January, 2014. St. Augustine, Florida. Old, Older and Oldest (Maybe)

Posted on January 25, 2014

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This is a city of old and oldest.

St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States.

DSCN0222It is home to the oldest masonry structure in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos, construction of which started in 1672. It did take 23 years to totally finish the fort, partly because it was built of coquina.

Coquina is mainly composed of mineral calcite, often including some phosphate, in the form of seashells or coral. It occurs in tidal areas where the action of waves and currents break down shells and packs them tightly together.

The stone made a very good material for early forts, because it was relatively soft and cannon balls would sink into, rather than shatter or puncture, the walls. However, when first quarried it is too soft to use in construction, so the stones have to dry for one to 2 years before it can be used.

Hence, I suppose, the reason why it took 23 years to complete the fort.

oldest schoolhouse St. A also claims ownership of the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial house in Florida, dating from the early 1700’s (argued  by some); the oldest wooden schoolhouse (up for debate); the oldest poured concrete structure in the United States; the oldest public park, Plaza de la Constitucion, which beats out Boston Commons by 66 years; and the oldest community of legally-recognized ex-slaves, dating from 1738.

DSCN0329AND the city is home to the oldest street in America, Aviles Street.

A 2010 archaeological dig appears to prove what many people in St. Augustine had claimed for years, despite other protestations that an alley in Philadelphia held the honors.

According to city archeologist Carl Halbirt,”We know this road dates back to the early 1600’s based on the pottery we’ve recovered.”  These shards were found several feet under the current bricks covering Aviles Street. Philly’s alley only dates back to 1720, so it’s practically a new road.

DSCN0285Aviles Street is still very much in use by cars, pedestrians, horse carriages and the tourist trolleys.

While obviously bricks have been replaced through the years (and centuries) they claim it has never been graded, and having bounced along it in a cushion-less trolley car, I am certain that’s correct.

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Posted in: Travel - Florida