The City of St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565.
On Sept. 8. 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore and named a stretch of land near the inlet in honor of Augustine, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on whose feast day – Aug. 28 – land was sighted. The location has been pinpointed in recent years by archaeologists from the University of Florida as being where the present-day Mission of Nombre de Dios and the Fountain of Youth stand, several blocks north of the City Gate and the Castillo de San Marcos.
The emphasis on “first European settlement” acknowledges that the Timucuan Indians were here first and observed Menendez and his party of about 1,500 soldiers and colonists. Since, the city has been under the governments of Spain, 1565 to 1763 and 1784-1821; Britain, 1763-1784, and United States, 1821-present. Florida became a state in 1845. It was part of the Confederacy from 1861-1862 when it returned to Union control.
St. Augustine in the late 1880s had its birth as a resort community with the arrival of Standard Oil co-founder Henry M. Flagler. He built two hotels and took over another to serve as the base of his Flagler System hotels. He founded the Florida East Coast Railway as a means of transporting guests to and from the north to his hotels in St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami.
Three of his former St. Augustine hotels are in use today as Flagler College (Hotel Ponce de Leon), Ligntner Building/City Hall (Alcazar) and Casa Monica, redone as a county courthouse in the 1960’s. In February 1997 Richard C. Kessler of The Kessler Enterprise, Inc. of Orlando purchased the Courthouse. On December 10, 1999 Richard C. Kessler opens the doors to the restored Casa Monica Hotel. Flagler also developed a neighborhood of 19th and early 20th century homes, two blocks west of the Plaza called the Model Land Company tract.
The heart of the city is its downtown Plaza de la Consitucion with most of the historic buildings located within a block or two of the Plaza, to the north and to the south. The Castillo de San Marcos, built of coquina by the Spanish in 1672, anchors the city’s north end of the bayfront. The Bridge of Lions, built in 1927, links the downtown with Davis Shores, a residential community dating back to the 1920s and St. Augustine Beach.
Today’s city has over 13,679* residents. It is the county seat of St. Johns County which has 209,000-plus* residents