Standing as the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, Castillo de San Marcos is a symbol to Florida’s past. Visitors from around the world come each year to visit this unique fortress that has been a symbol of St. Augustine for over several centuries.
History of Castillo de San Marcos
As the settlement of Spanish colonists began here in St. Augustine, the need for a fort to secure their city began a necessity. The community began with a wooden fort which followed the walls of the town and gave a barrier to the outside world. Although in 1668, a British pirate by the name of Robert Searle stormed the city. In his path he burnt what was left of St. Augustine to the ground including the wooden walls of the original fortress.
This fire devastated St. Augustine and the Queen of Spain granted the colonists the ability to construct a new fort made from stone that would withstand such attacks and disasters. The new fortress was designed and construction began in 1672. Brick by brick that foundation and towering walls were built overlooking the Matanzas Bay.
Castillo de San Marcos is made from a type of material called “coquina”. This is done by the bonding of small seashells taken from the nearby shores of the Atlantic Ocean which complied together make a strong rock wall. It took 23 years for the entire structure to be completed in 1695.
Over the course of the next few centuries the fort experienced several sieges, changing hands from both Spanish and British control. When the Spanish finally had Florida back under their control they had the expanding United States after the land. In 1819, Adams-Onis Treaty granted the land to the U.S. in 1821.
The U.S. government changed the name of the fort to Fort Marion and used as a prison during the Second Seminole Wars. Most of the rooms were turned into cells for these prisoners of war. During the Civil War, the Confederacy took hold of the location in 1861, but the Union Navy reconquered the fort in 1862.
Following the Civil War during the late 1800s, Native Americans were held prisoner at the fort along with deserters of the Spanish-American War. In 1924, several years after being decommissioned, Castillo de San Marcos was declared a national monument and made into a 2.5 acre National Park in 1933.
Ghosts of Castillo de San Marcos
Whether they are ghosts of soldiers, prisoners or doomed lovers, Castillo de San Marcos is known for its haunted history. The fort has been featured on several documentaries and paranormal investigations.
Spooky occurrences have happened while guests and workers alike were at the fort. Shadow apparitions, faint smells of perfume and headless corpses.
The most popular story that is told comes from the tale of Colonel Marti and his much younger wife Dolores. The two had moved to St. Augustine in hopes of starting a new life together in the colony in 1784. Soon after their arrival to the city the Colonel was granted the assistance of a young Captain Abela.
It was reported that Captain Abela and Dolores got along quite well. The Colonel was known for his stoic and cold nature and disliked the fondness the two showed for each other. One day when Captain Abela met with the Colonel for a routine meeting, Marti smelled the distant scent of his wife’s perfume on the mans jacket. The next day, Captain Abela and Dolores were not to be found. The Colonel told people of the fort that his wife had left to live with her Aunt after contracting an illness and Captain Abela had been reassigned to Cuba. The people of St. Augustine found the story to be suspicious but never questioned their Colonel.
Years later the bodies of a man and woman were found trapped inside a stone room hidden in the walls of the fort. It was assumed that these were the bodies of Captain Abela and Dolores. Today their is a spot in the fort that marks this location and people tell stories of mysterious perfume scents about the spot.
Visiting Castillo de San Marcos
The fort is conveniently located in downtown St. Augustine and has a parking lot in front of the fort. Parking is metered and can fill up quickly so early morning is the best time to find a space. The fort is free to walk around the outside but admission is charged for the interior. For more information regarding admission and hours, please visit https://www.nps.gov/casa/planyourvisit/hours.htm.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep on truckin’!