Excitement builds for 16th century boatyard

Historic City News attended yesterday’s groundbreaking ceremonies at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park where the Maritime Heritage Foundation will recreate life and activity in 16th Century St. Augustine through the construction, operation and home porting of replica 16th century Spanish ships.

Chad Light, an accomplished local graphic artist who dramatically represents Pedro Menendez to the world, unveiled a color drawing representing a bird’s eye view of the 16th century boatyard from St. Augustine’s founding period.

The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, led by President Maury Keiser and a volunteer Board of Directors, is a Florida non-profit 501(c)3 organization working to insure the success and legacy of St. Augustine’s 450th Commemoration; from a historic maritime perspective.

“Our mission, in addition to support of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration, is to promote an understanding and awareness of the nation’s oldest port, its maritime heritage and to support greater connectivity and utilization of this magnificent asset,” Keiser told Historic City News. “We will identify and support companion maritime events, activities and project that will enrich the waterfront through providing greater uses and connectivity between the city and harbor.”

The event took place only yards away from a number of archeological digs already in progress under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Deagan from the University of Florida. Deagan has conducted digs at the site since 1976, while the Smithsonian Institute began digs at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park as early as 1934.

John W. Fraser, General Manager of the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, whose family has owned and financed exploration of the historic site for three generations, along with his sister, Elaine, who manages the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse on St. George Street at the Old City Gates, participated in the celebration.

Fraser presented a ceremonial check to the Foundation for $1,000. He offered words of encouragement for the organization’s efforts to retell an essential part of the story of America as they build replicas of two authentic sailing vessels that accentuate our Hispanic Cultural Heritage.

One of the vessels, a Spanish Caravel named “San Agustin”, is being built as a floating museum for the public that will exhibit 16th century navigation and the history of exploration of the Spanish New World — focusing on the discovery of Florida.

Programs aimed at schoolchildren and school field trips will be developed, along with functioning sail training events and programs for graduate students of Nautical Archaeology and Maritime History.

“These vessels will serve as focal points for educational and heritage tourism activities,” Keiser promised.

City Manager John Regan, Director of Heritage Tourism Dana Ste. Claire, City Commissioners Errol Jones, Nancy Sikes-Kline and Bill Leary all attended the boatyard inauguration; lending their support to what will likely become one of the more historically significant signature events in the 450th Commemoration.

Regan and Ste. Claire envision the St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation’s investment in the boatyard, along with that of the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, as a resource that will inspire community, business, corporate and further government support for maritime projects, activities and events focused on our historic port.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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