Date Visited: 1/13/2020
In the Florida panhandle where the Wakulla and St. Marks River meets, sits a National Landmark called San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. For over 500 years, from the Spanish period through the civil war, this was a strategic landmark.
In 1679 the first wooden fort was built. It housed 45 Spanish soldiers and 400 Apalachee Indians, but in 1681 the site was burned and looted by pirates.
Then, in 1719, construction began on a second (new) fort under the oversight of Spanish Captain Jose Primo de Ribera. Then in 1739 construction of the stone fort began. However, in 1758 progress was all but undone when a hurricane destroyed the fort and drowned the garrison. Between hurricanes and the Seven Year war, the fort was still not completed when it was turned over to the English in 1763. Occupation of the fort went back and forth and eventually the Spanish took over the fort again in 1787.
In 1800 the fort was captured by former British officer William Bowles who led 400 Creek Indians against the Spanish. But just five weeks later a Spanish flotilla arrived and re-assumed control of the fort.
In 1821 Florida was ceded to the United States and by 1857 the fort was turned into a marine hospital using the old stones from the Spanish fort. The hospital provided care for victims of yellow fever.
In 1861 the Confederates occupied the fort in what would be the final confrontation. They renamed the fort, Fort Ward.
After the war there would finally be peace at the fort as it fell into private ownership for 100 years.
Florida eventually bought the land during the 1960s and turned the site into the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. It was at this time that the site was added to the National Register of Historic places, as well as becoming a National Engineering Landmark.
Portions of the stone walls are still visible to this day and the museum is filled with artifacts as well as informative displays and a short film on the history of the park.
While you’re there, don’t forget to take the short walk out to the point, where I hear the fishing is pretty good if you want to bring your pole along.
This was kind of a neat little place to visit because the history of occupation had been so volatile. It was also not lost on us that many men lost their lives here as conditions were difficult due to hurricanes, the Florida climate, the constant advances on the fort and some of this can be witnessed by the small Military cemetery in the park.
The plaque reads: “due to consumption, dysentery, etc.”
I’d set aside at least an hour (or two) to really absorb the history presented in the museum and then take the self-guided tour around the park. If you want to make it a longer day, you can have a picnic, fish for a while or take a hike along a portion of the on the nearby Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail which runs 16 miles from St Marks to the Capitol.
San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park 148 Old Fort Rd. St. Marks, FL 32355 850-922-6007 Website
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