalism.
In 1763, the Spanish took control of the Florida town once more, though the land was ceded to the United States in 1821. In 1900, the land boom hit St. Augustine, and New York entrepreneur Henry Flagler led it, Flager had buildings constructed in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style. Flagler designed a hotel called Ponce De Leon, but today we know it as Flagler College.
Flagler was also credited with the creation of the first hospital in St. Augustine, the Memorial Presbyterian Church, and the Alcazar Hotel. The influence that Flagler had established the city as a prime vacation spot for the Northern elite. St. Augustine had a long history with multiculturalism–the city was home to one of America’s first professional Negro League baseball teams–the segregationists did fight in 1960 against the integration of the area’s schools.
As a response, the Southern Christian Leadership Council and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on the city and held non-violent protests and sit-ins. From Spanish Catholic monuments to the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, St. Augustine wears the history of America on its skin. As its 454th birthday this year, we realize that the past isn’t always pretty.
It reminds us that with hard work and compassion, something beautiful can be built out of conflict.
Melissa’s career in writing started more than 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.