Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León arrived on the north east coast of Florida in April 1513. He called the area la Florida, in honour of Pascua florida (the feast of the flowers), Spain’s Easter celebrations. Conquistadores who followed found plenty of swamp but no gold. Apart from a short lived settlement near Penscola, there was no rush to colonise until in 1564 the French built Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Spain responded in 1565 by founding San Augustín (St. Augustine) and expelling the French. Tension between Spanish Florida and the British Colonies was resolved in 1763 when Britain exchanged Cuba for Florida. Spain regained Florida under the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, but could not stem the tide of America settlement. In 1821 Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States. Statehood was achieved on March 3, 1845.
The beach at Miami Beach
Miami Beach is great for beach lovers, but there isn’t much else to do other than visit bars, restaurants, clubs and the Art Deco area at the south of the beach. This photograph was taken in 1982 when the Art Deco area was still a little run down, but it has since been spruced up. Please don’t get the impression that the beach is always this empty. We were woken early by jet lag and took the photograph before most visitors would have managed to crawl out of bed.
Villa Vizcaya from the waterfront, Miami
Is it an 18th or a 19th century villa in the picture? Villa Vizcaya is actually a product if the 20th century. On the shores of Biscayne Bay, this 34 room house in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa was completed in 1916 as a winter retreat for wealthy industrialist James Deering. Its formal gardens were completed in 1921. The estate originally covered 73 hectares (180 acres) but now only 20 hectares (50 acres) remain. After Deering died in 1925, the estate was damaged by a hurricane and fell into disrepair until in the 1950s it was converted into a museum.
Boca Grande Lighthouse, Gasparilla Island
Along the west coast of Florida can be found a series of barrier islands, many of which are accessible by road. Gasparilla Island was allegedly named after an 18th century pirate, a certain Jose Gaspar. On the island can be found Boca Grande lighthouse which was built in 1890 to mark the entrance to Port Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor. Closed in 1966, it is now part of a State Park.
Fort Matanzas from Visitor Center
Florida? It’s just beaches and theme parks, isn’t it? Not entirely. There parts of Florida that have historical buildings from the Spanish, British and US eras, plus also a major National Park. Fort Matanzas is a Spanish fort that dates back to 1740. The Matanzas Inlet runs behind barrier islands right the way up to St Augustine, so the fort was built to protect the city from being attacked via the inlet. The fort saw action only once, firing on British ships that approached Matanzas Inlet in 1742. During the second Spanish era the fort deteriorated and when the US took over Florida it was completely abandoned. Restoration work began in 1916 and in 1924 Fort Matanzas became a National Monument.
Old & new State Capitols, Tallahassee
It is always nice to see a state capitol that does not conform to the ‘standard’ design based on the US capitol in Washington DC. The first Florida State Capitol was completed in 1845, just before Florida became a state. It replaced three log cabins that had been used by the Territorial government. The capitol was enlarged in 1902 by architect Frank Millburn, and he also added the dome. Wings were added at the north and south ends in 1936 and 1949 to provide new House and Senate chambers, respectively. By the 1970s the capital was again too small, so a new capital was built behind it, opening in 1977. In 1978 the old capitol was threatened with demolition, but a local outcry saved it. The Old State Capitol was restored to its 1902 appearance and is now a museum. In this picture the new capitol is just visible in the top left, looming over the old capitol.
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The John Ringling Museum, Sarasota
Five Ringling Brothers were founders of the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus which by 1930 was the largest in the world. The circus grew from modest travelling show in 1884 to the purchase in 1907 of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling was born in 1866, the youngest of the five. He invested in land in the Sarasota Keys of Florida and there he built a winter home. He and his wife Mable became collectors of Old Master paintings and in 1927 they created a Museum of Art in the grounds of the estate. Ringling also made Sarasota the winter quarters for the circus. The house, Cŕ d'Zan (pictured), Art Museum and a Circus Museum are all now open to the public. Click on Tab 2 for a view of the Circus Museum.
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