Monday, January 9, 2012

Downtown St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine is a combination of modern, old (around 100 years old) and very old (over 200 years). Here are some pictures from all three era's.

The Old Jail house was built in 1891 and used until 1953. Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil (along with Rockefeller), and founder of Florida East Coast railroad, donated most of the money to build this jail. It is the oldest surviving government building in St. John's county.

I think Max liked this idea.

But I liked this better.

Downtown has several streets blocked off to traffic. Most of them aren't wide enough for a single lane of traffic anyway. Some of the older buildings date back to the 1700s. It is now populated with shops and restaurants.

This is Aviles Street. In Spanish times this was the 'street of the royal hospital'. Notice the cobblestone street and the archway. They actually allow traffic down this street, even though it is barely a single lane wide.

They claim this is the oldest wood schoolhouse in the U.S. But I could never find a date, so don't really know how old it is.

There is a town square and on one corner was this sign. This is probably one of the oldest public markets in America, espcially since it predated Jamestown by 6 years.

Now Flagler College, this was built as the Ponce De Leon Hotel by Henry Flagler. He had brought his wife down here to St. Augustine and found there were not accomodations of which he considered appropriate for a man of his means. So in 1888 Henry Flagler decided to build such an establishment. This was the first of many such enterprises he undertook. Many consider him to be the man who developed Florida by building the railroads and developing hotels along the route.

This is the inside today. The main lobby of the hotel in the entry point for the administration offices for the college.

This is what the hotel was like in the 1890s. It hasn't really changed much.

Across the street is the Lightner Museum and City Hall. It opened originally on Christmas Day, 1888, as the Alcazar Hotel, another of Henry Flagler's hotels. It was a center of social life until it closed in 1931. It was then bought by Otto Lightner to house his collection of antiques and collectibles. He left then entire collection and the building to the citizens of St. Augustine upon his death in 1950.

Downstairs in the basement is a room which can be rented for catered events. It was being set up for a wedding reception when we wandered through. There is also a restaurant downstairs.

But it wasn't always a hall used for entertainment. It was built as a swimming pool and at one time was the largest indoor pool of its time.

Next door is the Zorayda Castle, built in 1883 by Boston millionaire Franklin Smith. It is built on a 1/10 scale to the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. It was sold in 1913 and in 1922 became a nightclub and gambling casino, but was closed in 1925 when Florida outlawed gambling. It opened in the 1930s as a tourist attraction.

On the more modern side, we got to see the Christmas Parade.

Since pirates have such a history all up and down the east coast, they were represented too.

My favorite time in St. Augustine though, was the tour of the Whetstone Chocolate Factory. Here are some examples of what the cocoa pod looks like before the beans are removed and dried. Then there is the bowl of dried cocoa beans and the sack as they are shipped from South America to the U.S. The harvesting and growing of the cocoa plant is still very much labor intensive with not much mechanical means used.

I always wondered how they covered those cherries.

They still hand mold their chocolate creations. And did you know that white chocolate is not chocolate at all, but simply the fat content which is separated from the chocolate in the processing.

This vat keeps the chocolate at a precise temperature until it is ready for the making of whatever product they are making for the day. Also another interesting fact I learned was about dark chocolate, which is my favorite. Milk chocolate has less than 35% chocolate. So anything with more than 35% can be claimed as dark chocolate. But to be really healthy it needs to be at least 60% or more. So if it doesn't have the percentage of chocolate listed, it is probably only 35-40% dark chocolate.

Your more common chocolate manufacturers, such as Mars and M&Ms, contract small places like Whetstone to supplement their products. This case has just a few of the candy products made for Mars, M&Ms and Mauna Lau chocolate companies. And yes, we got lots of chocolate samples. Yum.......

North of town on Hwy A1A we spotted this strange castle structure. Stopping to investigate we found it is someone's home. There is a sign which says "Castle Otttis is an original landscape sculpture in remembrance of Jesus Christ".

Just down the road from where we stayed was the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

This house was the lighthouse keepers residence and they were both built in 1874. It is now a museum.

As part of the reenactment they held a parade at night.

I think this says it all.

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