GUEST COLUMN: Growth win a battle, not the war

It April of 1976, The Record ran a story and photos by Susan Milhoan, titled “ A relic from the past may have been a mistake.”


A photo included Park Service Superintendent George Schesvener, historian Louis Arana, members of the St. Johns County Historical Commission, County Commissioner Fred Green, St. Augustine Mayor Eddy Mussallem and my father, Milton Bacon. The occasion was the unveiling of the historical marker at the old Spanish chimney and well site.

From the story:

“What may have been an unauthorized decision by a Spanish overseer 300 years ago to make his working quarters more comfortable has resulted in a boon to the annals of history.

“On Thursday, April 2, 1976, if not through all the hard work by the Park Service, Historical Commission and St. Johns Commissioners, a Historical Marker was placed at the old chimney and adjacent well telling of its importance to the history of this area.

“’Ruins are all that remain of what was probably a Spanish barracks which housed the quarry overseer, master masons, and stone cutters who were involved in the construction of the Castillo de San Marcos,’” the marker reads.

The quarry, located directly across the road from this site, contained rich veins of coquina which the Indian workers shaped into rough blocks. Under the supervision of the quarry overseer, Alonso Diaz Mejia, the blocks were transported by wagon, and then by raft to the site of the Castillo. Completed in 1695, the great fortress was the keystone of the Spanish system of defense of Florida.”

Alonso Diaz Mejia was a native of St. Augustine who, like his father and grandfather before him, was serving in the army and stationed in his hometown. He was assigned the task of overseeing the work at the Anastasia Island Coquina quarry pits sometime in the fall of 1671, according to Luis Arana. My father said that, at one time, he regularly traveled the old Route 140 which passes by the site, and it was through this casual observance of the old chimney that he became interested in its history. Digging around the base of the chimney, which is now buffered by coquina blocks from a quarry across the road and is fenced, he found a number of glass fragments, some of which were found to date back to the 17th century. In addition, reports from expert masons theorized that the same masons who built the Castillo also built the chimney and building on Anastasia Island.

Pointing to a map drawn in 1945 (part of original article) by Albert C. Manucy and C. Ray Vinton, explained that the coquina blocks, made heavier because they were saturated with water, were carted from the pits along the rich coquina veins to a loading point at Escolta (Quarry) Creek.

Believing that the site may have been more than local significance, my father noted the remains of the chimney make it as old as the Castillo. “It is probably one of the most historic sites in the country.” Perhaps if the people had known what it was, it would not still be in existence he speculated.

Susan Parker, who has a doctorate in colonial history said it best in her article published July 30, 2017 — there needs to be some sort of physical structure protection put in place to safeguard this centuries-old chimney yet, still allow us to enjoy it.

I believe the concept of a historic site embraces not only the architectural work, but also the setting in which is found the evidence of a particular civilization, a significant historic event. It applies to more modest works of the past with the passing of time. The site of this chimney and well must have all the techniques and sciences that can contribute to the safeguarding of its heritage. The common responsibility to safeguard these sites for future generations is recognized. It is our duty that a part of this city’s history should be preserved for us.

Dana Cooper

St. Augustine



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