Ponce, Francis and Henry

By: Chelle Koster Walton

Take the tour of St. Augustine through the eyes of three major players in the city's history: Ponce de Leon, Sir Francis Drake, and Henry Flagler.

You're in the company of historic greatness and ensconced in cultural complexity when you visit St. Augustine. Here we devote a day to each of the city's strong heritage influences, escorted by three of its great lates: Ponce de Leon, Sir Francis Drake and Henry Flagler.

Day 1

Today, Ponce de Leon escorts us around the land he discovered in 1513, taking us to sites he and his countrymen established during two periods of Spanish rule, 1565 - 1763 and 1784 - 1821.

The earliest of these sites lays along Matanzas Bay. Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park claims to mark the spot where Ponce came ashore (although the exact location is disputed) and excavations have uncovered a cross formed of rocks, which archaeologists believe Ponce's crew assembled.

From the park you'll spy a towering steel cross, part of Mission Nombre de Dios and commemorating St. Augustine's official founding as the nation's first permanent Christian settlement by Menendez in 1565.

Today, a replica of a 1615 Spanish chapel, a simulated altar, the steel cross commemorating the 400th anniversary of Menendez's landing and the new Mission Nombre de Dios Museum containing the conquistador's original coffin and various shrines set a tone for the religious reverence that enshrouds the town.

Head through City Gates to the Old City's historic sites remembering the Second Spanish era. To experience it interactively, visit Colonial Spanish Quarter (currently closed for renovations), where costumed re-enactors bring the period alive. Stop across the street at Spanish Bakery for lunch from authentic period recipes. Visit the Basilica Cathedral, evolved from the first Catholic church circa 1797 and Spanish Military Hospital. The Oldest House complex graphically demonstrates the layers of St. Augustine heritage in a home built about 1704 upon the site of a First Spanish-period thatched hut. The house grew, through the eras, to the fancy of its British and later American occupants. Check in down the street at St. Francis Inn, the city's "oldest inn," dating to 1791.

Day 2

In 1586, privateer Sir Francis Drake burned and pillaged the city, the first of a string of Brits who battled St. Augustine. But with no success, thanks to the impenetrable fortifications built in Drake's wake. Finally Britain won the colony in the Seven Years' War and ruled 21 years, 1763 - 1784.

Drake's tour begins at America's oldest masonry fort, Castillo de San Marcos, built in 1672. British barracks and exhibits are devoted to Britain's wrath and rule. One of St. Augustine's most determined attackers, James Ogelthorpe, stormed in 1740. You can visit a monument across the river on Anastasia Island that marks the spot. Continue southward on the scenic island to visit by boat Fort Matanzas National Monument, which protected St. Augustine's "backdoor" from British marauders.

To further follow scenically in British footsteps, head west to County Road 13, a.k.a. the William Bartram Scenic Highway along the St. Johns River. It commemorates the famed British botanist's 18th-century work here.

Return to the Old City and visit structural monuments to British reign at Old St. Augustine Village and Trinity Episcopal Church. Dine on bangers and mash downtown at Prince of Wales Pub on Cuna Street or farther outside the Old City at Kings Head British Pub.

Day 3

Three centuries of Spanish and British rule had made their mark on St. Augustine. Yet railroad guy Henry Flagler single-handedly altered its heritage and skyline even more in just 25 years. Tour St. Augustine offers a Flagler Tour of his contributions, or see them on your own while taking in period sites, 1887 - 1913.

Begin at Flagler College, originally Henry's Ponce de Leon Hotel, built in Gilded Age imitation of Spanish Renaissance and outfitted with Tiffany windows and chandeliers. Students conduct tours throughout the day. Next, see nearby Memorial Presbyterian, where Flagler lies to rest with his wife and daughter. In the same vicinity, Grace United Methodist imitates Ponce Hotel's style and the Ancient City Baptist Church completes the era's saintly litany.

Visit Flagler's Alcazar Hotel and lunch in Café Alcazar, settled into the deep end of the indoor pool, the world's largest in its day. Tour the Lightner Museum that occupies the Moorish Revival-style palace with period art glass and other treasures. Book a room across the street at Flagler's elegant Casa Monica Hotel and dine in a decidedly Flagleresque atmosphere at its 95 Cordova.

St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches are a big birthday cake of heritage, with the influence of many distinct cultures and historical superstars layered one upon another through the years. Dig in!

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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