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People Lounging at the Castillo

Simple Amusement

In St. Augustine in the 1800's, before the days of TV, movies (x-rated or pure), bowling, drag racing, and other modern diversions, people still had to amuse themselves and they found plenty of ways to do so.

Mrs. George Gibbs, in an interview written for the Historical Society, recalls the days when she lived in the Ancient City, just after the Civil War in 1868. The big event of the day was the arrival of the stage coach at the Post Office. Everyone turned out to see who was coming to town, or leaving.

In the afternoons there was guard mount in the plaza and the band played for an hour afterward, while folks gathered for the "promenade," an old-fashioned custom which cost nothing and was lots of fun because it was a chance to see your friends, exchange gossip, and note who had a new dress. Mrs. Gibbs' mother used to tell her: "Yes, you may go down to the guard mount, and I don't mind your promenading, but don't you go down to that seawall!"

There was a story about the seawall, which had been rebuilt some years before under the supervision of an army officer named Captain Dancy, who was in love with a local girl from a strict Spanish family. It was said that he carefully arranged that the new seawall was just wide enough for a couple to walk abreast so, as he fondly supposed, the girl's duena would have to walk behind. He reckoned without the prim Spaniards, however, because the duena and his girl walked together, and it was he who had to walk behind.

By the time Mrs. Gibbs was old enough to be interested in romance, the seawall had become the local Lover's Lane, and young couples loved to stroll along it in the moonlight.

Later on, a winter visitor named Thomas B. George, who later settled in St. Augustine and became the collector of customs, describes some of the diversions available in 1880. He was equally fond of strolling on the seawall, but he was a sedate married man and took his walk in the middle of the day. In those days the bay was dotted with sailboats, hired for picnics at the beaches by parties who went to North Beach or Anastasia for the day laden with lunch baskets containing all sorts of goodies to eat, lemonade, and "other drinks."

Mr. and Mrs. George found the local people very hospitable. They were befriended by Dr. J. K. Rainey and his family, who took them on many excursions. One they particularly enjoyed was a trip by sailboat to Moultrie Creek where they disembarked for an oyster roast. Another time, the happy group sailed down the Matanzas River all the way to Matanzas Inlet and the old fort, and spent the night. The party of ten people sorely taxed the sleeping arrangements at the little hotel at the inlet, but the establishment served them a seafood dinner which they found superlatively good.

North Beach was only a 30-minute sail away, and the Georges loved to walk for miles along that magnificent shore looking for shells and sea beans. They also enjoyed outings on Anastasia, and happily explored the ruins of the old Spanish lighthouse, still above water in those days.

In the evenings the townspeople and the winter visitors sauntered down to the U.S. Army barracks on St. Francis Street to watch the dress parade and listen to the band, which also played for concerts in one of the hotels or in the old plaza.

All in all, the fun people had in those days sounds very attractive, although most of it was out of doors, subject to the vagaries of the weather, involved a good deal of walking, and in general required expenditure of more energy than so many of our pastimes today.

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