09/01/2014 | Florida Field Trips
History and Humanities
Known as Florida’s Historic Coast, this 42-mile stretch of Northeast Florida shoreline was first spotted from the bow of a Spanish galleon by Ponce de Leon in 1513. And 500 years later it’s still worth exploring — especially for its sheer volume of living history and preserved ecology that recently contributed to the area’s being chosen as “One of 20 Must-See Places in the World” by National Geographic Traveler.
The experience begins on the shores of the Matanzas River at the foot of the majestic Bridge of Lions. Here, one is instantly absorbed in the historic district of downtown St. Augustine. Straight ahead lies the grove-shaded Plaza de la Constitución — the site of several influential moments in American Civil Rights. Looming behind it in the distance is the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Nothing short of an architectural and artistic marvel, this massive ornate structure is a symbol of Henry Flagler’s lasting impact on the region. Today, it’s home to Flagler College and if you believe the stories, more than a handful of ghosts.
And just a few blocks north in the heart of downtown, is Castillo de San Marcos. This structure represents the very fabric of historic St. Augustine. Fashioned entirely of coquina rock, construction of this fort started in 1672— more than a century after Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the city in 1565.
Perhaps there isn’t any other artifact that encapsulates the region’s timeline like Castillo de San Marcos. It was initially built to defend against English pirates and successfully repelled intruders from the Matanzas Bay until the Treaty of 1763 ended the Seven Years’ War – transferring control of the fort to the British. In 1819, Spain regained control, only to hand it over to the United States two years later. The Americans then used it as an Army base until it was declared a National Monument in 1925, and soon after opened to the public as a national park. And today, when students sneak around its tunnels and stand nearby as cannons blast off in live demonstrations, they do more than just learn. They experience the real roots of America’s beginnings.
Once obtaining this first-hand perspective of St. Augustine’s historical timeline, everything else about the destination becomes more enlightening — especially the all-new Colonial Quarter living history district. This village-like enclave still bustles with 17th century civilization, right alongside the famous St. George Street. And nearby, you’ll also find the country’s Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse with its adjoining museum, and a host of other educational attractions that form a list too lengthy to include here.
Ecology and Geology
Flora and fauna have their own history in the region too, and exploring theme is both convenient and captivating. Educational attractions include the untouched coastal ecosystems surrounding the Guana River Environmental Education Center, the St. Augustine Lighthouse, Marineland, St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, and many more. Plus, through these natural perspectives, students will gain insight into the many tribes of indigenous peoples — such as the Timucua — who occupied Florida’s Historic Coast centuries before Europeans arrived.
Lodging for Student Groups
Florida’s historic coast features group lodging of all shapes and sizes. Area accommodations can handle everything from small student groups to college classes and entire grade levels with hundreds of students. And almost all are within just a few minutes of the museums and attractions you’ll want to see.