bulowroad
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Bulow Plantation

Bulow Plantation Road

This narrow dirt road meanders more than a mile through the Florida scrub before it delivers you to the ruins of what was once Florida’s biggest sugar plantation. Destroyed by the Seminoles during Florida’s Indian Wars, Bulow Plantation is now a state park where visitors can walk through the ruins of the old sugar mill and paddle the creek enjoying Florida’s wild beauty.

Digital painting by the author. 

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Llambias House

Llambia House courtyard

Llambias House courtyard by the author

Chances are good you’ll never find this house if all you had was this picture to guide you. Like many of the Spanish-style houses in St. Augustine, the Llambias House presents a plain and uninviting presence from the street. It’s not until you step through the garden gate that you will fully appreciate the true beauty of these homes and their gardens.

The Llambias House is located just down St. Francis Street from another gorgeous courtyard garden – the Oldest House Museum. Both are maintained by the St. Augustine Historical Society and both are often the scene for weddings and other functions. The house can be traced to Pedro Fernandez in the First Spanish Period (1565 – 1763) because it is listed in the inventory of homes that Jesse Fish was managing as part of the transition from Spanish to British control of Florida. It was originally a one-story, one-room house but was remodeled during the British period to add a second floor accessible by an outside stairway. It wouldn’t be until the 19th century that the Llambias family would own the house.

This is just one of many architectural treasures to be found here. Park your car and explore the Colonial and Victorian neighborhoods that surround St. Augustine’s downtown. You’ll enjoy discovering the picturesque homes and gardens and find many photo opportunities if you are so inclined. Take David Nolan’s The Houses of St. Augustine with you to get the stories behind the structure.

This is St. Augustine. Everything has a story.

The Royal Quarry

Coquina is the shell-rock used to build the Castillo de San Marcos – the great Spanish fortress protecting St. Augustine. Recently we were riding our bicycles on Anastasia and paid a visit to the Royal Quarry site. You’ll find it just off A1A at the entrance to Anastasia State Park.

A short walk through the scrub oak brings you to the northern lip of the quarry. Today it’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of a quarry when looking over this idyllic site.

Quarry 1

As you walk into the quarry you will begin to see signs of the work that once took place here. Some of the stones still bear the scoring marks used to cut the coquina from the quarry. After chipping lines like you see here, wedges were hammered into the grooves and crowbars used to break the blocks free from the mass.

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One wall still shows the work performed here. This site operated from about 1671. Originally, only blocks for the construction of the Castillo and other government buildings were removed from the site. It wasn’t until 1689 that the site was opened to the public. Because it takes months for the shell-rock to “cure” before it can be used in construction, it’s seldom used for building today. You will find it frequently used in landscapes.

Quarry 3

As you leave the quarry – and Anastasia State Park – look for the narrow road separating the two parking lots at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm [located across A1A from the park entrance]. Aptly named Quarry Road, this is where the stones were dragged to the creek so they could be floated across the bay to the Castillo construction site. Artifacts from a small Indian village can be found – with a bit of digging – just behind the Alligator Farm property. Possibly this was home to some of the quarry workers.

Coquina

Castillo Sally Port

For more than 330 years, the Castillo de San Marcos has stood guard over the people of St. Augustine. During the first 100 years of the settlement’s existence, they built several wooden forts. The climate – and pirate torches – are rough on wooden structures so, after decades of requests, the Spanish crown agreed to pay for the construction of a stone fort.

There was just one problem. You don’t find a lot of stone in Florida. These Spanish settlers were quite resourceful and took advantage of an interesting shell rock found in the area. Called coquina (meaning little shells), it consists of many small shells fused together over time forming a sort of limerock. You’ll find coquina up and down the coast of Florida. The source of most of the Castillo’s construction material came from quarries on Anastasia Island – the barrier island protecting the settlement from the sea.

Coquina beach south of Marineland.

Coquina beach south of Marineland. Digital painting by the author.

Coquina is easy to quarry. It is initially quite soft and can be cut with saws and axes. Once exposed to the air it hardens and changes color from orange to gray. It always remains quite porous. That turned out to be an advantage for the Castillo. Unlike normal rock, which shatters when hit by a cannonball, coquina either absorbed it like a sponge or it bounced off. As you walk around the fort today, you’ll see many holes where cannonballs and other shot penetrated some distance into the walls.

The Castillo was never captured in battle. Through the centuries it changed hands by treaty, but everyone who attacked the settlement after the fort was built went home in defeat. Coquina helped make that possible.

Coquina continues to be used in area construction. The house where I grew up had a coquina foundation and the original fireplaces were faced with the shell rock. It’s often used in landscaping – you’ll find several large pieces in my front yard. It’s one of many things that makes this area unique.

The Castillo de San Marcos is now a national monument and part of the National Park Service. You can visit the Castillo online to take a virtual tour of this amazing structure and learn more about its history.