I have gone from winter in St. Petersburg Russia to winter in St. Augustine, Florida. No snow here. Temperature is in the 60s (Fahrenheit) today.
|St. Augustine as it looks in 1892|
|Old City Gates of St. Augustine|
Florida has a high rainfall. It is also mostly flat. Since there are so few valleys or dells for rain to run off to, it just spreads out and forms swamps. Most of the state is now wetlands full of alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. Is it any wonder no one was too excited about colonizing it?
The swamps also created a haven for runaways. When the US government began rounding up the peaceful Amerindians of the southeast to cart off to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) many fled to the Everglades. They joined what was left of the native population here and created the Seminole tribes. Runaway African slaves also came into the swamps and set up settlements next to the Seminole towns, paying a small tribute for the tribe’s protection. Many intermarried and became full-fledged Seminoles themselves. When the tribes began raiding farms in Georgia, the US Army rounded the renegades up and sent them to Indian Territory. Well, the ones they could catch anyway. Deep in the Everglades the Seminoles are still living and thriving. The government pretends they aren’t there.
|Florida Pineapple Plantation|
Flagler came to Jacksonville, Florida, a bit to the north, on the advice of his wife’s doctor. It didn’t cure Mary, and she died in 1881. Two years later Flagler married her nurse and he returned to Florida for their honeymoon. This time Flagler came to St. Augustine. He was charmed by the town, but found the hotels and transportation lacking. Rather than warning his friends to avoid the place, Flagler came back in 1885 and started building hotels and bought the local railroad which he is expanding south. Soon he extend it all the way to the hamlet of Miami.
Flagler has turned the sleepy town of St. Augustine into a boom town and can be called the founder of what will become Florida’s biggest industry--tourism!. Flagler has remade St. Augustine. He will soon become the founder of Palm Beach and one of the founding fathers of Miami. Flagler’s “discovery” of Florida is more crucial to the people here than Ponce de Leon’s! I heard someone quip they should rename St. Augustine St. Flagler.
I have come to witness the beginning of Florida’s tourist trade. Right now winter is the busiest time as wealthy folks from up north come to escape the snow. Summer is hot and humid and June to November marks both the rainy season and hurricane season. It will take Disney World in the late 20th century to lure tourists down to Florida in the sweltering months.
While other temporal anthropologists are working in factories or living in bronze-age mud hovels, I get to stay at a posh resort. I almost feel guilty.
|The Ponce de Leon, Flagler's first hotel, built in 1888|
I'm staying here, 2nd floor on the right
|The Ponce de Leon Hotel's lobby|