About fifty residents, military personnel, businessmen, media and government officials crowded under the tent south of the west end of the Bridge of Lions at the St Augustine Marina this morning — facing 35 degree temperatures and a chilly wind off the Matanzas River to celebrate the continuation of a project begun almost 350 years ago.
With enormous assistance from a Florida Division of Emergency Management grant, the City starts work on construction of a new barrier — twelve feet into the bay that will encapsulate and protect the historic seawall, leaving it partially exposed so it becomes a significant part of a new waterfront park.
Over $4.7 million of the total $6.325 million required to pay for the project, came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program and was awarded by Congressional Appropriation in fiscal year 2010. The City is responsible for the remainder.
Joseph L. Boles, Jr., Mayor of the City of St. Augustine, introduced Historic City News editor Michael Gold and members of the audience to a trio of supporters who played a significant part in moving this project forward.
US Congressman for the 7th District of Florida, John Mica, said that he had hoped that this restoration could have been included with the Bridge of Lions project; however, he was very pleased that it gets started under his watch.
Mica, has served nearly 20 years as a member of the US House of Representatives, and his district currently includes St Augustine; however, it has been redrawn out of our area after January. He was noticeably emotional as he reflected on some of the many memorable and beneficial federal projects that he has shepherded into St Augustine and St Johns County during his service.
Major General Emmett R. Titshaw, Jr., Adjutant General of Florida, spoke about the military significance of the seawall to St Augustine — recognizing its critical role in defending the city. In March 1833, President Andrew Jackson signed an act establishing engineering and ordnance departments within the military station in St Augustine, which included $20,000 for the repair of the fort and the construction of the seawall.
The first seawall predated Florida’s statehood, however. In 1696, the year after the completion of the Castillo de San Marcos, Spanish engineers first began construction of a masonry seawall from the fort south to the Plaza de la Constitution.
While this original wall served the city well, by the time Florida joined the United States in 1821, the structure showed signs of deterioration and in places threatened to collapse.
Additionally, portions of the seawall had been demolished — with its coquina blocks used in other construction projects creating a breach that allowed flooding along the waterfront.
Bryan Koon, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, pointed out that it was the city’s residents, who in 1832 initiated a campaign to secure federal funding for the seawall’s reconstruction.
Between 1837 and 1846, the wall, built by the Spanish a century and a half earlier, gave way to a new wall constructed of cut blocks of coquina topped with a layer of granite.
That seawall, which we have today, measured approximately six feet wide at the base and tapered to three feet in width at the top.
A portion of the original seawall, north of the Bridge of Lions, was lost to the widening of SR-A1A in the 1950s; however, the section south of the municipal marina remains intact and is the focus of the current project.
By the end of 2012, 175 years after the US Military started construction on the current wall and nearly 350 years after Spanish engineers constructed the city’s first seawall, the entire project will be complete.
Pastries and coffee were served. Music was provided by The Ancient City Brass.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer