The Historic Beaches

The city of St Augustine Beach was founded in 1959 and is home to over 6000 full time residents. Local businesses and community organizations pride themselves on supporting this small town community. St Augustine Beach is centered on Anastasia Island, one of Florida’s pristine barrier islands. This area has played a big part in the history of the area and the United States.


Fort Matanzas National Monument

Fort Matanzas

FORT MATANZAS NATIONAL MONUMENT  sits on an island 14 mi. S of St. Augustine, Fl. off of State Road A1A. Built in the 16th century, this stone monument was built as part of the defense system of St. Augustine.  Fighting among French, Spanish, and British took place along the coast and in 1565 Spaniard Pedro MenŽndez de AvilŽs executed over 300 captured members of a French Huguenot military expedition that had been sent to colonize Florida. The French refused to give up their Protestant faith and accept Catholicism as ordered by Pedro MenŽndez de AvilŽs. They were killed on the banks of the Matanzas Inlet which gave Matanzas the name meaning “slaughter” in Spanish. Fort Matanzas was the first watchtower built by the Spanish to warn the town of approaching ships . The oak trees in the park are over 150 years old and the red cedar tree that sits on the island by the fort is over 260 years old.  Bring a lunch and spend a day exploring one of Florida’s most pristine beaches and historic monuments. This is a MUST SEE for visitors to the island.

Visit: FORT MATANZAS NATIONAL MONUMENT


jesse fish st augustine

artist rendition of Jesse Fish

Jesse Fish

1725 to 1790

Jesse Fish was a land baron who was born in New York to Captain Thomas Fish and one of the captain’s two wives-either Elizabeth Kipp or Jemima Morgan. Jesse came to St Augustine on a merchant ship at the age of ten years old in 1735. Jessie was welcomed into a Spanish family where he became close to the children and learned to speak Spanish.  Jesse made many trips between St Augustine and New York bringing goods, flour and meat to the settlers.  When the “Treaty of Paris” was signed in 1763 transferring St Augustine to  the British, Florida was divided into Eastern Florida and Western Florida with St Augustine being the capitol to the East and Pensacola capitol to the West. Due to his connections with the shipping trade, Jessie was permitted to  live in St Augustine when the British ruled.

With a new British rule,  Spanish residents were ordered to leave. Some Spanish property holders sold their homes to British soldiers or British immigrants while others transferred their property into a trust run by Jesse Fish making Jesse one of the largest land holders in the region. Jesse Fish made money as a land holder, smuggler, slaver and according to records “a down right crook.” Some say Jesse was involved in the trade of contraband and involved in illegal real estate deals. Jesse continued to acquire land and was know as the sole proprietor of Santa Anastasia Island (Anastasia Island) which was comprised of over 10,000 acres stretching from St Augustine to the Matanorange treezas Inlet, including the land now known as St Augustine Beach. Jesse built a grand plantation home and grew oranges that produced thousand of barrels of sweet orange juice which was exported to England. He had 17 slaves to assist with working on the plantation which soon consisted of cattle and wild horses. Jesse married his second wife Sara Walker and had two sons, Jesse, Jr. and Fabiana Fish. By the late 1700’s, Jesse lost most of his land holdings and because of poor business decisions accumulated many debts. Spain ordered the land sold to pay debts owed by Jesse Fish.

Jesse Fish died on February 8, 1790 a broke and almost penniless man. He was laid to rest at a tomb on the Santa Anastasia Island. The Fish  plantation  was acquired by Spain and later sold back to Jesse Jr at auction.  Sara continued living on the plantation that Jesse loved so much.


 The Flagler Era

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The renovated hotel now an Art Center

During the Flagler Era, St Augustine Beach was a vacation destination for the rich and famous. Riding a street car from downtown St Augustine the visitors would enjoy the day at the beach. In 1930 two identical  hotels overlooking the ocean were  constructed to increase tourism in the county.  The hotels were constructed of coquina block. The thick block walls along with the ocean breeze kept the beach visitors cool. Construction on the hotels began in 1938 and was completed in 1940. To occupy their time, visitors would find a boardwalk, restaurants and a pier. There was a bathhouse for those who came to spend the day and a cocktail lounge and ballroom for those who came for the evening celebrations.   In later years the hotel to the north was demolished and the building to the south housed the St Augustine Beach City Hall and police office. It now the Cultural Art Center and is home to the Dance Studio and The Art Studio.


World War II

It is rumored that during World War II residents would often see enemy boats cruising the shoreline and there is talk that an enemy solder or two would be left off on the beaches of St Augustine. Just east of the St Johns County pier in the bottom of the ocean is an old WWII ammunition dump and even today, when the seas are rough you will often find bullet casing littering the shoreline.


Racing On The Beach

 Skeeter Racing was all the rage in the 40’s and 50’s. Skeeters were old beach buggies designed for the beach. The body of the car was removed and replaced with a little wooden body. There was room for one or two people to sit up front and in the back you would find a place to carry the fishing gear. The cars were named Skeeters because some say they looked like a mosquito with wheels. The little cars were tough and made to traverse the sand dunes and ride right up to the waters edge.

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contributed photo

In the 50’s and 60’s it was not unusual to hear the sound of hot-rods as they once again began racing on the beach.  The hard packed sand made for a perfect spot to have a race. Cars would line the sand with their headlights on and just like a James Dean movie they would drag- race down the beach. Many a time a car or two would have to be pushed out of the surf as the drivers became distracted or did not pay attention to the tides.  A skating rink was constructed at the pier and it became a place for the younger residents of St Johns county to take a date to skate. On one occasion the skaters watched in horror as a plane crashed into the ocean in front of the rink. It is believed that the plane still sits on the ocean floor.


