Just across the Matanzas River from downtown St. Augustine is Anastasia Island. Today, we know it as a sprawling, lively spot for businesses, tourist attractions, beaches, and residential area. But just 100 years ago, the island was very different.
David Paul “D.P.” Davis was a Tampa land developer already well known for developments throughout Florida. In 1925, he took an interest in the swampy lands of Anastasia Island and purchased its northwest corner. The land when purchased was not considered livable, so Davis went about the massive undertaking of dredging and filling his lots.
The design of his development, which he would name Davis Shores, contained 50 miles of streets, 100 miles of sidewalk, several parks, two 18 hole golf courses, a casino, yacht club, and hotels and residences, constructed in a Mediterranean Revival style. He proposed that the street names would reflect St. Augustine’s rich history and settled on names like Coquina, Oglethorpe, and Arpieka. Davis planned for Davis Shores to extend much further south on the island; all the way to today’s SR-312 bridge.
The development and advertisement of Davis Shores led to the construction of the Bridge of Lions, which was dubbed “the most beautiful bridge in Dixie”. The new bridge would provide the glitzy and opulent entrance Davis felt his new neighborhood deserved. Many lots were sold at the outset, but the development was greatly affected by the land bust that took place all over the state in 1926. In the end, only eleven of Davis’s planned structures were actually built.
D.P. Davis departed on an overseas trip to Europe on an ocean liner called Majestic in October 1926. Davis is thought to have drowned, but the details surrounding his disappearance and supposed death remain a mystery to this day. The Bridge of Lions opened a few months following Davis’s death. The neighborhood remained small and underdeveloped until after World War II, when the area saw a great amount of new growth.
Due to its origins as swampland, Davis Shores suffers flooding often, and was the target of some of the most significant damage in St. Augustine during Hurricanes Michael (2018) and Irma (2017). Despite this, Davis Shores continues to be a popular and historic neighborhood in The Oldest City.