Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dow Museum of St.Augustine

We moved today to Cape Canaveral, and are located now in a park which comes up to the shores of the Banana River. It has been cloudy and rainy, we hope that improves over the next couple of days but they Florida does need rain. I have one more item to cover on St. Augustine,  the Dow Museum. It covers an entire city block of St.Augustine, and within this area are nine historical homes.  Arguably, it is the largest collection of older homes in all of the United States. Also, under and around this historical area are the foundations and structures of the 16th century colonial town. The homes were bought up by Kenneth Dow in the early 20th century. The oldest one is the Murat Home, built in 1790. The owner of the home, Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat was the crown prince of France (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte). Murat came to the United States at the age of 22 years seeking political asylum. He happened to strike up a friendship with the philosopher Emerson, who visited him at this house. Emerson came to St.Augustine frequently to restore his health.  Another interesting fact regarding Murat is that he married a relative of George Washington. This home is well furnished with antiques of that era.
Dow traveled around the world to find the most odd and unusual art for these homes. This can especially be seen in the courtyard and gardens surrounding the homes, which he decorated with many statues and fountains. On a brick wall of the gardens he even installed a street grate, which is quite decorative. It is a very fascinating museum.  Two of the buildings house the studios and galleries of  local artists.
In a square of this historic village is a bell with a historical marker under it. The marker claimed that according to a report provided by a slave, Mary Gomez, in 1863 all the slaveholders of St.Augustine were ordered by the mayor to release their slaves and to have them gather in  this vacant lot. There the Emancipation Proclamation Act was read.. After the reading the "bonds" were struck off. I think that we will never forget St.Augustine because of its many layers of history, which can easily be discovered all over the city.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Love and Chocolate in St.Augustine

 John, who very diligently reads all the travel books before touring a city, found some small reference to a "love tree" located in St.Augustine. While walking around the town Friday we came upon the"Love Tree Cafe". The small juice bar has a beautiful garden, but we saw no marker noting a love tree in the area. We were just about ready to give up and walk away when John found The Tree.
 You may wonder, as I did, what was so unusual about the live oak. John pointed out to me the palm tree growing out of the live oak. What a testament to true love!  Those trees look like they are not just tolerating each others existence, but are thriving with one's roots sunk deep within the other. Since then I have found out that if a couple kisses under it, their love will last forever. John and I missed that opportunity, but I believe that our love will last anyway, without the help of that tree! Yesterday, Saturday, we returned to St. Augustine to tour Dow Museum, as we had arrived there Friday at closing time. I have said it before, there are some days for us which turn out totally different than planned. Saturday we passed  Kilwins Chocolate shop and remembered that they give tours and samples for a small fee. We stopped, found out that a tour was happening soon, and that took care of the rest of the day for us. We got a crash course on everything there is to know about chocolate, from the bean in the pod on a small farm (only small farmers grow the plant) in the tropics, to the finished product in a chocolate shop. In the factory we saw chocolate covered cashews being made. The worker below is placing the nuts in a chocolate mold.
In the picture below another worker is pouring the chocolate into the mold, after which the mold is set aside to harden. And yes, that is chocolate pouring down into container below it. Looks yummy, right?
 We were still in the factory when the chocolate cashews got popped out of their mold. One was a dud, it was not completely covered with chocolate, so I volunteered to get rid of it!  What is there not to love about chocolates, except maybe their calories.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House of St.Augstine Florida

One of these day I just may run out of places to talk about in historic St.Augustine. But I just could not pass up mentioning this home as it has 400 years of documented history and is the oldest home in the city.
The first home on this site was made of logs and had a thatched roof. It burned in the town fire of 1702. The next house built here, as seen above, had a tabby floor and coquina wall. At that time it had one floor. A family by the name of Tomas Gonzalez was believed to have lived in it then, proof of that was found in the local Catholic church books which has recorded the baptism of their child in 1702. That family lived in the home until the British occupied the city in 1763. It was then that the second story, as well as other alterations in the size and shape of the house, was built. For some time it was even a tavern, a room on the first floor shows what a bar room may have looked like back in the 1700s. It also portrays what a main room may have looked liked for the first Spanish dwellers of the home.
The British influence is very evident on the second floor where there are private rooms for sleeping and visiting. What especially impressed me about this house was that it was continually in use and fully occupied by people over the 400 year of its existence.
As we know from history, the British left St.Augustine in the late 1700s and the Spanish came back in. The Geronimo Alvarez family owned the home for 100 years after which it went to various occupants until it became a museum in 1918. Below is the entrance into the courtyard of the home as it appears today.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

