Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 20, 2013

St. Augustine displays its rich, varied history




Three centuries of history just joined forces as St. Augustine, Fla. opened the gates to the Colonial Quarter.

“Think Epcot meets Williamsburg,” suggested the visionary entrepreneur behind the two-acre project, Pat Croce.

“Difference is the Colonial Quarter is not just about countries, but also centuries,” Croce said.

Old ones from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries with flags to show the countries swapping control of this land since 1545.

Look for the Spanish and British periods, with influences of Minorcan, African-American and Native American cultures too.

Previous visitors to St. Augustine’s historic district may recall a living history attraction focusing on life in the 1740s in a Spanish garrison town.

Today expect 25 buildings and structures with docent-guided tours at 11 a.m., 1, 2 and 4 p.m.. Solo wandering can happen any time.

Either style offers fact-based observations, Croce says, because of the hand-in-glove planning with University of Florida scholars, historians and archeologists.

“There is nothing you see on this property that is without scholarly research,” he said. “Everything is authentic.”

Even the 48 informational text signs along the paths of centuries are copyrighted because of the extent of the research. English and Spanish these signs are.

“Colonial Quarter may very well be a game changer in the art of historical interpretation,” said Ed Poppell, senior vice president of business development for the University of Florida.

“Good historic tourism was our goal, blending authenticity based on solid research with the Pat Croce ability to educate with entertainment,” Poppell said.

Entertainment will abound even more so when the Colonial Crew Revue stage opens this summer with performances in the town plaza, scripted with a Disney touch.

That living history style of learning today includes the blacksmith forging hooks of many sizes and shapes in the 17th century fortified Spanish town with demonstrations four times a day.

Militia drills and musket firings happen multiple times each day too, as does leatherworking in the tradesman’s shop in the 18th century Spanish garrison town.

A 16th century sailing ship is under construction daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Expected time to completion? Seven years.

“I am a modern shipwright building an historic vessel,” said Gary Kennedy.

“As the Colonial Quarter boatwright, I am duplicating techniques used when such a vessel could be maneuvered only by wind or with rows.”

When this 50-foot long boat called a caravel is finished, said Pat Croce, they’ll start another.

Look for approaching boats from the top of the 35-foot replica watchtower facing the Matanzas River.

“That’s how Sir Francis Drake found St. Augustine,” the costumed docent named Grimm claimed. “From the water he could see the watchtower.”

Numbered tiles on the floor match descriptions on a sign at the top, explaining the far-off views.

Two restaurants representing the centuries open from the living history site and from St. George Street, lined with shops and tourists.

Bull & Crown Publick House and Taberna del Cabello build menus around the kind of food British and Spanish, plus Minorcan settlers knew, using local ingredients.

“Food supplies they stocked their ships with were certainly depleted by the time they arrived on this shore,” says chef and restaurateur Steve Pullara.

“They ate what they could get, including abundance from the waters right here.

“From our menus discover hints of specific seasonings and spices, but don’t expect to pull out one flavor above the complete taste,” Pullara said.

He pulls recipes and palate-pleasing techniques from centuries himself, including his great-grandfather’s Cuban sandwich.

“Since the 1800s, my family has had a chef in Tampa, in Ybor City,” he said.

Croce brings personal business development history to the project too as founder of the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, five-year owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, beginning in 1996, and pioneer of the sports medicine field.


Christine Tibbettsis a travel writer for for The Tifton (Ga.) Gazette.