Old School Beach Fun

Before the St Augustine Inlet was dredged, at low tide high school kids would often walk between Vilano Beach and St Augustine Beach to party on the beaches. They would build big bonfires and roast oysters passing the time looking for sea turtle eggs to bring home for mama’s cakes. If you timed it right, you could catch the morning tide-spend the day with your friends and be back in your own bed with your head on your pillow exhausted from the time spent in the fresh air.


 St Augustine Beach Becomes Incorporated

As the area grew, in 1959 the town of St Augustine Beach became incorporated becoming a city unto itself. The city was incorporated to provide basic services such as roads and trash services for the residents of the area.  A  plan was created to develop and increase tourism to the area.


The Civil Rights Era

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Beach Wade-In /photo: www.drbronsontours.com

In the summer of 1964 St Augustine Beach was in the news as it played a big part in the nations Civil Rights era. Wade-In’s were scheduled for the beach that had historically been a “white only” beach. The beaches had already by law been desegregated. When the black demonstrators headed into the ocean to swim they were attacked by many whites who disagreed. After the beating of the black demonstrators began by white segregates, under strict orders, law enforcement  officers entered the ocean to help protect the black demonstrators.   The images of peaceful demonstrators being brutally attacked, yet holding their ground, helped to change American attitudes and the events at St. Augustine Beach has historic significance in the Civil Rights Movement.


 CHAUTAUQUA  Photos Of Old St Augustine Beach

In 2009 St Augustine Beach celebrated the 50th Anniversary. With the help of Melissa Stewart and City Gate Productions old photos were collected to share the old days. Here is a look at some of the collection.

hotel   old pier

To See More  BEACH CHAUTAUQUA PHOTOS


St Augustine Lighthouse and Museum

st augustine lighthouse

On the shores of St Augustine a Spanish watchtower was built in the 1500’s and was the first aid to navigation in the new land.  With storms and rough seas the old watchtower was destroyed and it was not until 1824 that Florida’s first lighthouse was built in St Augustine. Sitting closer to the waterfront than the present lighthouse, it was soon apparent that the lighthouse would not survive the battering of the sea. In 1880 the sea claimed Florida’s first lighthouse. Planning with the future in mind,  a new tower was built in 1874. The present lighthouse sits on higher ground and is constructed of brick and iron.  A lighthouse keeper and his assistant lived in the keeper”s house and worked the lighthouse.  Numerous times a day the keeper or his assistant would carry a large bucket with fuel 0ver 200 steps in the tower to refill and check the light. The tower was automated in 1955 making the daily watch obsolete.

See the curvature of the Earth! The top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse sits 165 feet above sea level and is able to be seen for miles. At the top sits a “first order” Fresnel lens which serves as the beacon to sailors at night. The lens has over 300 hand cut prisms and are arranged making the lens over 12 feet in diameter. The Fresnel lens is used because it captures more oblique light from a light source which in turn allows the light  to be visible over a greater distance. In 1970 the keepers house was destroyed by fire. The Junior Service League of St Augustine raised the funds to renovate the house. With the dedication of many volunteers the keeper’s house is now open as a museum and the tower is open to the public.When a sailor is at sea he can mark his position by the lighthouse. The night mark of the lighthouse is the turn of the beacon every 30 seconds-the day mark is the black and white stripes and a red top. If you look out to sea from the top of the lighthouse, on a clear day you are able to see the curvature of the Earth!

Is the Lighthouse Haunted? Many say they have witnessed ghosts and strange happenings at the lighthouse. Locals and employees have seen strange beings and heard strange sounds around the lighthouse. Some sightings were of men dressed in uniform.   It is rumored that pirates have been buried around the grounds of the lighthouse. Many more true stories exist but we are not a liberty to reveal.


Think It * Sink It * Reef It

st aug reef
Photo-THSIRI Web
TISIRI-logo

The Think It Sink It Reef It Project is dedicated to the creation of reef creation, environmental conservation and marine awareness.  TISIRI Corp is a 501c3 non-profit organization that generates reefs  on the ocean floor by incorporating recycled material which ultimately create marine bio-diverse hot spots. These reefs are appreciated by fisherman, divers, environmentalists, industries, and marine life. TISIRI has created reefs all along North Florida including St Augustine Beach.

Visit: TISIRI


Scenic Historic A1A Coastal Byway

scenic A1AScenic Historic A1A stretches  from northern St. John’s County in Ponte Vedra Beach through America’s oldest city, St Augustine. Continuing along the beach passing through Anastasia State Park, through St Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach across the Matanzas Inlet Bridge and finally ending in southern Flagler County at Gamble Rogers Memorial Park.   The A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway connects cities throughout Northern Florida and is one of the United States most beautiful and historic drives.  As you travel along the way you will see State Parks, National Monuments and beautiful beaches.One of Florida’s most pristine estuaries flows along A1A to the west and the most magnificent natural hammock in Florida is found just south of the  Marineland. This scenic byway will bring you back to what Florida is known for…sea, sand and sun.

Enjoy the nature and beauty and lean more with the Cell Phone Audio Tour.  This self-directed audio tour is both in English and Spanish and available 24 hours a day.  This tour gives visitors the opportunity to listen to interesting and relevant information at each of the 45 stops along the Byway. Look for the markers and the phone access numbers throughout your journey.

Visit: A1A SCENIC & HISTORIC COASTAL BYWAY

 

 

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