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View of King Street showing Ponce de Leon

H.W. Davis Remembers

In 1949, when he was 88 years old and had spent 63 of those years in St. Augustine, H. W. Davis was interviewed by a representative of the Historical Society. His recollections give us a fascinating glimpse of the Ancient City in the years before the turn of the century.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis arrived in St. Augustine on a cold, wintry day in 1886, at the old Davenport park station which served the narrow gauge railway from Jacksonville. They were met by Mrs. Davis's father, Dr. J. K. Rainey, who was bundled up in a heavy long coat against the cold. They rode down San Marco into town over a shell road, in a wagon.

St. Augustine did not look like it does today. Henry M. Flagler had not yet built the Ponce de Leon or the Alcazar, and the marshy headwaters of Maria Sanchez Creek covered the area where they would be constricted. There was a bridge across the water on King Street and another on Bridge Street, known as the 'big bridge.' On the spot where the YMCA stands today, there was a sandy beach where horse races took place on gala days. Later dirt was freighted in, and this area was filled in out to the San Sebastian River.

Davis was a Methodist, and the first church he attended in the Ancient City was located on the site of the Alcazar Hotel. When the tide was high, water came up under the foundations of the old frame building. Flagler wanted the land for his hotel and made a proposal to the congregation to build them another church, the present Grace Methodist Church.

People got around town on trolley cars. One line ran from the old waterworks on San Marco, across Central Avenue to South Street and then on to Marine Street. There was also a trolley route to Anastasia Island. Davis remembers one hilarious Rotary luncheon aboard a moving streetcar. Incidentally, he had a record of 23 years perfect attendance at Rotary and on the few days he happened to be ill, the group thoughtfully met at his house, so as not to break the chain.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis moved into a house on San Marco Avenue, an area just beginning to develop. It was on the lot where Firestone Auto Store does business today. The Davis's friends mourned because the family was "moving out of town." Later, they purchased the U.G. White mansion on Anastasia Island, where a daughter, Dr. Wilma Davis lives today.

In the days before the trolley line operated there was a little steam railroad which enabled people to reach Anastasia and South Beach, as well as a hotel, the Casa Marina, near the Lighthouse. The hotel was built out over the water, meals were served on its porches, and below were showers for the bathers.

Davis launched his own business, a men's clothing store, on October 3, 1894, which he operated for 54 years. He could have added two more days to this record, but an equinoctial storm drove exceptionally high tides into St. Augustine on October 1, the day originally scheduled for the opening, and the customers could not get to the store. People were riding up and down Charlotte Street in boats on that day.

Mrs. Davis inherited property in what is now the Fullerwood and Nelmar sections of St. Augustine, and Davis recalled that she sold one large tract, with a flowing artesian well, for $400. Today, it is on this land that the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is built.

Davis died in August of 1953, but he is still well remembered by scores of St. Augustinians who loved and admired him.


 
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