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Cover of Motor Age Magazine, December 2, 1915

The Reddington house, built in 1665 and now used as a museum for the exhibition of a wonderful collection of antiques.

St. Augustine - Patriarch of American Cities

Portrait of spanish soldier holding flag and sword.

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Spanish soldier guards the Nation's Oldest City.

Florida is a realm of charming contradictions. Rival real estate agents indulge in them. Swaying palm trees hum the siesta lullabies of the tropics, while sturdy pines stand erect and defiant to meet the snow-lugging blasts of winter, which never come, with Belgium-brave resistance. Although the last of the great national frontiers, yearning for settlement and development, it can boast of having within its boundaries the first colony of the European on the mainland of North America-St. Augustine, cradle of the Spanish empire in the new world and patriarch of all American cities.

Had Ponce de Leon lived in the modern day of “Collegiate clothes for Sires of Sophomores,” which are alleged to make old men look young; of cafes dansant where still-kneed septuagenarians mimic the steps of youth and the Castles; of Broadway revues, where the exposure of bare feminine knees brings a blush of childish shame to wrinkled cheeks, St. Augustine might not be able to boast of such a distinction. For it was this intrepid but declining native of Aragon, who shipped with Columbus on the latter's second voyage to America, that gave to St. Augustine that characteristic which he could not tolerate in himself – age; a characteristic that lends to the 402-year-old city the charm of the lovable great-grandmother and none of the hideousness of the tottering, bent-backed miser.

Tiring of hearing his barber prate of hair tonics which were absolute failures as irrigation projects on barren pates and of listening to the creak of his joints as he bowed to the ladies of the court, Ponce de Leon sailed from Spain in 1512 in search of adventure and the fountain of youth. A poisoned arrow cut short his quest for adventure. He never found the magic waters which, according to the redskin quacks of Porto Rico, would turn his silver hair to brown, erase the wrinkles from his face, and free his body of rheumatism.

Antique picture of the St. Augustine city gates.

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The old pillars and the sentry boxes of the city gate at St. Augustine, cherished landmarks of a brace past and conspicuous relics of an elaborate system of fortifications that once defended the patriarch of American municipalities.

Although his parlous "See America First" trip was a crushing disappointment to him, the wanderings of the venerable gadabout were not in vain as far as King Ferdinand of Spain, his royal descendants and the future generations of southern tourists and Florida realty dealers were concerned. Ponce de Leon discovered the peninsular state of the Union on Easter Sunday, 1513, and put St. Augustine on the map. You will find it so written in the ancient archives of the Castilians.

A Historical Brass Knocker

There are no visible proofs of Ponce de Leon's visit to the greybeard of American cities. The prints of his mailed shoe in the sand have not been preserved for posterity and obliging guides. There are no holes in the beach where he must have prospected for the magic aqua juventatis which, had he discovered it, would have been a Florida water much more in demand than the present product bearing that label, an eagerly quaffed potion that would have made embalming fluid a drug on the market, put undertakers and cemetery sextons out of business and received a testimonial from Lillian Russell.

The only tangible evidence of Ponce de Leon's association with St. Augustine is a brass knocker, taken from the portals of his residence in Spain to ornament the door of the Reddington house, which shares the disputed claim of being the oldest dwelling in the patriarchial city with two other antiquated structures. The knocker is genuine. A parchment, yellow with age and carefully preserved behind glass, bears testimony to its authenticity. Your only wonder is that knockers should have been used in a day when the hands of callers were encased in gloves of mail.

The achievements of Don Pedro Menen dez de Aviles, who raised the royal banner of Spain over St. Augustine 52 years after Ponce de Leon landed in Florida and 44 years before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth rock, are far more authentic and sanguinary than those of the disappointed seeker after youth. Eager to find the waters that would make him young again and to flee approaching death, Ponce de Leon was a roving explorer. Menendez, appointed governor of the Floridas on condition that he expel the French from the land and conquer the natives, was a colonizer. It was natural that he should be. It would bea queer governor, indeed, that would not create something over which to govern. Such was the impulse that changed St. Augustine from an uninhabited stretch of sand to a lasting settlement that was destined to have a crimson and charred fight for existence.

Red, Fire-Lighted Legends

Basillica on St. George, displaying sun clock in St. Augustine

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The old cathedral and the new on St. George street. In the circle is shown the sun dial that is a conspicuous decoration of the old church, built in 1701 and partially destroyed by fire in 1885.

St. Augustine's early history is written in blood, the merciless massacre of the Huguenots, who had founded a settlement on the St. Johns river in 1564, by Menendez immediately upon his arrival and the retaliating butchery of the Spaniards by Dominic de Gourgues 3 years later, supplying the historians with enough red writing fluid to balance the books of the world since the day of the Creation. Thrice, before the town was a half-century old, the annalists penned chapters of defeat and destruction as the pages of their records were illuminated by crackling flames started by the firebrands of the English pirates, Sir Francis Drake and John Davis, and the invading governor of South Carolina, Moore.

Visit St. Augustine and you voice the regret, so commonly expressed, that the cinematograph was not the invention of the ancients so that all history, from the fall of Adam to the fall of Przemysl, could be pictured on the screen as the epochal episodes of the centuries actually were unfolded. The life of the old town has been a thrilling one. In its time it has seen siege and slaughter, loot and conflagration. Through its narrow streets have marched the mailed conquistadors of Spain, the bearded crews of pirate ships, the captured chiefs of the Seminoles, the blue-coated soldiers of the United States and the gray-clad troops of the Confederacy. Shot, fired from the buccaneer ships, has furrowed its beach and found a target in its forts. Galleons, flying the red and yellow flag of Spain; pirate craft, with the skull and crossbones at the masthead; yankee battleships and gunboats have ridden at anchor in its harbor. It has served four national masters — Spain, Great Britain, the United States and the Confederate States of America.

St. Augustine would make a splendid background for a historical movie. Griffith, producer of the historic film masterpieces, "The Birth of a Nation" and "Martyrs of the Alamo," should protograph it with a battery of moving picture cameras. With the ancient city as an inspiration, what a scenario Cyrus Townsend Brady could write? I can almost see the following subtitles of the various episodes of the story flashed upon the screen:


 
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