Life and Livelihood: The Waterways of St. Augustine

It’s not officially summertime, but it’s felt like summer for a while in Florida! When we think summer, we think WATER! So this month, we’re going to be diving into the waterways of St. Augustine and learning along with all of you about the ways water shapes our everyday life.

Arguably the most recognizable waterway in St. Augustine is the Matanzas Bay. You see it every single time you visit the Castillo de San Marcos, cross the Bridge of Lions or the Vilano Bridge, or stroll around downtown. Besides helping to create a very picturesque downtown streetscape, the Matanzas Bay serves a vital purpose to the town: it’s the entrance to the city from the Atlantic Ocean!

An illustrated chart of St. Augustine Harbor.

The Matanzas Bay was the only way in and out of St. Augustine during the time it was first settled by the Spanish in 1565. Its rocky shoals and shallow waters helped save the city from more than a few would-be sieges and pirate attacks. Besides offering much needed protection to the fledgling colony of East Florida, it was a critical point of merchant trading and travel.

The Matanzas Bay is made up of a number of different waterways:

  • Salt Run is an inlet that runs through Anastasia Island, which is connected to the downtown via the Bridge of Lions. You have probably seen Salt Run if you’ve visited Anastasia State Park or climbed to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse!
  • The Matanzas River, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s the body of water that separates Anastasia Island from the mainland and likely the part of the bay that you’re the most familiar with.
  • The San Sebastian River enters the Matanzas Bay just a little bit south of downtown.
  • Hospital Creek is a small waterway north of downtown. You may have seen Hospital Creek if you have visited the Mission Nombre de Dios or the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. It’s one of the better known parts of the Matanzas Bay because Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sailed through Hospital Creek to reach the spot where the original St. Augustine settlement was located.
  • The Tolomato River (also known locally and historically in the British period as the North River): tidal channel flowing north.
A topographical map of St. Augustine featuring its waterways.
United States Topographical Map of St. Augustine, Florida.

Keep checking back with us here and on our Facebook and Instagram accounts this month to learn more about all the wonderful ways the water around us impacts our life! Next time you find yourself downtown, take a minute to appreciate the waterways that make up our city. And don’t forget all of the many ways it has shaped the history of St. Augustine in our 455 year history!

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