Beneath the surface of the sleepy waterfront village of St. Marks, Florida, lay centuries of intriguing stories waiting to be told – of Apalachee Indians, Spanish explorers, and Indian wars; of forts and cannon fire, pirates, sunken ships, and battles with invasive forces up through the Civil War. This historic gulfport city may be the third oldest settlement in North America, staking claim to one of the longest histories of any place in Florida. Nomadic native tribes roamed the area long before documented European influence began with the arrival of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528, who was searching for gold. Many flags have flown over Fort San Marcos de Apalache, built at the strategic confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers; the historic site has has a long, colorful history of occupation by the Spanish, English, American, and Southern Confederate forces. The National Landmark is now a Historic State Park with interpretive signage and museum displays.
St. Marks became an important shipping port during the cotton trade. Florida’s first railroad, built in 1836, connected the port to the nearby territorial capital of Tallahassee for use in the export of cotton. The abandoned rail line now serves as a popular bicycle and equestrian trail. The historic St. Marks Lighthouse, located in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the second oldest lighthouse in Florida, still stands sentinel over the shores of Apalachee Bay. First constructed in 1831, the picturesque, lavishly photographed, whitewashed masonry tower and keeper’s quarters rest securely on a base of limestone rock taken from nearby Fort San Marcos de Apalache.