Monday, June 30, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part One

We turn our focus today on the major Southern resort city of Branson, Missouri.
Known around the world for its music and live entertainment, there is also a great deal in Branson for the history minded visitor.
The city is located in the beautiful and mysterious Ozarks region of southern Missouri. These mountains, hills and valleys fostered a lifestyle unique in the South during the decades before the Civil War, during and after the Civil War.
As they drifted west from the east, settlers roamed into the mountains and established small farms, mills and trading stores. They were tough, determined people who scratched a living from the mountain soil and developed a culture unlike any other in America.
Union and Conferate forces moved through this region during the Civil War, as did irregular bands of guerrilla fighters. Jesse James is among the names often mentioned in the area. There were also regular armies, however, and the Battle of Wilson's Creek was fought just 50 miles north of Branson on the outskirts of Springfield.
Over the next few days we will be looking at a wide variety of historic sites in and around the Branson area. I think you will find this to be a fascinating journey into the Missouri Ozarks and hope you will check back often.
Until the next post, you can learn more by visiting

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Coming on Monday - Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri

The fascinating city of Branson, Missouri, is known world-wide for its live shows and entertainment. 60 Minutes called it the "Live Country Music Capital of the Universe" and with good reason.
What many visitors do not realize, however, is that the city is also a centerpiece for the culture and history of the Missouri Ozarks. The entire Branson area is rich in history, culture, folklore and spectacular natural scenery.
Beginning Monday, we will start a series that will give you a tour of the "other Branson." Be sure to check back then to learn more about the fascinating historic sites, culture, natural wonders and heritage of Branson and the Missouri Ozarks.

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Thirteen

We conclude today our series on the beautiful old city of St. Augustine, Florida.
This view was taken looking south down St. George Street in the heart of the historic district. The centerpiece of a magnificent district of reconstructed and restored colonial structures, St. George Street offers visitors the opportunity to stroll through St. Augustine much as it appeared three hundred years ago.
The district features shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, a living history village, original Spanish architecture and an incredible old world setting. It is within easy walking district of the Castillo de San Marcos, the Plaza de la Constitucion and other key heritage attractions in St. Augustine.
To learn more about St. Augustine, Florida, please visit

Friday, June 27, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Twelve

Continuing our series on the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, this is a view of the restored Government House.
Built by the Spanish between 1706 and 1713 on a lot facing the west end of the Plaza de la Constitucion, this unique structure served as the home of Florida's Spanish governors.
When Florida was transferred to Great Britain at the end of the French and Indian War, the Government House was occupied by British officials. It served an important role during the American Revolution and was probably the location of some of the planning of the British strikes against Georgia that were launched from Florida.
After the revolution Florida was returned to Spain and the Government House again served as a home and office for the colony's Spanish governors. It continued to fill this role until Florida was handed over to the United States in 1821.
Although most Floridians are familiar with the "Old Capitol" in Tallahassee, few realize that this historic structure in St. Augustine is actually Florida's "Older Capitol." In addition to its history as a center of activity for Spanish and British officials, the Government House served as a meeting place for Florida's Legislature in 1823 before the site of Tallahassee was selected to become the new territory's permanent capital.
Union officers accepted the surrender of St. Augustine from the city's civil leaders here in 1862 during the Civil War.
The Government House today is a very nice visitor center and museum. The displays include a fascinating walk through the archaeology of the oldest city.
Our series on St. Augustine will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

New Review of Battle of Massard Prairie Book

I want to take a minute to post a quick note of thanks to Andrew Wagenhoffer of Civil War Books and Authors for his kind review of my new book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas.
You can read his review by clicking here.
If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating Civil War battle, please visit our Battle of Massard Prairie pages at
Profits from this book are being donated to assist in the development of the new Battle of Cane Hill Driving Tour in Northwest Arkansas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Pages Now Online

Two new sections went online today at

The first explores the history of the Battle of Olustee, Florida. Olustee was the largest Civil War battle in Florida. In addition, it was statistically the greatest Union defeat of the war. An estimated 40% of the 5,500 Union troops that marched into the battle were killed, wounded or captured. The new pages explore the history of the battle and provide an online tour of Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. To visit the new section, please click

The second new section explores the history of the Battle of Fayetteville, Arkansas. This Civil War battle was one of the last major Confederate attempts to retake control of Northwest Arkansas. The section features information on the history of the battle and photographs of the battlefield as it appears today. To visit the new section, please click

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Eleven

This beautiful park area is the historic Plaza de la Constitucion in the center of St. Augustine, Florida.

The plaza is the oldest public park in the United States and remains a center for activity in the historic city.

Spanish Royal Ordinances dating from 1573 specified that the permanent city of St. Augustine, founded only 8 years earlier, be designed around a central park or plaza.

The park was a center of activity in the city. It was the location of St. Augustine's market place and many important structures faced the plaza, including the home of the Spanish governors. As a result, citizens were enjoying shopping and other activities here decades before the first settlers set foot at either Jamestown, Virginia or Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A number of unique landmarks can be found in and around the plaza. So far as I know, it is the only location in the United States that boasts a monument to a foreign constitution. An oblisk in the center of the plaza memorializes Spain's Constitution of 1812. St. Augustine was still a Spanish capital at the time the constitution was adopted.

