The oldest masonry fortification still standing within the continental United States was started back in 1672 and finished around 1756. It was called Fort St. Marks while under British occupation (1763 - 1783) and became Fort Marion in 1825. Declared a National Monument in 1924, it was renamed Castillo de San Marco in 1942. It's now a museum open to the public, and one of St. Augustine's biggest tourist attractions. Built of coquina (Spanish for seashell) — a local shell stone from nearby Anastasia Island that was used extensively for construction in the community's early days — the fortress is interesting from an architectural as well as historical perspective. Though the castillo has stood for all these years, coquina is not impervious to weather, and by 2000 some exterior walls had eroded to the point they were in danger of crumbling. So the fort was closed in 2001 for repairs, has been restored, and is again open to visitors. It's well worth a visit, not only for its views of the harbor but also for the view it provides into the struggles and hardships faced by the area's early settlers.
We're on the subject of tourist attractions in St. Augustine, we'd better mention that history buffs can have a field day in just about every corner of the historic old city. After all, it was first settled over 400 years ago and has been continuously occupied ever since — our nation's oldest city. Among the accessible locations is the oldest house in the U.S. Also built of coquina (as are so many of the area's structures) this is not a replica, but an original Colonial home that has occupied its site since the early 1600s and is also known as the Gonzalez-Alvarez House. There's the oldest wooden schoolhouse (in the U.S.) dating back to the early 18th century.
Not quite as ancient, perhaps, but sure to have something of interest to almost everyone, are the shops and restaurants on old St. George Street, a pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown St. Augustine. And not quite as convenient, perhaps, but worth a visit is the beautiful St. Augustine Lighthouse on Anastasia Island. It has a museum and store and the climb to the top is worth the energy expended and the fee charged. If more information is needed call 904-829-0745.
These and many other historic or otherwise interesting attractions are within walking distance of St. Augustine's waterfront. But if you'd rather take it easy, narrated sight-seeing trains tour the sites every day but Christmas, operating from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. The City's Visitors' Center — near the waterfront — has a store and maps and more information about everything
The waterway turns west past St. Augustine, then south into the Matanzas River. South of St. Augustine at Mile 792 on the north shore of Rattlesnake Island lie the ruins of Fort Matanzas, built in 1742 by the Spanish to guard the southern approach to the city. The fort is another of the many legacies of the original Spanish influence in the area. Matanzas means massacre, and the name commemorates the Spanish slaughter of the last of the French Huguenot colonists in Florida. Now part of the National Park System, the fort is open to visitors by boat or Park Service ferry from the mainland. The free ferry leaves every hour on the half hour from 9:30 AM 'til 4:30 PM. Park hours are 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM daily. If you need to know more, phone 904-471-0116.
The stretch of waterway in the vicinity of the Matanzas River and Inlet is notorious for constant and extreme shoaling. Dredging in 1999 once again brought straightforward navigation to the passage, but Mother Nature keeps rebuilding the shoals, especially near markers #81 and #82 (least depths occur on the east side of the channel at the turn near light #82), so constant dredging is required. As a result, you may encounter a dredge at any time. If so, be sure to contact it for instructions (on VHF 13) before you proceed. Shoaling has also been reported north of the Matanzas River Bridge on the west side.
The inlet itself (officially Closed to Navigation) also tends to shoal in and the safest approach here is with caution and, if possible, on a rising tide. This is another area where local knowledge helps. (Continue...)
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