Tales of Northeastern Florida

Career

Upon first glance at Florida’s northeastern coastline, you would just assume that this is an area of pleasant beach communities in a quiet suburb of Jacksonville. But dig beneath the surface and you’ll find that St. John’s County, better known as St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, is rich with history of all kinds—from the foundation of America to the foundation of the PGA Tour and everything in between.

Ponte Vedra Coastline

Many of the juiciest stories can be traced back to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S. Ponce de Leon landed there in 1513 and claimed the land for Spain, naming it La Florida, Spanish for “land of flowers.” It is also home to the historic Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. The town reflects its Spanish roots in the circa-1600 Plaza de la Constitucion and in its churches and narrow streets filled with cafes, shops and attractions. One of the most inherently Spanish looking structures, the Castillo de San Marcos, wasn’t part of the original plan, but was built in 1672 as a response to the city’s first attack by Sir Francis Drake and his crew. The pirates attacked and burned the city in 1585 under orders from the British government. The structure was created to further protect the city, says Barbara Golden, communications manager for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, and she adds that Sir Francis Drake’s pirating days aren’t really mentioned in the history books. And today the brand-new St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum (where groups can “relive the Golden Age of Piracy” and host private functions) recently set up shop next door explicitly because of this history. Pirates and their escapades are such a big part of the local culture that many locals clad in seafaring garb play full-time pirates.

Flagler College

Spanish and pirates aside, the city has many other striking structures with their own stories like Flagler College, which was originally built as a hotel, and the 138-room Casa Monica Hotel. Awash in a white exterior and adorned in hand-stenciled Moorish accents within, the Casa Monica was built by Bostonian architect Franklin W. Smith and opened in 1888, adjacent to two of Henry Flagler’s hotels. However, rumor has it that Flagler, a wealthy businessman and proverbial patron saint of St. Augustine, didn’t like the competition and found ways to bankrupt Smith and buy his hotel so he would operate all of the hotels in the area. The Casa Monica operated as a hotel until 1932, and lay dormant until 1962 when it became the St. John’s County courthouse. Richard Kessler, of The Kessler Collection, bought the building in 1997 and restored it to its original Moorish grandeur. The hotel also commissioned art that told the story of historic St. Augustine figures including Diamond Lil’, a character who claimed to discover the Fountain of Youth and began selling water during the early 20th century, and Henry Flagler himself.

Casa Monica Lobby

You can’t tell the history of this community without talking about local cuisine that has been influenced by immigrant populations of the past. One restaurant that reflects this story is Aunt Kate’s on the banks of the Tolomato River in St. Augustine. Although the black-and-white historic photos in the entrance set the tone, the restaurant just opened March 2009. The owner’s grandmother, whose family hailed from the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, prepared food for locals in the area 150 years ago. One day she, referred to by the family as Aunt Kate, was asked to roast oysters for Henry Flagler and a group of his friends. His very generous payment for the meal is rumored to have contributed the funds for starting a food business, which has served food on this spot since then, but the former restaurant was rebuilt following a fire in 2001. Today Aunt Kate’s serves up Minorcan specialties, such as clam chowder and pilau, alongside local favorites like fried gator tail (which I tried and loved!) and warm, fresh johnny cakes.

Johnny cakes at Aunt Kate's

And this story of Northeast Florida concludes with the historic Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, the first hotel to be built in Ponte Vedra. It started out as a beach club in 1935 and eventually grew into a 250-room, Five-Diamond resort and club and a sister property, the Lodge & Club. The resort has a whole room dedicated to the past displaying old photos contributed by past guests and members. But the real story lies in the staff, many of whom are third generation employees and what Andy Radovic, VP of sales and marketing, considers to be the resort’s No. 1 asset. Off the lobby, in a hallway the Inn has what they affectionately refers to as the Wall of Fame, with pictures of its staff members who have been working at the resort for at least 25 years—Radovic himself has been on property for 23 years.

History Hall at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

There are so many more stories to be told here, so stay tuned for an upcoming post on the story of golf.

Meeting Planner Solutions

Popular Meeting Venues
  • RELATED POSTS
  • EDITORS PICKS
  • cultivating-leadership

    Smart Leaders: The Circle of Leadership

    Cultivating eight leadership qualities that can lead to success I love to learn! Some believe many good leaders are born not made, yet not many can remain strong leaders unless they constantly sharpen their skills and look for…

    7-tips-for-planners-in-sellers-market

    7 Tips for Planners in a Seller’s Market

    Research and conventional wisdom shows that the meetings and events industry has been in seller’s market for several years—and may well be for the rest of the decade. While this gives sellers more leverage, there are ways…

    team-boosts-autonomy

    Boost Team Building by Allowing Autonomy

    Solo project or team effort? Often professionals think a project essentially is one or the other, but actually, it can be both by allowing for sufficient autonomy within a larger framework. When staging an event, for example,…

    amazon-work-culture-1.1

    7 Things We Can Learn from Amazon's Work Culture

    When Jeff Bezos first launched Amazon in 1994, who knew that his online creation would spawn heated debates across the nation about America’s work ethic more than 20 years later? The recent expose by The New York Times…

    Tough Negotiations

    Bottom Line: Negotiating in a Tough Environment

    Strong seller’s market requires planner creativity, flexibility The latest hotel industry performance figures are rather astounding. Smith Travel Research (STR) reports that May 2015 saw overall hotel room occupancy in the United States rise to a record…

  • tips-for-managing-interns

    7 Tips for Managing Interns

    Many firms welcome interns to the work place, but in a blog posting on hotelsmag.com Larry Mogelonsky points out that they are more than just temporary recruits brought in to handle menial tasks. The Toronto-based marketing expert offers the…

    air-travel-complaints-2

    Air Travel Complaints on the Rise in 2015

    Delays, missed connections, lost or damaged luggage, boarding bottlenecks… The list of things airline passengers grumble about could go on for days—especially since air travelers lodged more complaints in the first half of 2015, according to a…

    Low Cost Tech Tools

    14 Great Low-Cost Tech Tools for Planners

    Planners: do you want to know which low-cost tech tool can instantly transform company data into a professional quality infographic, or what free app can help schedule a virtual meeting time convenient for workers scattered across the…

    Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

    Awe-inspiring Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf Debuts its complete renovation.

    Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco and Chesapeake Lodging announce the completion of its multi-million dollar renovation. The debut includes the total redesign of the property’s 316 guestrooms, two dining outlets now called Brick & Beam and The…

    Floating Designs

    New Hotel Design Features Floating Suites

    Photo Courtesy of Salt & Water A Serbia-based architecture firm has introduced a floating hotel design that would enable guests to explore water areas worldwide that are largely neglected due to their inaccessibility. Salt & Water's concept,…