Thursday, February 18, 2016
Two steps closer to Nat'l Park & Seashore: two National Register applications
Editorial: Historic recognitions clearly correct, grossly overdue
Posted: February 18, 2016 - 4:50pm
In a story published Thursday titled “Sites proposed for recognition” readers learned that the St. Augustine National Cemetery and the Fountain of Youth are both up for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is more than a title. Sites so designated receive a sort of “thumbs-up” in terms of historical authenticity. Thus certified, they’re in a much better position to compete for grants and other funding sources. They also get some very good PR exposure in the state — and nationally.
And if the mission of our historic community is to tell our true story to anyone who’ll listen, all of this is a very good thing. More people are apt to listen if they know the source has been vetted. There are several “versions” of history being batted around town, some a bit more sensational than true.
You have to wonder why the National Cemetery hasn’t had that distinction before now. For goodness sake, nearly 1,500 U.S. soldiers were buried there following the Seminole Indian Wars. The first interment dates back to 1828, when it was used as the post cemetery for the St. Francis Barracks. It has been a National Cemetery since 1881.
And it is at once, solemn and beautiful. Its history makes it a slam dunk.
The Fountain of Youth is a little different story that could have had a much different ending. It is nominated for two separate designations: one for being the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement; another for being a one of the state’s older tourist attractions, dating back to the 1860s.
From where we sit, the fact that it can, and should, receive so dissimilar a pair of recognitions is compelling.
Walter B. Fraser bought the property in 1927. It was a mishmash of small tourist traps. While few seem to agree on the particulars, the Fountain of Youth has been based out of at least two and maybe three different locations over the past century, casting some aspersions on its ability to return to frisky adolescence the pilgrims who drink from its rather smelly water.
What we believe to be so significant about the property is that, under the direction of Walt’s heirs, the tourist aspect has taken a back seat to its mission as an archaeological site of great importance to our city — and apparently to the Fraser family. Decades of digging have uncovered the true beginnings of St. Augustine, and drawn us a picture of Pedro Menendez and his men living with and learning from Chief Seloy’s Timucua settlement — while downplaying the rather foggy ties between healing waters and explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.
Study began in earnest in 1972 when University of Florida archaeologist Kathy Deagan began to visit the site, students in tow, uncovering that important truth.
The Fraser family has continued to encourage and support the search for the past. It donated 97,000 artifacts excavated over the past 40 years to UF’s Museum of Natural History in 2013. The collection was worth millions.
Walt Fraser was inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of fame in September 2014. In an editorial then we concluded that “it is so interesting that a man lauded this week for his dedication to tourism here played so large a part in saving what was real.”
The family and the “attraction” continue to do it right, and do it proud.
A Florida Belle 02/18/16 - 08:42 pm 00The important question remains...
An excellent, though nameless, editorial. Yet the important question remains - Why is a site of such state, national, and international historical significance still in private hands? Surely it should be professionally preserved and protected as part of our state or national park service?