A public well dating from the 16th century can be seen here, as can four Civil War era cannons that once armed the Water Battery at the Castillo de San Marcos. The Plaza de la Constitucion is also the location of the city's historic open air market structure. The old market is located near the east end of the plaza. Tradition that it was a slave market, however, is not accurate. The current structure was built after the end of the Civil War.

Our series on St. Augustine will continue. Until the next post, you can learn more by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Ten

If you believe what the tour guides on the popular ghost tours of St. Augustine tell you, then this is a photograph of the ghosts of Castle Warden.
Ghost tours are big business in the nation's oldest city. There is a ghost train, a ghost trolley, a walking tour, a "haunted pub" tour and a variety of other chances to explore the supernatural side of St. Augustine.
I will say that I have my doubts about whether a ghost could be found anywhere near a crowd of noisy tourists, but the guides encourage groups to snap photographs and see if they catch anything unusual. These "orbs" showed up in a photograph taken in Castle Warden, the home of Ripley's Believe It or Not! The castle is one of the stops on the "Ghost Train" tour offered by Ripley's.
Although some believe these are caused by spiritual activity, I suspect they more likely are nothing more than light effects caused by cameras flashing in a dark place. But, because many believe they are representative of something supernatural, people are often quite thrilled by the chance to snap a photo in which something a little unusual shows up.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, ghost stories are an important part of Southern heritage because they remind us of the days before radio and television when people occupied their evenings by sitting around the fireplace and telling stories for entertainment. Many of the stories have at least some basis in truth, although quite often the current story bears little resemblance to the original event.
Because it has been an occupied city for more than 440 years, St. Augustine has more than its share of ghost stories.
You can learn more about some of these stories and more about the history of the old city itself by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Nine

Continuing our look at the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, this is Castle Warden. One of the most popular attractions in the old city, it is the home of the nation's first Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum.
The unusual Moorish Revival castle was built in 1887 as a winter home by William G. Warden, a business partner of John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler. Prominent in business and community affairs in St. Augustine, Warden's castle became a hub of winter activity in the city and remained in the hands of his family until the 1930s.
It was remodeled in 1941 and converted into a grand hotel that hosted many prominent visitors. Famed novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her husband, owner of the hotel, kept a penthouse apartment on the top floor. She is famed for contributions to Florida literature that included The Yearling, Cross Creek and South Moon Under. (Read comments to see more about this).
Another prominent visitor to the hotel was the famed newspaper writer Robert S. Ripley, noted for his popular Believe It or Not! items that featured unusual facts and ran in newspapers around the world. Ripley tried to buy the castle, but was turned down.
After his death in 1949, however, his estate managed to obtain title to the landmark and the nation's first Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum opened here in 1950, giving the castle an usual role in American pop culture.
To read more about St. Augustine and Castle Warden, please visit and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Monday, June 23, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Eight

This is a view of the interior of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.

One of the most noted figures in Florida history was held prisoner here for a time.

On October 21, 1837, the great Seminole leader Osceola was seized by the U.S. Army when he appeared under a white flag for a previously arranged negotiation near St. Augustine. The action remains one of the more deplorable episodes in the history of the U.S. military.

Osceola and several other Seminole leaders were brought here to the Castillo, then called Fort Marion by the U.S. Army, and imprisoned in some of the rooms in the interior of the old fort. Two of the other leaders managed to escape, but Osceola was seriously ill and could not.

Following the escape, he and his family were placed aboard a ship in Matanzas Bay and sent to Fort Moultrie near Charleston, South Carolina. There he died from sickness on January 20, 1838, just three months after he was seized while under the protection of a white flag.

He is buried at Fort Moultrie, far from his Florida home, but his figure remains larger than life in Florida today. Revered by the state's Native American community, Osceola is also the symbol of Florida State University.

Our series on historic St. Augustine, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Seven

Continuing our look at the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, this is another view of the Castillo de San Marcos.
The oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, the Castillo houses an outstanding collection of colonial era artillery. As its name implies, the Castillo is a true castle. It was built to house the entire population of St. Augustine in the event of attack.
When English forces attacked the city in 1702, more than 1,500 citizens of the city moved into the Castillo and remained there for over 50 days. Although the city was sacked and burned, the fort held and the population of St. Augustine remained safe.
Construction on the Castillo was begun in 1672 and it was strengthened and remodeled several times during the 1700s. It remains a magnificent example of colonial architecture.
Our series on St. Augustine will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Friday, June 20, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Six

Continuing our look at historic St. Augustine, Florida, this is the drawbridge and entrance to the historic Castillo de San Marcos.
Construction on the old fort began in 1672 and took decades to complete. It is the oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States. Although it was subjected to sieges of almost 30 and more than 50 days, the Castillo was never taken in battle.
Part of the reason was the unique coquina stone from which it was built. This stone is found in only three places in the world, one of which is the St. Augustine area. When the British bombarded the fort, they were dismayed to find that their cannonballs sank into the soft stone instead of breaking and battering it to bits.
The fort is now a national monument and is located on the waterfront in historic downtown St. Augustine. I'll have more on the Castillo in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Five

This is a view of the artillery platform at Fort Matanzas near St. Augustine.

