St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish. St. Augustine is the seat of St. Johns County. The city is in northeastern Florida on the Matanzas River, a saltwater lagoon, 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Jacksonville. Anastasia Island separates the city from the Atlantic Ocean.
The tourist trade is the mainstay of St. Augustine's economy; however, there is some shrimp fishing and boatbuilding.
The most notable among St. Augustine's many historic attractions is Castillo de San Marcos, a massive stone fort on Matanzas Bay. Begun in 1672, it is the oldest masonry fort in the United States.
A section of the city has been restored to its appearance during colonial days. Here the streets are narrow and winding. Most of the old Spanish houses, made of native coquina stone, have patios, walled gardens, and overhanging balconies. The oldest house dates from the 1720's.
In the heart of the city is the Plaza de la Constitución. It was originally laid out as a military parade ground in 1598, and was named to commemorate Spain's adoption of a constitution in 1812. The public market on the plaza was built in 1824 and occasionally served as a slave market. The Cathedral of St. Augustine, surmounted by a Moorish bell tower, was completed in 1797.
St. Augustine has the council-manager form of government.
The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida in 1513 and made his first landing near what is now St. Augustine. The region was then inhabited by Timucua Indians. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 as a military outpost by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish admiral. The Spaniards repeatedly fought off attacks by the British and their Indian allies. As part of the settlement of the Seven Years' War, Spain was forced to cede Florida to Britain. A treaty returning it to Spain was signed in 1783.
In 1819 St. Augustine, with all of Spanish Florida, was ceded to the United States, which took possession in 1821. The Florida territorial legislature met there until 1824, when Tallahassee became the capital. Development was slow until the city was turned into a popular resort in the late 19th century. Many of the city's historic buildings were restored, and some reconstructed, during the 1960's and 1970's.