St Augustine Military History and Cemetery Tour
This tour includes key sites associated with military history including hospitals, cemeteries and forts.
The house known today as Villas on the Bay, at 105 Marine Street, used to be a military hospital attached to St. Francis Barracks. The building was originally located across the street, on the lot which is now St. Augustine National Cemetery. After the military post was decommissioned in 1900 and the building left vacant, it was moved after 1913 to extend the ground for the National Cemetery.
Established in the middle of the 19th century, St. Augustine National Cemetery contains the remains and commemorates the lives of veterans spanning the Second Seminole War to the Vietnam War. The cemetery and city of St. Augustine changed hands from the Spanish (1565-1763) to the English (1763-1783), back to the Spanish (1783-1821), before becoming a United States territory in 1821. Beginning in 1828, the cemetery received soldiers killed in battle as well as those who died from disease. Many who perished during the Second Seminole War lay underneath the three pyramid monuments, constructed in 1842. By the 1880s, a lack of upkeep led to the burial grounds’ dilapidation. To preserve the area, in 1881 the government designated the land as a National Cemetery. At this time the troops stationed at the St. Francis Barracks helped pay for the construction of the obelisk commemorating Dade’s command. During the early to middle twentieth century, the cemetery grew by about a half an acre and added a perimeter wall, superintendent’s lodge, a utility building, and a rostrum for ceremonies. Interment continued regularly until 1988, when the approximately one and a third acre plot no longer had space. In total, the St. Augustine National Cemetery contains approximately 2,643 recorded interments.
Currently home to the Florida National Guard, the grounds of the St. Francis Barracks have seen a variety of uses and buildings since early European settlement. Spanish Franciscans first established a friary on the land in 1588 with the aim of converting Native Americans in the region. Over the next four centuries, the grounds changed hands between the Spanish, English, Spanish again, the U.S. government, the Confederacy (briefly), and the state of Florida. The land’s religious purposes, established by the Spanish, changed after the English assumed control. Not requiring a Catholic mission, the English utilized the area as a military barracks. The area has generally remained in use for military purposes since the 1760s, even with several unsuccessful attempts to reassert religious control over the site.
This St. Augustine museum includes exhibits related to medicine in the colonial period and the general history of the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821). The museum is located at the site of a colonial-era hospital that mirrors the history of Florida. The facility known as Hospital West was constructed in the First Spanish Period while Hospital East was constructed during the British Period. The site was later home to an apothecary within the William Watson House which was constructed in the British Period. While the original buildings no longer exist, the current building was constructed on the foundation of the former hospital facility. In addition to exhibits related to the history of medicine, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum has the only educational tour dedicated to the second Spanish period in St. Augustine.
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fortification and the only remaining seventeenth-century fortress in North America. For many years, it was the northernmost fort of the Spanish Empire in the New World. It protected St. Augustine against pirate raids and the British who, at that time, were Spain’s greatest enemies. The castle was East Florida’s main defense along with others that spanned from the north of the St. Marys River, to the St. Johns River in the west, and to the Fort Matanzas in the south.
Located in St. John’s County across from the historic city gate lays the historic Huguenot Cemetery also known as The Public Burying Ground. In 1821, the cemetery was the first public cemetery established for the purpose of burying the non-Catholic victims of the Yellow fever. It was used again later to inter protestants and those practicing other non-Catholic religions, since the Tolomto Cemetery was strictly Catholics only. Prior to the Huguenot Cemetery being established, those of the non-Catholic faith were buried on Anastasia Island. During the last Spanish period, the last owner listed was Lorenzo Capella, who sold it to Presbyterian Reverend Thomas Alexander in 1832 under the condition that Protestants would continue to be buried here.
Tolomato Cemetery located in St Augustine, which is the oldest European city founded in Florida. The site was part of an early Franciscan and Indian mission during the early 18th century. The Indians initially came to Saint Augustine after attacks from British soldiers and hostile tribes destroyed their missions (tolomatocemetery.com). This site is located in one of the most iconic cities relevant to Florida’s history. It also included the burials of many people who played iconic roles in the early developments of Florida. Many of those people were: British, Indians, Spanish, Haitian, and American.