This park, on Anastasia Island, was our last stop of the day when we visited that island. Although formal gardens are the centerpiece of the park, it does have 425 acres of Florida's original coastal scenery. The land is part of Bella Vista Plantation, once owned by General Joseph Hernandez, a Floridian of Minorcan descent. You may remember that in one of my past postings I spoke of the Minorcans, or Greek immigrants who settled in St.Augustine. A surveyor named George Washington, distant relative of  our first president, married Hernandez's daughter in 1845. History can sure be fascinating. The plantation ended up as a winter resort for Mr. Young and his wife in 1937. He help found the RCA corporation.
Speaking of gardens, we also visited Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida on Thanksgiving day. In that park gardens have been landscaped with tropical and subtropical plantings in a setting of ravines and springs. March or April  is probably the best time to see this garden as azaleas thickly cover the area then.
In 1937 the gardens were declared "the Nation's outstanding CWA project". CWA was the Federal Civil Works Administration formed during the depression to spur economic recovery. Ironically, both the gardens and the town of Palaka could use the same help today, as they are now looking rather down in the mouth with physical structures crumbling, streets and sidewalks cracking. In the park there is an obelisk dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt, president at the time when this garden was built. Leading up to the monument are all the flags of the states, placed in order according to their time of statehood. Our weather has been great for the past few days, average of 80 degrees.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Anastasia Island

This barrier island is a short drive over from the city St.Augustine. The picture above was taken from the top of the lighthouse on the island, it shows the city off in the distance. Part of the island is nestled between the Mantanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean. In April 1942 the German submarine U-123 sank the USS Gulfamerica off Jacksonville Beach. It was discovered that the American boats were being fired at as they passed in front of the lights of the lighthouse, so during the war those lights were dimmed.. Our main goal in going over to Anastasia island was to see old Spanish quarry, which is now located in Anastasia State Park. The stone found here largely contributed to the building of the fort and settlement of St.Augustine. Presently there is not much to be seen in this quarry. Plants that thrive in disturbed areas have displaced the marine hammock that once covered this quarry. Coquina is the white rock that can be seen in the middle of the picture below. The picture was taken in what is left of the quarry. Many years ago the ocean came much further inland and left deposits of coquina (in Spanish the word means "tiny shellfish") in this area.
. We went to two beaches on the island and found piles of coquina rock formations.  When it is first quarried, it is soft and easily soft hewed into desired shapes. After it is allowed to dry it becomes very hard. It is calcium carbonate (leached from the shells) which cements the loose deposits of sand,clay and shells to form coquina.
 I took a close-up picture of the rock while I was walking the beach to show you how many shells form into the coquina. The stone can get up to 50 feet thick. The holes in those rocks made for some nice tide pools while the tide was out.
While walking the seashore I happened to look down at my feet as the tide was going out and was surprised the see the shape of a star appear in the sand. It was a beautiful starfish, and when I picked it up I saw little white feet wiggling on its underside, so I quickly placed it back in the water. What an absolutely beautiful creature, its colors of blue and gold were quite stunning. I don't think I will ever find walking on the beach boring!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This is to wish all of our family and friends a most blessed Thanksgiving. The above picture was taken at Memorial Presbyterian Church chapel. That was not where we attended Thanksgiving services. I fear that one of these years we will not find a place to attend Thanksgiving services. The city of St. Augustine had one church where we could attend, Trinity Episcopal Parish built in 1830.
It was a Thanksgiving eve service, and the church was half full. The streets were full of people admiring the Christmas lights of the city, shops and restaurants were all open and buskers were playing Christmas carols. Thanksgiving has certainly gotten lost between early Christmas celebrations and Black Friday. For me Thanksgiving will always remain a special time to give thanks to God from whom all my blessings flow!  Before the service last evening we returned to Flagler college to take a guided tour from one of its junior students.The dining area is truly awesome with Tiffany stained glass windows and painted murals on the walls. Hard to believe that the tuition is only $21,000 a year. It is a nationally recognized liberal arts college.

