October Celebrations on Anastasia Island
October offers a lot of reasons to celebrate on and off Anastasia Island. You’ll be reading a lot about the anniversary of the St. Augustine Lighthouse that will be celebrated on Oct. 15. The Lighthouse will commemorate 145 years of maritime history in the current historic lighthouse tower. The second lighthouse at St. Augustine was built from 1871 to 1874 and topped by the first-order Fresnel lens from Paris, France. The first lighting was on Oct. 15, 1874, by Keeper William Russell.
October is also the 125th anniversary of the founding of The St. Augustine Record which will also provide plenty of historical information in its special edition due for publication on Oct. 27. There’s still time for readers to send their stories or remembrances of the newspaper to [email protected]
Closer to home, also in October, the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of St. Augustine Beach will be celebrated. Established in 1959, many of its founders and early residents are still active in the everyday experiences of beach living.
Long before its incorporation, however, the St. Augustine Beach area was used as quarries for coquina and pasture land for cattle. In the mid-18th century, Jessie Fish, a businessman from New York claimed the coastal land south of the lighthouse and established a local citrus industry. In the 1880s, St. Augustine Beach was called South Beach. Transportation to and from St. Augustine was provided via the South Beach Railroad. The train brought tourists to see the alligator farm, which was founded in 1893, quarries, and the lighthouse, and also gave visitors opportunities to relax along the beaches. Since there were no paved roads, the only way to get to the beach was over the dunes and/or to drive on the beach. In 1920, the first hotels in St. Augustine Beach brought overnight tourists to the Anastasia Island area.
In October 1959, the City of St. Augustine Beach was incorporated with a land area of 2.5 square miles. Lying approximately five miles southeast of the City of St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach’s boundaries are the Atlantic Ocean, the west right-of-way of State Road A1A, the north right-of-way of Pope Road, and Sandpiper Village subdivision to the south (just north of Dondanville Road). There are just over 7,000 residents in the coastal city.
While all of St. Johns County ocean beach areas are now regulated by driving, safety and marine life protection laws, there was a time decades ago when the beaches were frequent scenes of air shows and auto races and fireworks, some spontaneous, others organized.
In the mid-1940s the craze was skeeter racing. Skeeters were roofless beach buggies, some of them Model A Fords that had been stripped. The skeeter name came from mosquito. The cut-down vehicles were said to look like mosquitoes with wheels.
Drivers would race around a course marked out on the sands of the beach near the pier. The track was 1,000 feet each way, with marked turns at each end and 20 laps to a race. Racing was “just for the sport of it.”
There was also barrel racing which usually took place at low tide, with racers traveling 1/8 of a mile each way. Organizers would put barrels down, and the drivers in cars would go back and forth in what the participants fondly referred to as “roundie round racing on the beach.”
But nothing topped the beach events than when the Flying Circus entertained crowds in 1924 with its air and acrobatic skills featuring Mabel Cody dancing on the wing of a plane. An estimated crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered along St. Augustine Beach to watch Cody and her troupe try a few death-defying stunts. On one occasion, the stunt man, after three air passes, successfully stepped from the wing of one plane onto the wing of an approaching plane. Cody’s stunt started while traveling along the beach in an open car going about 65 miles an hour. At the right moment, she grabbed a rope suspended from one of the planes and pulled herself up to the plane “as the crowd went wild,” as reported in The St. Augustine Evening Record.
Going forward, according to Max Royle, St. Augustine Beach City Manager, the old city hall was at what is now called St. Johns County Pier Park. From the early 1960s to 1985, the city office was in a small building adjacent to the large two-story building that overlooked the beach and ocean. In 1985, the larger building housed city hall. The small building later became the offices for the city’s building department. It was boarded up and finally torn down several years ago. Termites and age had taken their toll. Before the oceanfront building became city hall, through the years it had been used as a dance studio, bowling alley, restaurant, rooming house and a hotel.
“The new city hall located at 2200 A1A South was completed in 2001. We moved in on April 5, 2001. I remember the day well,” Royle commented.
And, Royle has good reason to remember that day as the city management and police department moved into the brand new state of the art facility that covers a full block.
In the trickle-down anniversary numbers, Royle celebrates his 30th year this month serving as city manager of St. Augustine Beach.
Before taking on the position Royle served in the Peace Corps.
“My present job is like the Peace Corps in some ways,” he recently commented.
“Both are unique experiences. There are challenges significant and ordinary almost on a daily basis. No day is quite like the preceding day. To be effective, communication is key to both, though in India I sometimes had to use my rudimentary knowledge of spoken Kannada, the language of the state (Karnataka) where I worked,” he said, noting that the satisfactions of both jobs are significant and long lasting. “Both give me a sense of being part of a larger community and doing, in a small way, work that benefits that community.”