Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

27 January 2009

We have just had a most delightful day here in St. Augustine, Florida. Our weather was a bit odd . . . cool, breezy and very foggy—all day! But, it certainly still allowed us to be outdoors and enjoy our sightseeing and shopping. That was not the case for Kyle today, I know, as he and all our loved ones in North Texas are dealing with ice and falling sleet or freezing rain, even now.

I am enjoying St. Augustine as much as I always thought I would. It is full of character and personality, and as such, is one of those places that has no good comparison. Most of my favourite cities are like that—one of a kind! New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, London, Edinburgh, Paris—St. Augustine is much, much smaller than the others in this list, but charming nonetheless. And, it has the history to qualify for my list, as well. St. Augustine was the first permanent European settlement in North America, and claims the “oldest city in the US” title. First spotted by Ponce de Leon in 1513, this little peninsula was named La Florida, or Land of Flowers. After a few failed Spanish attempts at settlement, King Phillip II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, governor of Florida.

Menendez arrived off the coast of Florida, on August 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine. Eleven days later he came ashore, set up camp, dubbed his new city St. Augustine, and chased out the French in a nearby settlement.  The little city grew and prospered, and in the nineteenth century came into its own as a tourist spot, with some help from Henry Flagler, who took on St. Augustine as his own and invested in its future very heavily. (Henry and his business partner, John D. Rockefeller, started a little company called Standard Oil!)

Today’s city still has at its very center, the “old town” of 18th century buildings, (earlier ones were all burned down in one or the other of two major attacks on the city), an impressive fort, and even part of the original city wall. (The segment of wall and the pillars from the gates, were saved by the DAR, in 1902, in America’s first recorded act of historic preservation by demonstration! Apparently the fiesty women dressed in black, encircled the ancient gates, and served tea to onlookers for two days to prevent the demolition.)

We rode the tourist trolley, which is a narrated tour around the city, learning little tidbits as we went along, until we were hungry. We jumped off the trolley and had a delightful lunch at the A1A Brewery and Restaurant, where I can now personally vouch for their Winter Ale!  We walked and shopped, and had a great time just enjoying the ambiance of the old city. It wasn’t long before we decided we just didn’t want to have to feel hurried, so why not stay another night?! That added even more to our enjoyment, because now, we could take our time with no worries. Tomorrow, then, we’ll complete the trolley tour (tickets are good for two days!) and visit the famous old jail and a museum or two.

As if  in justification of our decision to stay, it turns out we have a slow leak in a tire, and someone all lined up to come and take care of fixing it for us in the morning. So, we’re in a (different) Cracker Barrel parking lot; we had dinner, we played Phase 10 and giggled a lot, and now, all the lights are out except mine, as I write this. I am so pleased to be getting to spend this leisure time with my mama and John, and I do so wish Kyle could be here enjoying it, too.

~MB