On Tuesday, April 21 my sister Patti joined us at Mom and Dad's after breakfast, and after our usual interminable discussion of how to spend our day, we (me, Melany, Pat and Mom; Dad had to work) decided to drive down to St. Augustine, which is 20-25 miles south of Mandarin. St. Augustine, which is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States (founded on September 8, 1565), is a fascinating town, especially for history lovers. It's one of my very favorite places, and someday in the not-too-distant future I'll post more about it. But on Tuesday we only had time for a little taste, so we picked a place there to visit that Melany and I had never been to before.
That place was the Mission of Nombre de Dios (my sister Patti has some better pictures and descriptions of this place on her blog). Here was celebrated the first Christian worship service (a Roman Catholic mass) held in a permanent settlement in today's continental United States, by Spanish settlers under the leadership of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles--on the very day they set foot on American soil and before they even started to build shelters for themselves. We didn't have time to explore the entire grounds; among other things we missed (and which I want to see on our next visit) are the Prince of Peace Church and Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. But we gazed upon the breathtaking Great Cross, made of stainless steel and rising more than 200 feet above the grounds of the Mission.
We also paused to say a prayer at Our Lady of La Leche Shrine, the first shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the United States. Here and on the surrounding grounds one can feel the happiness of a place dedicated to mothers and children; there are reminders of it everywhere--a statue of Jesus embracing the children, and even a memorial to innocent victims of abortion (this last really moved me). We also I look forward to visiting the Mission again.
While in St. Augustine we also stopped to view a place I'd passed many times on previous visits and was always struck by: Flagler College. The architecture is stunningly beautiful, and just breathes "Florida." The centerpiece of the campus is Ponce de Leon Hall, built in 1888 as a luxury hotel by Henry Morrison Flagler, a great industrialist, oil magnate and railroad pioneer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here are some more awesome views of the campus. This is another place I'd like to tour at leisure on a later visit.
Then it was back to Mandarin. We drove around this lovely residential community for awhile, which includes everything from very modest dwellings (OK, "shacks" might be more descriptive, but not many of these) to beautiful, stately homes that some might characterize as "mansions"--mostly older places, it seems, not the gaudy mini-castles being thrown up along the Intercoastal and in other new developments. What makes them all so striking is that the roads are lined with live oaks laced with Spanish moss, so that there is generous shade everywhere.
We ended up at the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Here you can find exhibits detailing Mandarin's impressive history, including the residency there for many winters of author Harriet Beecher Stowe, beginning in 1867. Also at the museum is a marvelous exhibit on the Union army steamer Maple Leaf (about which I've written in detail here), which struck a Confederate mine or "torpedo" and sank in the St. Johns River in April 1864, just off Mandarin Point behind the museum. Included in the exhibit are several items recovered from the boat, including glass bottles, bullets, and some shirt buttons, and an exact-size replica of the mine that sent the Maple Leaf to the bottom--basically, it's little more than a handmade wooden cask filled with gunpowder!
The Museum also has a detailed model of the Maple Leaf--smaller than the one at the Jacksonville Maritime Museum, but including miniature men and horses so you can get some idea of the boat's size.
A boardwalk begins behind the museum and takes you through the lovely overarching trees and moss to the edge of the St. Johns River, and winds around to several other historic buildings on the property in the process of restoration, including the home of a Union army officer who took up residence here after the Civil War.
That was the fourth day of our Southern excursion on April 21, 2009. Next up: we travel to Savannah, Georgia on Wednesday!
One more thing: THANK YOU for your patience as I work my through this saga, especially given the long time between posts. Everyday life is so demanding of one's time, attention, and energy, and there doesn't seem to be a lot left for blogging. But I do want to share with you all the joys and adventures of our lives (as well as my pet peeves!), as and when I can get it done. I only wish that could be more often!