St. Augustine

I would be very remiss if I failed to mention two other buildings of the Gilded Age built in St.Augustine. The Villa Zorayda was built in 1883 by a Boston millionaire, Franklin Smith. He had fallen in love with the Alhambra while visiting Spain and was determined to build his home in that style. The end result was an exact replica of one wing of that palace, but one-tenth its size.
The second owner of this place turned it into a gambling casino in 1922. It was quite the social gathering place for wealthy vacationers back at that time. However, it was closed and turned back into a home when Florida outlawed gambling in 1925. Today it is a beautiful museum with antiques and paintings from around the world. Ripley's Believe It Or Not! original museum is another building constructed during the late 1800s. It was built in the style of Moorish Revival. The second owner was Norton Baskin, the husband of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. They ran it as a hotel and resided in a third floor apartment of the hotel.
What I love about St.Augustine is the influence of the Old World, seen not only in its buildings, but also in the narrow streets and courtyards tucked between the homes and shops. And I felt like I was back in Spain when I saw the fountain below, it was a gift from St.Augustine's sister city of Spain, Aviles, to the city.  Aviles has the original  of that fountain in one of its neighborhoods.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Henry Flagler Buildings of St.Augustine

John and I have walked the streets of St. Augustine, toured four museums, and still feel as though we have not made much headway in seeing all of this town.That is not a complaint, for it has all been most interesting. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Florida became a winter retreat for northern visitors. Henry Flagler, a self-made millionaire, who with John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company, was the man who turned  St. Augustine into a winter vacation spot.  He started building a great Gilded Age empire of hotels and railroads that extended from the city south to Key West. There are three of his hotels still in St. Augustine today, one of them, the Cordova, still functions as a hotel today. Another one, the the Alcazar, is a museum today as well as the city hall for St.Augustine. Otto Lightner bought the hotel in 1947 to house his 40 to 50 thousand antiques and collectibles. The hotel rooms surrounding the courtyard are now the city hall offices, the museum part is located where there once were steam rooms, the bowling alley,casino and ballroom. The hotel once had the largest swimming pool in the world, now it is a cafe for the museum. The picture below was taken from the ballroom looking down at the cafe.
The courtyard outside is quite beautiful with plants and a fish pond. When we were there it was quite decked out both for Christmas and a wedding, which occurred just as we were leaving the museum.
 While the Alcazar was built in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, the Ponce de Leon (the third hotel which Flagler built) was created to look like a Moorish-style palace with tall spires and turrets. It is now Flagler University, a liberal arts college. Below is a statue of Henry Flagler, which stands at the entrance to the college. The hotel is the main hall of the college, and is quite luxurious with Tiffany stained glass, imported marble and carved oak The picture below captures some of the beauty of the rotunda.  At the end of the rotunda is the student dining hall  and I am fairly certain that no other college has their dining hall in such a beautiful setting! Five past presidents stayed at this place when it was a hotel.
The last ornate Henry Flagler building, pictured here, is the Memorial Presbyterian Church. Flagler's daughter died tragically in childbirth in 1890. St. Augustine already had a Presbyterian church, St.George, but Flagler wanted a new one built in memory of his daughter. It was built in less than a year, although the stained-glass windows took 11 years to complete. It is a Venetian Renaissance structure, the size of which to me seemed quite over-whelming. It is still an active congregation with a preschool. In the church is a mausoleum where Henry Flagler, his first wife, daughter and her baby are buried.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Greek colony in St.Augustine

It is amazing how such a small town can hold so many layers of history. Also, many nationalities are represented in the city still today. St. Augustine did not become a part of America until it was over 200 years old. After touring the fort we did a walking tour of St Augustine's oldest section of town, and there found the beautiful Greek Orthodox National Shrine. It is quite a unique chapel with exquisite Byzantine style frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
 It is dedicated to the first colony of Greek people who came to America in 1768. A Scottish physician, Dr. A.Turnbull,  received a grant for land from Great Britain with the stipulation that the land be occupied within ten years. Natives of Greece at the time were experiencing many hardships, many of them had withdrawn to the mountains fearing reprisals from the Turks.  They hoped to find freedom in the New World. Dr. Turnbull went to Greece and promised them a new beginning, enlisting them under the English Indentured Servant Act.  Unfortunately life here was hard for them. Many died on the sea voyage over, and in the New World many also died doing slave labor on Dr.Turnball's plantation. Life became better for them once they were able to flee to St.Augustine at the time of the Spanish occupation.  A Catholic priest, Father Pedro Camps, was their spiritual leader when the the immigrants came over. A memorial statue to him and the Greek immigrants, a gift from the Greek island of Minorca,  can be found on the grounds of St. Augustine Cathedral.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Castillo de San Marcos

