St. Johns County Adds $200K to Fort Mose Effort

St. Johns County Adds $200K to Fort Mose Effort

The project to build a replica of the first legally sanctioned Black community in what is now the United States took a big step closer to reality thanks to St. Johns County commissioners.

Earlier this month, the commission approved a $200,000 grant to help fund the reconstruction of Fort Mose, adding to the $50,000 grant the county provided in 2021.

“This is a culturally significant site,” said Tera Meeks, St. Johns County director of tourism and cultural development. “The state park and the Florida Parks Foundation estimate that having this fort reconstructed will increase visitation annually by 20% to the park and it gives a tangible representation of history.”

Meeks said the reconstructed fort is important to the county’s tourism development efforts and adds to the historic and cultural tourism offerings in the area.

“It definitely helps to build our diverse and dynamic culture here,” she said. “It gives people another reason to visit, another reason to stay longer, another reason to stay at our hotels and spend money here.”

Several members of the public spoke in support of the county grant, including Charles Ellis, president of the Fort Mose Historical Society.

“The history of Fort Mose is intertwined with the history of St. Augustine, yet few people are aware of the fort,” he said. “This fort is actually one of the high points for the area of St. Augustine and we feel having this fort here is certainly going to increase tourism in St. Augustine and also increase the awareness of what the fort is all about and what it stands for.”

Thomas Jackson, a founding member of the Fort Mose Historical Society and current president of the St. Augustine Historical Society, said the reconstruction effort is a way to preserve a piece of history that has been ignored.

“We are trying to tell the story, the whole story,” he said. “Fort Mose’s story is a story that must be told. It’s America’s history.”

Richard Goldman, former president and CEO of the St. Augustine Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Fort Mose is a “really essential historical asset in our county’s rich tourism offerings” and the reconstruction project will enhance the visitor experience.

“While a picture is worth a thousand words, an experience is invaluable, and that’s what we hope will be accomplished,” he said.

While he supported the Fort Mose project and the funding request, Commissioner Roy Alaimo said he preferred the matter be considered by the county’s Tourist Development Council before commissioners make a final decision.

“The TDC is our guiding board, they’re the industry experts,” he said.

Commissioner Sarah Arnold, who also serves on the TDC, said she agreed with Alaimo.

“I would just love for it to go back through the TDC for them to do a more in-depth analysis and project review,” she said.

In the end, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the request, with Alaimo and Arnold voting against the motion.