Though the Castillo de San Marcos is a major tourist attraction drawing attention for its imposing presence in the heart of the city, the smaller and lesser-known Fort Matanzas, 14 miles south, was equally important to the defense of St. Augustine.
For two months in 1740, British governor of Georgia James Oglethorpe led a campaign to capture the city of St. Augustine. Though the offensive eventually failed, Ogelthorpe managed to cripple the settlement by blockading the Matanzas Inlet, which stopped the delivery of much-needed food and supplies. Once the siege was over, Florida Gov. Manuel de Montiano ordered a masonry fort be built at the Matanzas Inlet to replace the existing wooden tower.
Fort Matanzas was built between 1740 and 1742 with labor provided by convicts, slaves and additional troops from Cuba. Like the Castillo, the outpost was built with the readily available coquina.
After years of decay, the fort was resurrected in the 1930s as one of FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. Open to the public since 1939, Fort Matanzas National Park includes a visitor’s center, nature trails and a shaded picnic area.
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, and the National Park Service provides passage to the fort by ferry hourly from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
On the first Saturday of the month, re-enactors dress in 18th-century Spanish military attire and present cannon-firing demonstrations in addition to tales of the soldier’s life at the fort. Admission is free. For information, call 471-0116 or go to nps.gov/foma.