By Herb Hiller
St. Augustine is more than just history. It’s quirky, romantic, engrossing and it’s (gasp!) e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n-a-l!
Those "oldest" places?
At The Oldest House (enshrined as a National Historic Landmark dating from the early 1600s), walls are made of tabby, a mixture of lime, shell and sand once common in coastal Florida. A mulberry tree that grows in the yard descends from stock of the 1830s when silk culture, though boomed, never really caught on.
The Authentic Old Jail reveals rigors of incarceration during a time of heavy manacles and ball-and-chains. Ancient, too, without benefit of the "O" word are the Mission of Nombre de Dios (from the founding of St. Augustine in 1565) and – fearsome fort and prison – the Castillo de San Marcos(1695). Less fearsome just north of the city is the site of America’s first free black community, formed in 1738. Though today only sand remains of Fort Mose, an exhibit at Ponce De Leon Mall tells the entire story.
Ambiance scintillates at the walled block of houses at Old St. Augustine Village where celebrity visitors, hosted for 150 years, commenced in 1790 with Napoleon’s nephew Prince Murat and continued with Ralph Waldo Emerson and actress Greta Garbo.
Even shopping celebrates history at antiquarian bookstores, antique shops and art galleries, many in historic buildings.
Kids adore Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth at the National Archeological Park and, big-eyed, emit huffs of awe at the sight of huge gators at The Alligator Farm and Zoological Park.