Yesterday evening, Historic City News editor Michael Gold attended a 16th Century ship keel-laying ceremony and ribbon cutting for a new 600-foot observation deck on the grounds of the 1565 birthplace of St Augustine — the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
Members and officers of the St Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation were on hand for the celebration that entertained about 100 invited guests from the Visitors Convention Bureau, St Johns County Chamber of Commerce and tourism community leaders.
Guests were given the opportunity to tour several acres of land comprising a sixteenth century boat house, a Spanish weapons demonstration area, the new observation deck and archeological dig site where the foundations of the city’s oldest structures have been discovered.
The keel of the 37-foot boat, known as a chalupa, is historically accurate, based on research by Sam Turner; director of archaeology at the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.
This 10-oared landing craft was used to bring ashore soldiers, settlers and goods from the ships that once anchored offshore from the park in 1565. The 16th century boat-building yard, which is still under construction, will feature replica 16th-century Spanish vessels and canoes used by the Timucuan Indians when it is finished.
Fountain of Youth President, John W. Fraser, told Historic City News that he could not be more proud of the historically significant work being accomplished at the park; the legacy of his grandfather, Florida Senator Walter Fraser and continued by his father, John R. Fraser.
Fraser’s brother, Brian Fraser and sister, Elaine Fraser, were both on hand to encourage guests to explore the new exhibits and enjoy the outdoor picnic-style reception that followed the ceremonies.
“The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is arguably one of the best living history sites for visitors to St Augustine,” said John Stavely who manages the day-to-day operations of the park. “We’re recreating the true history of St Augustine here — one board at a time.”
Alexander Cameron, project manager for the St Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, told reporters that he predicts the work on the chalupa will be completed by the end of this year. A larger project, a replica 16th-century caravel, is planned for completion in time for the 450th Commemoration in 2015.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer