SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tonight in St. Augustine, Fla., residents will begin a year-long celebration to honor their hometown. It is 450 years old. That makes it the oldest city in the United States. They are very proud of that title, and as Peter Haden of member station WJCT explains, it is one they are quick to defend.
PETER HADEN, BYLINE: Clyde and Corrita Warner came to St. Augustine on vacation from Louisville, Ky. They know their history.
CORRITA WARNER: Well, I knew that this started before the Pilgrims landed and before Jamestown. You know, this area was first.
HADEN: First - St. Augustine treasures being the first, and oldest, city in the United States. So when the area around Jamestown, Va. adopted the title America's First Region a while back, the gloves came off.
RICHARD GOLDMAN: You don't have to be much of a mathematician to know that St. Augustine was settled first.
HADEN: Richard Goldman is with the St. Augustine Visitors Bureau.
GOLDMAN: Jamestown was about 42, 43 years later. So for Jamestown to claim to be where the country began, just doesn't settle well with the history.
UNIDENTIFIED TOUR GUIDE: As we pull out here, if you look to the left-hand side of the trolley, up in these trees you'll see some of those peacocks.
HADEN: There's plenty of history in St. Augustine. The original Spanish fort was built in the 17th century, the Castillo de San Marcos. It's a national monument now and built out of crushed coquina seashells that the Spanish found here. Mike Evans is a park ranger. He says the Spanish were roping cattle and pruning their citrus groves in St. Augustine before the British even set sail for Jamestown.
MIKE EVANS: Bless their hearts. I mean, the Virginians have Robert E. Lee and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and that's fine, you know? But here, we introduced the oranges to the New World.
HADEN: To put this debate to rest, I needed to trace the story of St. Augustine to its source. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first landed here and claimed La Florida for the king of Spain in 1513. He was on a mission.
I'm searching for the Fountain of Youth. Can you help me? Which way to the Fountain of Youth?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You will head north.
HADEN: I'm searching for the Fountain of Youth.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Right there.
UNIDENTIFIED TOUR GUIDE: Stop 23, the Fountain of Youth.
HADEN: Kit Keating is the director of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
What would you say though, Kit, if I told you that there is a region in Virginia that also has adopted the moniker America's First Region?
KIT KEATING: I love it. And the grandchildren that were cavorting around here when the settlement of Jamestown was founded might giggle. (Laughter).
PAUL LEVENGOOD: Jamestown and that part of Virginia was the location of a number of significant firsts in history.
HADEN: Here making the case for the good people of Virginia, Paul Levengood, president of the Virginia Historical Society.
LEVENGOOD: It was the first Anglican religious ceremony, the first elected legislature in North America, the first representative democratic polity in North America. At least let us lay claim to the notion of America's first region.
HADEN: No doubt, Virginia brought a lot to the table. But here in Florida, during this celebration of St. Augustine as the country's oldest city, leaders know who really came first. For NPR News, I'm Peter Haden.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.