The First Sea Wall

A look at the sea wall protecting the Castillo.A look at the sea wall protecting the Castillo. Some remnants of the original wall are still visible. From the author’s collection at Flickr (click to enlarge).

Old St. Augustine: A Story of Three Centuries (1886):

Don Diego de Quiroga y Losada, the governor of Florida in 1690, finding that the sea was making dangerous encroachments upon the shores of the town, and had reached even the houses, threatening to swallow them up, and render useless the fort which had cost so much to put in the state of completion in which it then was, called a public meeting of the chief men and citizens of the place, and proposed to them that in order to escape the danger which menaced them, and to restrain the force of the sea, they should construct a wall, which should run from the castle and cover and protect the city from all danger of the sea. The inhabitants not only approved of his proposal, but began the work with so much zeal, that the soldiers gave more than seventeen hundred dollars of their wages, although they were very much behind, not having been paid in six years; with which the governor began to make the necessary preparations, and sent forward a dispatch to the home government upon the subject.

The council of war of the Indies approved, in the following year, of the work of the sea wall, and directed the viceroy of New Spain to furnish ten thousand dollars for it, and directed that a plan and estimate of the work should be forwarded. Quiroga was succeeded in the governorship of Florida, by Don Laurenano de Torres, who went forward with the work of the sea wall, and received for this purpose the means furnished by the soldiers, and one thousand dollars more, which they offered besides the two thousand dollars, and likewise six thousand dollars which had come from New Spain, remitted by the viceroy, Count de Galleo, for the purpose of building a tower, as a look-out to observe the surrounding Indian settlements. Whether this tower was erected, or where, we have no certain knowledge. The towers erected on the governor’s palace and at the northeast angle of the fort, were intended as look-outs both sea and landward.

The statements made in reference to the building of this wall, from the castle as far as the city, confirms the opinion previously expressed, that the ancient and early settlement of the place was south of the public square, as the remains of the ancient sea wall extend to the basin at the Plaza. The top of this old sea wall is still visible along the center of Bay street, where it occasionally appears above the level of the street; and its general plan and arrangement are shown on several old maps and plans of the city. Upon a plan of the city made in 1665, it is represented as terminating in a species of break-water at the public square. It is unnecessary to add that the present sea wall is a much superior structure to the old, and extends above twice the distance. Its cost is said to have been one hundred thousand dollars, and it was building from 1837 to 1843.

In the year 1700, the work on the sea wall had progressed but slowly, although the governor had employed thirty stone-cutters at a time, and had eight yoke of oxen drawing stone to the landing, and two lime-kilns all the while at work. But the money previously provided, and considerable additional funds was requisite, resembling in this respect its successor. The new governor, De Cuniza, took the matter in hand, as he had much experience in fortifications. The defenses of the fort are spoken of as being at the time too weak to resist artillery, and the sea wall as being but a slight work.

Reynolds, Charles B. Old St. Augustine A Story of Three Centuries. Thomas and Georgine Mickler collection. St. Augustine, Fla: E.H. Reynolds, 1886. <>.

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