This unique old fort was built during the 1740s and is now a national monument. Visitors who take the boat out to the fort are able to spend about an hour touring the structure. This is plenty of time because the fort is only about 50 by 50 feet.

Fort Matanzas was built quickly and, unfortunately, using a faulty plan. The weight of the structure produces too much strain for its design and by the 1800s it had severely cracked. It was restored when it became a national park, but the work of keeping it standing is constant.

According to an interpreter at the fort, the structure was considered so worthless at the time Florida was ceded from Spain to the United States that it was valued at only 1 cent. It is certainly worth far more than that today. The land itself is worth millions and the fort is a priceless historical treasure.

To read more about Fort Matanzas and other sites around St. Augustine, please visit and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Four

This unique structure about 15 miles south of St. Augustine is historic Fort Matanzas.
Built by the Spanish during the 1740s to guard the southern approaches to the ancient city, it is now a national monument.
Built of coquina stone, a unique rock found in only three places in the world (one of which is the St. Augustine area), the fort was normally garrisoned by only a handful of men, but mounted five pieces of artillery that could control nearby Matanzas Inlet, one of the water approaches to St. Augustine.
The fort fired in anger only once, in 1742, when a British fleet commanded by Gov. James Oglethorpe of Georgia approached the inlet. Oglethorpe and his men rowed into the inlet in small boats and the Spanish in the fort fired a single shot at them. It may have been history's shortest battle. Realizing that the Spanish guns could control the waterway, Oglethorpe and his soldiers turned back and no other shots were fired.
The fort is accessible only by a passenger ferry that leaves once each hour from the visitor center off Highway A1A. For more information, please visit and look for the St. Augustine heading. You will find a link there for Fort Matanzas.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Three

As I mentioned yesterday, the St. Augustine Lighthouse is a fascinating historic landmark.
I mentioned some of the history of the lighthouse and its famed ghost stories, but I also want to take a few minutes to tell you about the fantastic local effort that led to the preservation and restoration of this beautiful landmark.
After the lighthouse was automated, it fell into a severe state of disrepair. The humidity and salt water environment caused extensive damage to the tower and, like all buildings, both it and the adjacent keeper's cottage reached states of sad deterioration.
In 1980, the condition of these buildings sparked a massive effort by the local Junior Service League. Their work has been phenomenal and shows what can be done with local citizens care about their important local landmarks. In 1993, thirteen years after the project to save and restore the lighthouse property began, the tower was again opened to the public.
Today, the lighthouse property is beautiful and popular with visitors and local citizens. Facilities include the restored tower, which can be climbed as long as the weather is good, the restored keeper's cottage, which provides exhibits on the history of the light station at St. Augustine, and a visitor center.
Today, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum focuses on the entire maritime history of St. Augustine. In addition to preserving and operating the lighthouse facilities, it also works to research and preserve shipwrecks and other aspects of local maritime history. The keeper's cottage displays include artifacts, cannon and other items from area wrecks.
To read more about St. Augustine before our next post, please visit and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Florida's Haunted Lighthouse

I have always been something of a lighthouse buff, so I have visited quite a few. It seems that almost all have a ghost story or two, but this tower at St. Augustine, Florida may well have more than any other lighthouse in the world.
Built between 1870 and 1874, the St. Augustine Lighthouse replaced earlier watchposts and towers dating back to the late 1500s. St. Augustine, of course, is the nation's oldest city, having been founded in 1565.
Now restored and open to the public, the lighthouse is the focus of a number of fascinating ghost stories. One of the most intriguing revolves around the tragic deaths of three young girls while the tower was being constructed in 1873.
The girls and their friends liked to ride a cable cart that workers used to bring construction materials up to the tower site from the beach. Something went wrong on July 10, 1873 and five children riding the cart were flung into the water. Although a boy and girl were rescued, three other young girls died.
According to local tradition, their ghosts haunt the lighthouse tower and grounds to this day. Eyewitnesses claim to hear the voices of children in the tower and others have claimed to see unusual lights and shadows.
The SciFi Channel television program Ghost Hunters investigated the St. Augustine Lighthouse and recorded a variety of unusual activities there, including strange sounds, lights and a mysterious shadowy figure that appeared to be moving around high up in the tower.
To learn more about the St. Augustine Lighthouse, please visit

Saturday, June 14, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - The Oldest City in the United States

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continually occupied city in the continental United States.
St. Augustine was established by Pedro Menendez de Aviles more than 40 years before the first English settlers arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, and 55 years before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. Today it boasts rich Spanish influences and one of the finest collections of colonial structures in the United States.
Our new St. Augustine pages are now online. To learn more, please visit and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Alabama home page online

Our new Alabama section is now online at
This page allows you to access information about a wide variety of historic sites in Alabama. Sites on the left hand side of the page are places we have visited. Sites on the right hand side of the page are places that have been recommended to us. We have provided links to official websites until we are able to bring up pages of our own.
I hope you enjoy browsing through it! Please visit to access the page.