Monday, July 25, 2022

The Castillo de San Marcos—Part 8

by Jennifer Uhlarik

Hello, readers! Is anyone up for one more post about the Castillo de San Marcos? If so, here it is. By now, you’ve followed my posts about the fort being built by Spain in the 1600s, ceded to Britain in the 1700s, returning to Spain’s control again for a few years, eventually becoming an acquisition of the United States, and its fall into the Confederate Army’s hands during the American Civil War. We’ve also looked into the three years during the 1870s when the fort became home to seventy-three Plains Indians, as well as the internment of the Apache Indians a decade after that . So what happened next at the United States’ largest masonry fort? 


Life grew relatively quiet at Fort Marion after the Apaches departed. This once busy and crowded structure returned to the mundane service as a storage facility in the days after its last use as a military prison. However, that was only on the inside of the fort. While the ownership of the property belonged to the United States War Department, Fort Marion underwent the “Gilded Age” treatment. Due to its prominent location in the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district—and with it being easily viewed from the waters of Matanzas Bay, as well as standards of that era being on beauty and recreation, the War Department spent much money landscaping the grounds with trees, grass, and benches to turn this 20-acre facility into a park rather than a sterile military facility. Many flocked to the beautiful setting to walk on the extensive web if sidewalks and paths or even tour the ancient building. Fort Marion also became home to Florida’s first golf course. And various special events were held on the grounds—including the likes of early baseball games played by professional African-American players. 

Golfing on the grounds of Fort Marion, circa 1902. This golf course was the
first in Florida!


However, eventually, talks turned to whether the War Department should retain control of the facility or hand it off to another department who might make better use of it. On October 15, 1924, Fort Marion and another nearby installation, Fort Matanzas, were both decommissioned as military sites and were transferred into the control of the National Park Service. While the War Department’s main goal was to keep the fort in good repair for use as a jail or storage of military armaments, the NPS’s goal was to preserve the history of the site for ages to come. One significant change they made came in the early 1940s, when the old fort retook the name “Castillo de San Marcos” as it was originally called by Spain.


Another thing that occurred during the early 1940s was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which, as we all know, drew the United States into World War II. With that development, Florida became a busy place for military training and military bases—and once again, St. Augustine and the  Castillo de San Marcos had a role to play. The United States Coast Guard came to town in 1942, taking over several hotels in historic St. Augustine. They placed their recruits in those hotels, then worked a deal with the Castillo de San Marcos to do PT exercises on the fort’s grounds. In addition, several of the casemates inside the fort were turned into classroom space again—just as they’d been used during the incarceration of the Plains and Apache Indians in times past. And the beautiful courtyard became the site of many graduation ceremonies for those who’d completed their training.

Graduation ceremony for the Coast Guard during the 1940s,
held in the courtyard of Castillo de San Marcos.


It was a good thing the U.S. Coast Guard had come to St. Augustine during this time. The Germans had long-range plans to do more than just wreak havoc in Europe. They’d also set their sights on the United States, and Florida was one area they were targeting. With an offensive code-named Operation Drumbeat, German submarines infiltrated the waters around Florida. In a matter of months, they sank roughly 400 ships and took thousands of sailors’ lives. This state, usually known for tranquil waters and pristine white-sand beaches became a nightmare where, many mornings, people would awaken to find bodies and carnage littering the shorelines. Even more frightening was the night in June 1942, when four German spies made it ashore from one of these German subs, carrying American money and explosives. Thankfully, those men were captured before they could carry out their nefarious plans. Once this was discovered, special patrols of Coast Guard members patrolled the beaches on horseback, in Jeeps, or even on foot with specially trained dogs.

Coast Guard and trained dogs patrolling
Florida beaches during WWII


As I’m sure everyone knows, World War II lasted until 1945. As troops returned to American soil, many who had come to Florida for training or service at one of the 172 military installations in the state decided to return here once they’d made it home. What had been a relatively quiet, agriculture-based state with only small pockets of tourist areas prior to the war suddenly flooded with newcomers. Across the nation, the population boomed following the soldiers’ return—at an average rate of about fifteen percent. In Florida, the boom was three times that amount, or 46%! The state officially became one of the tourist capitals of the country, and St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos remain one of the most captivating vacation spots to this day!


It's Your Turn: If you have been following along on these posts about St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, what time period did you find to be the most interesting? If you have not read the entire series of posts, what piece of today’s post was most intriguing?




Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.






Love's Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?




1 comment:

  1. I have enjoyed this series of posts. The overall thought I have after following the posts is that if we take care of the physical assets we have, like this fort, and don't allow them to just crumble into oblivion or decide they are not valuable any more because they are old or belong to a distasteful part of our history, we can use them beneficially throughout the ages without having to build new structures. Plus we have the benefit of knowing and actually seeing a history that began before us and will continue after we are gone. Lessons can be learned and applied!