Saturday, April 9, 2016


I recently attended a Road Scholar Program ( ) program on the history and culture of Saint Augustine, Florida.  Our history instructor told us that the best (free) historical attraction in the area was the Fort Matanzas National Monument, located a few miles south of downtown.  This area gets its name from the executions of Jean Ribault and his band of 250 Huguenot Frenchmen (the last of the Fort Caroline Colonists), by the Spanish in 1565.  Matanzas  is the Spanish word for "slaughter".   One hundred seventy-five years later, the small watchtower fort was constructed to help protect St. Augustine from a new threat----the British.  Contact information for the attraction is available on their website at   .
Since our program itinerary did not include visiting this particular monument, my friend and I drove there by private car when our program ended.  The first scene that greeted us upon entering was this magnificent grove of live oak trees, that had been cleared of underbrush, so as to make it a magical  play/climbing area for kids, as well as a scenic picnic area for visitors of all ages.

When our instructor told us about this attraction, the thing that REALLY made me want to visit it, was the fact that it had a FREE boat ride across one of Florida's wildlife-filled waterways.  The pontoon boat in this photo shows a group that has just returned from visiting the fort. 

The ramp leading down to the boat dock is handicap accessible, which makes it possible for those with mobility disorders to also make the trip. 

We learned from this NPS ranger that Fort Matanzas National Monument was built by the Spanish in 1740.  However, Spain lost control of Florida with the 1763 Treaty of Paris.  They regained control with the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

A different park ranger taught us that the fort was built to guard Matanzas Inlet, which could be used as a rear entrance to Saint Augustine.  In historical times, this was a significant point because coming in from the rear would avoid Saint Augustine's primary defense system, the Castillo de San Marcos .  (Note: The Visitor Center shown in the background of this photo was built in 1936, as part of Florida's New Deal.  Its architecture is defined as NPS Eastern Division Rustic style, and functions as a museum.) 

The Sentry Box, located on the corner of most all Spanish forts, has the same characteristic shape, as those I have written about in past blogs, regarding Spanish forts in Puerto Rico and Texas. 

To get to the very top of the fort's tower, one must climb a ladder, and come out through a "trap door", that could be bolted shut from the inside, if invaders happen to enter from the top of the tower. 

These youngsters were coaching their father to continue up the ladder---assuring him that if they could do it, he could as well!

My friend Diane posed for a photo inside the Sentry Box entrance. The Sentry Box was designed to protect a gunner who would be stationed there to shoot at enemies. 

The fort had five cannon---four were six pounders and the one on the right that is larger is an 18 pounder.  All guns could reach the inlet, which was one-half mile away.  The only time Fort Matanzas fired on an enemy was in 1742, when the British (under Jame Oglethorpe of Georgia) approached the inlet with 12 ships.  Cannon fire drove off the scouting boats and the warship left without engaging the fort.  It was also Governor James Oglethorpe of Georgia, who a few months earlier before the fort was built, had used the inlet to blockade Saint Augustine and launch a 39-day siege.  The Spanish endured, but the incident convinced them that protecting the inlet was necessary to the security of the town. 

When the fort was in active use, the usual garrison consisted of one officer in charge, four infantrymen, and two gunners.  I know if I were a soldier in those days, I would have preferred to sleep in this enclosed tower, rather than on the marsh grounds below.  For example, the fort is located on what is now called "Rattlesnake Island", and our Park Ranger guide advised us to not go wandering off into the marshes surrounding the fort, although there were no fences keeping us from doing so. 

There was a small storage room, where food supplies and dry firearms powder would have been stored.
Since the fort was controlled by the Spanish during most of its early history, it is not surprising that evidence of their Catholic heritage would be present, in the form of a Christian cross hanging on the wall.

The living quarters of the fort had a small area for storing the occupants' food supplies, but it also had ample evidence of the Christian faith of the occupants, including this prayer bench, with the symbol of the cross.  Therefore, I am using this as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verses that says, "Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."  Matthew 4:4    It seems as though the hierarchy of the Spanish empire realized that their soldier's spiritual health, was just as important as their physical health!
Fort Matanzas is a masonry structure made of coquina, a common shellstone building material there.  You can see from the lighter colored stone and mortar, that restoration work has been done on the fort.   In fact, when the U.S. took control of Florida in 1821, the fort had deteriorated to the point where soldiers could not live inside it, and it had become a ruin.  In 1916, the U.S. Department of War began restoration and the fort was stabilized in 1924, being named a National Monument in that same year.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.  That photo of me inside the Sentry Box attests that I, too, could be listed in the National Register of Historic AARP members!

Since the NPS property includes 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands along the Matanzas River , there are numerous spots for fishermen, as well as a public beach, with ocean access is one section of the park.  Since 2016 is the centennial year for the U.S. National Parks, I want to visit as many of them as possible!
Getting to visit this remote and uncrowded site in Florida, made me thankful once again for our National Parks, and gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!    Tricia