The National Park Service
1933 to present
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred Fort Matanzas, along with the
Castillo de San Marcos, to the control of the National Park Service. For eighteen years
prior to that, the two St. Augustine forts were cared for under a contract
between the War Department and the St. Augustine Historical Society and
Institute of Science. The first park superintendent was hired for twelve dollars a year.
Under the National Park Service, the preservation of the forts was assured.
Not only was additional restoration work done in the 1930s, but also land was
acquired on Anastasia Island and a combined visitor center and caretaker's cottage was built. The
journey back to its original splendor had begun and continues to this day, with more planned for tomorrow.
Ruins of Fort Matanzas in a photograph from around 1912
More Recent Events at the Inlet
In the early 1900s the Army Corps of Engineers dug the channel for the Intracoastal
Waterway west of the fort. As a result, the little island that once was the home of Fort Matanzas was
joined with other small islands in the marsh and now is part of a much larger island known as Rattlesnake Island.
During the 1920's, in the period known as Prohibition, the Matanzas inlet was used by
bootleggers to transport illegal liquor to U.S. cities. The liquor was brought from the Caribbean in large
ships which would meet a fleet of smaller boats
in the Matanzas inlet area. These smaller boats would bring the
contraband into St. Augustine by way of the Matanzas River where it was transferred into waiting automobiles to be
driven to northern cities for sale and consumption. The famous gangster Al Capone is said to have been involved in
this smuggling operation.
Early visitors to Fort Matanzas. Photograph taken in April 1912
One of the unique things about both Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos is their construction material-- coquina.
Thousands of years ago the tiny coquina clam, donax variabilis lived in the shallow waters of coastal
Florida. These are the small pink, lavender, yellow, or white shells one can still see along the beach
today. As the resident clam died, the shells accumulated on the bottom in layers for thousands of years,
forming deposits several feet thick.
During the last ice age, sea levels dropped, exposing these shell layers to the air. Rain water percolating
through dead vegetation and soil picked up carbon dioxide and became acidic.
As this weak acid soaked downward, it dissolved some of the calcium in the shells, producing calcium
carbonate, which solidified in lower layers much like flowstone and stalactites are formed in caves. This material
"glued" the shell fragments together into a porous type of limestone we now call coquina, Spanish for
Coquina shell stone.
When it became necessary to build a stronger fort to protect St. Augustine, the military engineers chose to use
coquina from a large deposit on Anastasia Island near the present-day Anastasia State Recreation Area.
Inevitably, the British attacked, but a strange thing happened. Instead of shattering under cannon fire, the soft
coquina stone merely compressed and absorbed the shock of the hit! The cannon balls just bounced off or stuck in a few inches!
One cannot but wonder what would have happened if the Spanish had not had coquina. Very likely, the British would
have prevailed. Our history might have been quite different but for this little clam known as donax and for coquina
stone. One might almost call it the rock that saved St. Augustine!
After the Castillo was built, wealthy citizens, began to use coquina for their homes. Some of these, like the
Oldest House, can still be seen today. The St. Francis Barracks and the Cathedral in downtown St. Augustine are
also made of coquina. One of the last large buildings to be built of coquina is the St. Augustine Visitor Information
Center, built in the early 1940s. The Fort Matanzas Visitor Center is also coquina.
250 years of building, used up most ofthe quality stone. However, coquina boulders can still be seen on the beach
at Washington Oaks State Park a few miles south of Fort Matanzas National Monument.