This fort is over 300 years old and has been under the flag of Spain twice, England once, and America also once. St. Augustine originally had a wooden fort, which was burned by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, and in 1668  pirates sacked St.Augustine hoping to attain the riches of Spain which were borne on the Spanish galleons sailing into the tiny colonial outpost.  This caused Queen Mariana of  Spain to order that a stone fort be built for the town. A locally quarried rock, coquina, was used. It proved impregnable, and the fort survived 15 battles and two sieges. Rather than crumbling under the battering of artillery shells the coquina walls "swallowed"  the cannon balls and little damage occurred to the structure over the years.
It was England who lay siege to the fort (the second attack was by General Oglethorpe in 1740). Florida was transferred to Britain in the treaty of Paris in 1763. Britain's stay was short, only 21 years. Florida was returned to Spain as part of the negotiations ending the America War for Independence in 1783. And in a treaty signed in 1821, Florida came into American hands. The fort has been a prison for three signers of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War, as well as for Native Indians during the late 1800s. A lot of our time at the fort was spent trying to absorb all that history! We also were fortunate to be there to watch the firing of one of the old cannons. The firing did not happen until the men in uniform followed a series of orders barked out in Spanish by their captain. It was interesting to observe!
 We also enjoyed wandering through the many rooms of the fort. There is a chapel with a stone altar and fonts on each side of it, built into the wall, for holy water. There is also a dungeon, as well as a vaulted chamber to protect the fort's gunpowder. Only two latrines are in the fort, hard to imagine how the many soldiers and towns people handled that during one of the sieges which lasted fifty days! Interestingly enough, no one lived in the fort when there was no danger of an attack. Soldiers lived in the town, they only came to the fort for guard duty, this was primarily true during the Spanish occupation of the fort.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville is about 45 miles north of where we are parked. In contrast to the towns in Georgia, which we have toured, Jacksonville does not have the old town charm. It was burned and abandoned several times during the Civil War. Yellow Fever killed many of its citizens in the late 1880s and forced many more to flee. In 1901 the town sustained a major fire which destroyed nearly the entire downtown area. We drove into the city yesterday to visit a cousin of mine and her husband, Sandra and Peter Ryan. We were not meeting them until later in the day so we took some time to visit the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Arthur Cummer was a wealthy lumber baron at the turn of the twentieth century. At that time he and his wife owned most of Florida. Below is a picture of the sculpture which sits at the entrance of the museum.
The art museum offers world-class art spanning from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century. Of  particular interest is a collection of early 18th-century Meissen porcelain tableware. After John and I had seen about half of the museum we took a break and stepped outside to walk through the English garden, which had been built on the estate of the Cummers. Jacksonville lies in a great double-loop of the St.Johns River, and the gardens extend from the museum to the river.
 The gardens are small but it was amazing to us how much natural beauty was designed into that setting. Pictured below is a garden folly, a " folly" is a barrel-tile roofed cottage constructed only for decoration.
 After touring the museum we walked over to the Jacksonville Arts Festival, which was located under one of the bridge overpasses of the city. It is quite a unique spot to enjoy food, shopping, and musical entertainment while looking out over the St.Johns River. Once we stopped there the rest of our afternoon passed quickly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ponce De Leon's Fountain of Youth National Archeological Park

We are now parked in Florida, between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.  Today we drove into historic old St. Augustine and spent the greater part of our afternoon at an archeological park which claims to be North America's first historical site. The park is on the location of an ancient Timucua Indian village. The park also has on display a cross of coquina (a natural form of tabby) excavated in 1909, which Ponce De Leon laid out to establish the Spanish claim for all of North America.
 Near the site of the cross the park has a fountain of water bubbling up from what it advertises as a "pre- historic Indian Spring which Ponce De Leon hoped was the Fountain of Youth".  He sailed into this area in 1513.  Archeological evidence and written records show that the Timucua Indian was seven feet tall and quite healthy in appearance, in comparision to the short pale Spaniards. Can't blame De Leon for thinking that the Indians had found the fountain of youth!  Archeological digs having been going on in this park since 1934, and are still continuing today. Artifacts have also been found of a Spanish village which was started in this area in 1565, but existed for only nine months because of Indian hostilities. The grounds of this park are quite beautiful with flowers, fountains and statues.
 Also peacocks can be seen everywhere in this archeological park. It was the first time I saw a white peacock, superstition has it that they bring eternal happiness. Maybe there was a reason they were placed in a park which just may have the fountain of youth. White peacocks are a variety of peacock and not albinos. The one pictured below is enjoying a stroll through one of the park's flower beds. Quite a beautiful bird!
Near the park is a 208 foot cross which marks the founding of St. Augustine by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. It is on the grounds of The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (which honors motherhood). It was getting close to sunset when I snapped the picture posted below.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Darien, Georgia

