An unusual site in the State a Florida – an actual stone quarry.
Coquina is the Spanish word for shellstone. In Florida, the term refers to the particular type of stone that makes up the Anastasia Formation, an ancient rock formation that defines part of the east coast of the state from north of St. Augustine southward to around Palm Beach. It’s named for Anastasia Island where the Spanish first came across the rock and realized its potential for being a building material.
Made up mostly of small mollusk shells, coquina makes a good stone for constructing the walls of buildings. There is a mollusk called coquina (donax variabilis) that’s native to Florida, but the rock is comprised of the shells of many different species of mollusk.
Records show that the Spanish knew about coquina as early as 1580, only 15 years after the founding of St. Augustine, though the first recorded use of it in construction was in 1598 for a gunpowder storage house. That seems to be the start of the quarrying of coquina on Anastasia Island, however it took some additional decades for the quarries to be used to produce large quantities of stone. In 1672, construction began on the Castillo de San Marcos, a massive project that took many tons of coquina. The Castillo was completed in 1696 and afterwards the quarries were able to supply the town of St. Augustine with stone for substantial buildings and other fortifications.
The need for coquina was large enough that the Spanish opened at least two quarries on Anastasia Island and during the British control of Florida (1763-1783), they also opened a quarry for their needs. The British quarry was at the north of the island. At that location, a significant amount of stone had been removed which allowed the sea to encroach and create the salt flats called Quarry Creek.
The quarry at the entrance of Anastasia State Park was a Spanish one. Signage at the quarry states that work there began in 1671, one year prior to the start of the construction of the Castillo. Stone quarrying, even in the modern world, is difficult and dangerous. Three hundred years ago it was even more so. There aren’t detailed records of who did the quarrying, but over the years, the work was done by local Indians (possibly both compensated labor and slave labor), Spanish convicts, British prisoners and Black slaves.
Other large buildings near St. Augustine were also built of coquina, including Fort Matanzas and early structures in the New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach areas. It’s possible to see outcroppings of the Anastasia Formation at a few places on the coast including Washington Oaks Gardens State Park near Marineland, the House of Refuge on Hutchinson Island near Stuart and Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island near the town of Jupiter.
The coquina quarry is an unusual place to visit in the St. Augustine area. There’s some trails to explore and in places the rock face has been left bare. It’s located at the entrance to the state park and has a few parking spaces. It’s just about the only stone quarry in Florida.