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Remarkable St. Augustine – Since 1565 The Most Historic City in America

Who Founded St. Augustine Florida?

who founded St. Augustine Aviles
Who founded St. Augustine? They proudly display the statue of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

The most historic city in America is clearly St. Augustine, Florida. When the King of Spain sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to colonize Florida in 1565, little did he know for the next 250 years the British, French and Spanish would fight for control of the region (and most of Florida).

While there is no dispute about the fact Aviles founded St. Augustine in 1565, there is a dispute about who first landed in the area. Many historians believe Ponce de Leon first landed near St. Augustine in 1513.

We do know that St. Augustine residents must believe de Leon was the first explorer. There are statues and namesake streets throughout the town.

We also know that Ponce de Leon first named “La Florida” some three hundred years before the new country of the United States purchased the Spanish possession.

The Spanish, under Aviles, did establish the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the country. Older history books give the settlers at Jamestown the credit for the oldest settlement, but that did not occur until 1608.

historic st. augustine Castillo de san marcos
It is hard to believe this waterfront fort at St. Augustine was built to last in the 1600s.

The Fort at St. Augustine

Under Spanish rule, the fortification of St. Augustine was as important as finding food. Defending the colony from disease, the French and appeasing the Native Americans was key to survival.

The Fort Castillo de San Marcos (at one point renamed Fort St. Mark) stands at the entrance to the city of St. Augustine. The fort was started in 1572 and refortified many times as the continuing conflicts with the French and British battered the fort multiple times.

The Fort was a marvel in fortification at the time of its building. Castillo de San Marcos was constructed of coquina, a mass of bounded shells. It stands today as the oldest masonry fort in the United States.

How Did St. Augustine Get Its Name

Once again, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles gets credit for naming St. Augustine, Florida. Aviles was very religious. He gathered the settlers and had a feast on a day named by St. Augustine, a theologian and saint in the church from the 400s. Some could argue this was the first Thanksgiving Day in America.

Apaches at Fort Castillo St. Augustine

Apaches at Fort Castillo St. Augustine, most historic city in America
Native Americans relied on the fort for protection from warring parties.

Over the years, St. Augustine and the Fort was a haven for runaway slaves, a mission for Native Americans, a prison for those same Native Americans, briefly controlled by Confederate troops in the civil war, and later a prison for deserters in the Spanish-American War.

The narrow streets, coquina-built homes, and Spanish influence is evident throughout the city of St. Augustine.

Henry Flagler Brings St. Augustine to Modern Times – For the 1800s

Narrow St. George Street St. Augustine most historic city in America
The narrow St. George Street is now a shopping mecca.

In the late 1800s, Henry Flagler invested in St. Augustine and the region in many ways. He built the Ponce de Leon Hotel, purchased a railroad to serve Florida’s east coast, bought another hotel, and built a bridge over the St. John’s River to facilitate travel. Today Flagler College stands where the then-elegant Ponce de Leon Hotel stood. Flagler’s holdings went beyond St. Augustine. He built or bought hotels up and down Florida’s coast from Jacksonville to Miami.

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Today, you can roam the downtown St. Augustine area and see the many old buildings reminding you of almost 500 years of political and economic change for St. Augustine. As you wander, some of the “streets” are no more than well-preserved alleys. On St. George St. you will find a wide selection of shops, restaurants, and a good crop of museums with plenty of quaint novelty stores to occupy your time.

Historic St. Augustine - Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is one of the top historic sites to visit in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine History Facts

There is no doubt St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in America. We compiled a timeline of St. Augustine’s History Facts;

1565 – Founded on September 8, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

1586 – Sir Frances Drake, an English privateer, burns down St. Augustine.

1738 – Ft. Mose was constructed for the growing community of free blacks.

1763 – British take over St. Augustine.

1783 – Spain gets Florida back in the Treaty of Paris. This ended the Revolutionary War.

1819 – Spain cedes Florida to the United States.

These St. Augustine history of facts were the key elements that formed what is today the fun and historic city.

Things to See and Do in St. Augustine

Things to do include taking a tour in a horse-drawn carriage. Visiting the old Fort Castillo de San Marcos and the Government House Museum. Stroll up St, George Street to see the many shops lining both sides of this street (no cars, just walking!). Along the way end your hunger at the Prohibition Kitchen. This place is huge with a novel menu. Of course, Harry’s Bar is the local’s favorite for dinner. Just a refreshment? Try the Tini Martini Bar – a six-seat fun bar.

Room at Casa Monica Hotel most historic city in America, St. Augustine
Elegant but dated rooms at Casa Monica make a great stay.

If you plan to stay overnight, there are the normal Best Westerns, Holiday Inns and the rest. However, for a little more upscale experience, try the Casa Monica Hotel in the middle of downtown. As part of the Marriott collection, this grand old hotel, once owned by Henry Flagler, has been restored to it’s original elegance.

St. Augustine, the most historic city in America, is about 45 minutes from Jacksonville and about 3 1/2 hours from Tampa/St. Petersburg area, two hours from Orlando and about 5 hours from the Miami area.

For more information about St. Augustine, read more in our One Day of things to do in St. Augustine. 

There are statues, historical markers and plaques all over St. Augustine. The city is like an open-air museum.

For a complete guide to St. Augustine go here.

The Prohibition Kitchen in St. Augustine, pictured below, is one of our favorite places to eat.

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