Anastasia Island is a barrier island about 14 miles (23 km) long and an average of 1 mile in width located off the northeast Atlantic coast of Florida in the United States. The island sits east of St. Augustine and runs north-south in a slightly southeastern direction to Matanzas Inlet. It is separated from the mainland by the Matanzas River, part of the Intracoastal waterway. Matanzas Bay, between the island and downtown St. Augustine, opens into St. Augustine Inlet.
Part of the island (the Davis Shores and Lighthouse Park neighborhoods) is within St. Augustine city limits, while other communities on the island include St. Augustine Beach, Coquina Gables, Butler Beach, Crescent Beach, and Treasure Beach.
Fort Matanzas National Monument, a Spanish colonial-era fort built 1740–1742, is located at the southern end of the island on Rattlesnake Island in the Intracoastal waterway within the park boundaries; it was designed to protect St. Augustine from attack via the Matanzas River.
Juan Ponce de León may have landed on the barrier island in 1513. Spanish Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Augustine, moved his initial settlement to Anastasia Island after a revolt by the Timucuan Indians in 1566. This settlement was short-lived, and the colonists moved back to the mainland at the site of present-day downtown St. Augustine.
The Spanish built a wooden watch-tower on Anastasia Island, which was sighted by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, whereupon he came ashore and attacked the city. The sentry tower was built to warn the town of approaching vessels by raising signal flags. The Spanish eventually replaced the tower with a coquina structure which was later converted into a lighthouse soon after Florida came into the possession of the United States in 1821. This was replaced by the present-day St. Augustine Light in 1874. The original lighthouse collapsed in 1880 due to beach erosion and the encroachment of the sea. The earliest built residence on Anastasia Island still standing is the Keeper's and Assistant Keeper's house built in 1876 for the present lighthouse. Several other houses in the Lighthouse Park neighborhood date to the 1880s.
It is a matter of record and of law that a 10,000 acre grant of land originally made by the Spanish crown to the notorious land dealer Jesse Fish, and subsequently purchased at auction in 1792 by his son, Jesse Fish, Jr., amounted to the whole of "St. Anastasia" island except certain lands marked off by officials as reserved, such as the King's Quarry. The claim of his wife and heir, Sarah Fish, was reported to Congress in 1826 as valid by the commissioners for East Florida and the Secretary of State of the US, and subsequently confirmed by an act of Congress on May 23, 1828. Jesse Fish, Sr. established a plantation, El Vergel (The Orchard), in 1763 and built his home on the island; there he planted an orange grove which produced fruit renowned as far away as London for their juiciness and sweetness. By the year 1776 he shipped a total of 65,000 oranges from Florida.
The land developer David Paul Davis, known as "D. P." or "Doc", a native of Green Cove Springs, developed the Davis Shores neighborhood at the north end of Anastasia Island by filling in the extensive salt marshes located directly opposite the center of St. Augustine across the Matanzas River. Construction of the Bridge of Lions was begun in 1925 to provide access to his projected development and completed in 1927. During World War II the Coast Guard occupied the lighthouse, and other residences in Davis Shores were used as barracks for soldiers.
Beneath the sandy soil of most of the island lie layers of coquina, a shelly rock in various stages of consolidation, composed primarily of whole and fragmented shells of the donax, or coquina, clam (Donax variabilis) admixed occasionally with scattered fossils of various marine vertebrates, including sharks' and rays' teeth. This deposition is known as the Anastasia Formation, and was formed during the Late Pleistocene epoch, in the period of successive glacial ages from about 110,000 years to 11,700 years ago. It is the only local natural source of stone, and was quarried by the Spanish and later the British to construct many of the buildings in St. Augustine (including the Castillo de San Marcos). An old well and chimney made of coquina rock, located on Old Beach Road, are all that remain of the Spanish barracks built to house the quarry overseers, masons, and stonecutters who mined the coquina for construction of the Castillo (1672-1695) with the help of Native American forced labor and African slaves.
In addition to Fort Matanzas National Monument, Anastasia island is also home to the 1,600-acre (6.5 km2), Anastasia State Park.
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- Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) website Maritime archaeology around Anastasia Island
- Anastasia State Park at Florida State Parks