As we drove over the Altamaha River bridge into Darien yesterday John kept urging me to look for Altie. Altie, sometimes known as Altamaha-ha is reported to be an aquatic cryptid whose home is in the tributaries,  marshes, and former rice fields of  the Altamaha River. The first reports of Altie date back to the 17th century, and the latest sighting of him was in 2002 when a fisherman saw something that fit the creature's description. Another report said that Altie swam under a boat and "whacked" it with his tail.  Altie has a snake-like head that sits on a long neck, and its coloring has described as being gray, dark brown or even green on the top with a white, cream or yellow underside. Because of his particular movements in the water there is also a theory that he has two humps. I looked hard over the water with camera in hand, but did not see him. While walking on the waterfront of Darien we found a painting of Altie on a mural.
Darien, before the Civil War, was once a leading seaport of the southern coast, exporting cotton, rice and lumber.  At its waterfront today are still the ruins of the cotton exchange and other business buildings of the seaport. One tabby ruin has a live oak. As a tour brochure comments,  it is a testament to the survival skills of the live oak and the strength of the tabby construction.
 And speaking of tabby buildings, in Darien we found St.Cyprian's Episcopal Church. This church was built in 1876 through the efforts of a Rev. James Wentworth of Hereford, England. He designated it "for the Colored People of McIntosh County". It was built by former slaves and some of the funds for it did come from England. I was impressed with its tabby walls, wooden steeple and metal roof. The side walls have stained glass windows set into the tabby.  It did suffer some damage during the hurricane of 1898. What an awesome church, it just seemed to exude a feeling of strength.  The church still has an active congregation.
In 1863 the town of Darien was burned by the Union Army. After the war cotton was no longer king, but the lumbering business revived the economy of Darien. Pictured below is Vernon Square; this was the social, cultural, and religious center of town during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Prominent merchants and timber barons had their homes near here. The pictures in this posting are dark because it was a cloudy over-cast day;  unfortunately the much needed rain, which was predicted, never did happen. This area has not seen rain in six weeks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

I was not sure how our day was going to turn out, what with the first road names I saw. The first was Rising Daughter Road and soon after that, Burnt Fort. I kept looking for Smoking Gun Road, but no such luck. On our way to the swamp we went through Folkston Georgia. No one should go through that town without stopping to see a train pass. In this town, on an average, about 60 trains go through the town in a day. It is a funnel for all trains going down south to Florida, as well traveling north out of Florida. In Folkston there is a observation platform for train enthusiasts, and next to the platform is some picnic tables with one cooking grill. Some people must really get into train watching in this town! John and I did stop and saw one train come through, going at such a speed that a man standing next to us excitedly proclaimed " its really smoking". About eight miles outside of Folkston is the southern Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The road on which we were hoping to take through the swamp was closed, so the next best way for us to see the swamp was via a ninety minute boat trip. We did ride the boat and had a very interesting guide for our trip, an older man who calls himself a "seventh generation swamper".  Alligators were out in large numbers on the sunny banks of the swamp and our guide seemed to know all about them and their habitat.
Our guide informed us that because of a drought the water level of the swamp is low, consequently the alligators are fairly concentrated in the deeper areas. What intrigued me was how camouflaged the animals and birds are in the swamp. Below is a bittern that happened to poke his beak out as we went pass. Maybe you can see him in the picture below, he is right in the middle of the grass. Enlarging the picture may help.
Not only did I get many pictures of alligators, but I also took many of the blue heron. I was able to catch a picture of one in flight, which I am very pleased with. It amazes me how they can get their big bodies up in the air!
We certainly had a beautiful fall day for our trip down the canal of the swamp. The sweet gum is quite beautiful with its bright red leaves, as well as the deciduous cypress with its orange leaves, add the Spanish moss to the mix and you have some great scenery!