St. Johns County Celebrates 200 Years

On July 21, 1821, General Andrew Jackson, governor of the territory of Florida, established St. Johns County. Two hundred years later, St. Johns County is still being celebrated for its many accomplishments.

On July 21, county officials opened a time capsule to mark the bicentennial celebration. It will be reopened in 50 years. The time capsule features items from various St. Johns County organizations, including the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker, chair of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, introduced special guest speakers, State Representative Cyndi Stevenson and Dr. Thomas Graham, professor emeritus of history for Flagler College. Stevenson, a former St. Johns County commissioner, read a proclamation from Gov. Ron DeSantis for the 200th anniversary.

“St. Johns County’s bicentennial anniversary is an important opportunity to reflect upon the history and development of our great state while looking forward to a brighter future,” read the governor’s proclamation.

Dr. Graham touted the many industries that have thrived over the years in the county, such as agriculture, aviation, tourism and more.

“And here we are at the end of 200 years,” he said. “Let’s look forward to 200 more.”

Father John Tetlow (photo by Woody Huband)

A variety of local organizations took turns explaining the significance of their contribution to the time capsule. Father John Tetlow, pastor and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, began by sharing how the Catholic Church in Florida dates back to Sept. 8, 1565, when a small band of Spaniards and missionary priests celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving on the shores of North Florida in preparation for starting a settlement here. They named their new home St. Augustine in honor of the saint whose feast day they sighted land – August 28.

It was not until March 11, 1870, that Florida, east of the Apalachicola River, was designated as the Diocese of St. Augustine. “We celebrated our 150th-anniversary last year. Today we are proud to be the Mother Diocese of Florida, which now has six additional dioceses,” said Father Tetlow.

Five years ago, the diocese joined members of the community for the 450th anniversary of the establishment of St. Augustine and the beginnings of the Catholic faith in Florida.

“On that anniversary, we had a keepsake medallion created to honor our past and celebrate our future,” said Father Tetlow. “I submit this medallion featuring the First Parish, now the Cathedral Basilica, and a depiction of the First Mass in 1565 to St. Johns County for inclusion in the time capsule.”

“While not everyone shares the same faith tradition, it is our faith as brothers and sisters of this great community that has comforted the sick, educated our young people, fed and clothed the less fortunate, worked tirelessly to rebuild the community after ravaging storms and yes, even survive a pandemic,” said Father Tetlow. “I hope that when this time capsule is opened in 50 years, it will be evident that the love and resilience of this community is not a thing of the past, but a tradition that has carried forward.”

The time capsule, designed and crafted by local artist Isaac Outley, will be enshrined in a glass case in the St. Johns County Government Building until it is reopened in 2071.