Tuesday, February 3, 2009

San Marcos de Apalache - St. Marks, Florida

The site of Spanish, American and Confederate forts dating back to 1679, San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks preserves one of the most significant historic sites in the United States.

Only a 30 minute drive from Tallahassee, the park overlooks the picturesque confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers and vast coastal marshes of Florida's "Forgotten Coast."

The Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez came to this vicinity in 1528 after his explorations of Florida ended in disaster. His men built crude ships somewhere nearby and sailed away, most to disappear forever.

Hernando de Soto's men also visited the vicinity during the winter of 1539-1540, rowing out from the mouth of the St. Marks River to signal supply ships on the Gulf of Mexico.

By the late 1600s, the Apalachee Province of Florida, centered on present-day Tallahassee, had become the scene of an active chain of Spanish missions. St. Marks was a vital port for the province and in 1679 a fort was constructed at today's park site to guard against an enemy attack from the Gulf. Just three years later, however, the fort was attacked and destroyed in an attack by real "pirates of the Caribbean."

Rebuilt, the fort was occupied until 1704 when the Apalachee missions were evacuated in the face of British attacks. By the time Spanish soldiers returned in 1718, the wooden fort had deteriorated and work began on a massive new stone fortress. The fort was never completed, but passed into British hands in 1763, was returned to Spain 20 years later, was captured briefly by the notorious pirate and adventurer William Augustus Bowles in 1800 and eventually fell to a U.S. army led by Andrew Jackson in 1818.

Confederate troops fortified the site during the Civil War by building earthworks over the old Spanish ruins. The battery was named Fort Ward and was held until the end of the war, despite two attempts by the Union navy to capture it. It was one of the only Confederate coastal forts that never fell to Union attack.

Although the site has welcomed visitors for three decades, it may soon be lost to future generations. San Marcos de Apalache is on a list of 19 Florida state parks facing permanent or temporary closure due to state budget shortfalls. If you would like to voice your support for keeping the park open, please write Governor Charlie Crist at Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com.

You can learn more about the unique history of San Marcos de Apalache and see additional photographs by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

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