Today, many old neighborhoods make up the city of St. Augustine. Each one contains stories and characteristics obtained over generations of inhabitation – first by the Timucua and more recently by us. Join us in exploring one such neighborhood – known as the Model Land Company Historic District. A twenty-block neighborhood located between Cordova, King, Orange, and Malaga Streets.
While the story of the district began long before St. Augustine’s own, records reveal that Spanish colonists used the land for small-scale farming in the late 1500s and 1600s. The Spanish added two earthen-work walls – the Rosario and Cubo lines – as defensive measures after the 1702 Siege of St. Augustine. The new walls formally separated the agricultural area from the city and provided protection for the recently-resettled Guale village and mission of Tolomato. With Spain’s evacuation in 1763, the British returned most of the region to agricultural purposes – which continued over the next century.
All changed in 1885. Henry M. Flagler, founder and president of the Florida East Coast Railway, spurred development of the area. Flagler envisioned the tract as the “Winter Newport” – with his Hotel Ponce de Leon surrounded by grand “cottages” of wealthy seasonal residents. After purchasing the 40-acres of mostly citrus groves and fields, he created and named the streets – such as Valencia, Sevilla, and Saragossa – to recognize the city’s Spanish heritage. Some of the first homes in the newly-formed neighborhood went to hotel and railroad executives as well as winter guests.
But where did the district gain its name? With rapidly expanding real estate holdings, Flagler created the Model Land Company (MLC) in 1896. The MLC managed Flagler’s “land empire” throughout the state. For at the time, Florida offered land to investors willing to construct railroad lines. By 1912, the Florida East Coast Railway extended to Key West – making Flagler the owner of several million acres. The MLC located their main office in St. Augustine, where they handled sales until 1967.
While Flagler succeeded at so many of his other ventures, he failed to realize his dream of an upper-class community. In 1903, the MLC started to sell smaller lots for more modest homes. Following World War II, the neighborhood further yet saw the demolition of Flagler’s early structures – including Kirkside, a YMCA, the hotel’s laundry and dormitory, and the baseball field.
Over the following decades, home styles and lot sizes diversified while retaining many landmarks, such as Tolomato Cemetery, Markland House and Hotel Ponce de Leon (both now Flagler College), Memorial Presbyterian Church, Grace United Methodist Church, and Ancient City Baptist Church to only name a few. In 1983, Model Land Historic District joined the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.