Hastings, about 18 miles southwest of St. Augustine, is an agricultural center that, according to the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, literally grew from a garden. Henry Flagler, who built tourist hotels in St. Augustine, needed a source of fresh vegetables for his guests. He persuaded a cousin, Thomas Horace Hastings, to develop a farm; a small town evolved to which Hastings gave his name.
Since that birth in 1890, Hastings has been known as the "Potato Capital of Florida" with 21,000 acres of potato farmland. The area is also known for its cabbage, onions, eggplant and ornamental horticulture.
Hastings offers a quiet, unassuming lifestyle.
Although the tough economy has affected the area, it has new hope. A four-lane extension of State Road 207 and talk of new subdivisions could bolster its attractiveness.
Northwest St. Johns County -- Fruit Cove, Switzerland and Orangedale -- is experiencing its own growth spurt while still maintaining its rural charm.
Bordered by the St. Johns/Duval County line to the north, the St. Johns River to the west, County Road 208 to the south and Interstate 95 to the east, the northwest sector has grown more than 55 percent in the past 10 years alone.
The area is home to Julington Creek Plantation, which encompasses 4,119 acres, with over a dozen distinctive neighborhoods.
Now the No. 1-selling community in the area and among the top 10 master-planned communities in Florida, Julington Creek Plantation offersrecreational facilities, a large selection of homes and a great location -- 30 minutes to downtown Jacksonville and 30 minutes to downtown St. Augustine.
Many recreational opportunities exist, including golf courses, such as The Champions Club in Julington Creek. The Julington Creek Marina offers wet and dry storage for boating.
For a community with an evergreen name, Palm Valley has been through plenty of changes.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Intracoastal Waterway allowed easier access to an area once home to only to Indians and later Spanish settlers. The plentiful palms prompted residents to change the name from Diego to Palm Valley in 1908. Farmers, loggers and moonshiners during Prohibition all worked the marshy, heavily treed lands.
More recently, Palm Valley was filled with smaller homes and manufactured homes -- some used as year-round residences, others used as second homes or hunting lodges. Many of those old lodges and undeveloped lots are for sale, and some include an entire acre of property. Some new residents are demolishing the old lodges to make room for mansions or are finding untouched land ready for development.
River Marsh is a small gated community on the Guana River bordered by the Guana River State Park and Preserve. It will offer access to the river and preserve for fishing and hunting. Other new communities such as Sawmill Lakes, Odom's Mill and Plantation Oaks continue to sell well.
Next for Palm Valley is learning to co-exist with its soon-to-be neighbors in Nocatee, a 15,000-acre community with homes, offices, parks and preserves.
The rich history of the area and its pristine natural resources helped shape Ponte Vedra Beach.
Years of conflict between Timucuan Indians, the Spanish, the French and the English persisted until around 1821, when Spain sold Florida to the United States and it became a territory. Nearly 100 years later, in 1914, two young chemical engineers, Henry Holland Buckman and George A. Pritchard, discovered that Ponte Vedra's beaches contained industrial minerals, including components necessary for the production of titanium and zirconium. The National Lead Co. bought out the partners in 1916.
The mining settlement, named Mineral City, played a crucial role in World War I, as titanium was a key component in the manufacture of poisonous gas. In 1928, the National Lead Co. rechristened Mineral City in honor of what was believed to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus -- Pontevedra, Spain. City founders later learned that Columbus was actually born in Genoa, Italy.
The name Ponte Vedra stuck and today has come to symbolize sophisticated beach-style living.
Modern-day Ponte Vedra Beach began to take shape when National Lead built a 9-hole golf course for its employees along with a log clubhouse and polo field in 1922. In 1928, the complex became the world-famous Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.
Today, Sawgrass is home to The Players Championship golf tournament and is world headquarters for the PGA Tour, thanks to a now-legendary 1978 deal in which developers Jerome and Paul Fletcher sold PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman 415 densely wooded acres for one dollar.
Although synonymous with luxury, Ponte Vedra Beach does have affordable housing away from the ocean. Those elaborate waterfront mansions, however, can set you back millions.
The oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States still gives residents a taste of small-town charm more than 400 years after its founding.
St. Augustine, 35 miles south of Jacksonville beside Matanzas Bay, was established by Spanish Admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles on Sept. 8, 1565. The city is the center of the action in St. Johns County.
St. Augustine is the host of over 40 annual events, many revolving around the city's historic role. The Fort Castillo de San Marcos, built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish, dominates the city's tableau. Its massive gates draw tourists and longtime residents to explore the city's past. More than 85 historic sites lie within the city's confines.
Numerous museums detail an aspect of the city's development, while archeological digs proceed throughout the year, unearthing further information on St. Augustine's heritage. Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Potter's Wax Museum are among the popular attractions.
With an average temperature of 70 degrees and mild winters, St. Augustine allows for year-round recreation. Boating, swimming and surfing take a high priority in leisure activities as does golf, with 10 championship golf courses, including those at the World Golf Village.
St. Augustine is a shopping experience with more than 35 antique shops, 25 art galleries and an abundance of specialty shops, many located on the brick-lined streets of the city's historic district. Two outlet malls off Interstate 95 -- one an outside center, the other indoor -- are visited by locals and by visitors on the way to Disney World and points south.
The city is also known for its fine eateries. More than 100 restaurants, some ranked among the highest in the state, offer everything from authentic French cuisine to eclectic new world fusion cooking.
Residents in the sleepy seaside community of Vilano Beach have seen many changes in the past few years that indicate their quiet, secluded neighborhood is evolving.
The main catalysts to this revitalization are the new Usina Bridge connecting Vilano Beach to the mainland and the upscale Serenata Beach Club development on State Road A1A. One thing is for certain: interest is growing, and housing and lot prices are rising in response.
Vilano Beach is a peninsula bordered by South Ponte Vedra Beach to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, St. Augustine Inlet to the south and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.
Construction of the Usina Bridge spurred the area's revitalization as it replaced an undependable drawbridge that deterred people from buying homes in Vilano Beach.
The Vilano/Surfside area was primarily a summer beach community, but more and more people are living there year-round.
Vilano Beach also has one of the few red shell coquina beaches in the state.
World Golf Village
When Jim Davidson, president/CEO of Davidson Development, learned of tentative plans to build a golf hall of fame 10 miles north of his property, he began to re-think his plan to build a self-contained resort community.
He had a proposal for golf's officials: take the hall of fame concept, combine it with the future of the sport and the technology of the industry, then build into it a sense of place that would celebrate that concept. That sense of place would incorporate the roots of the game in Scotland and the architectural details of the St. Augustine area in which it would be located.
The Hall of Fame with its historical artifacts and interactive displays, an IMAX theater, cafes and boutiques, hotel and Renaissance resort soon followed and World Golf Village opened in May 1998. Residents of various neighborhoods who would make it truly a village began moving in, starting with the Davidson family.
Laterra resort community at World Golf Village is a new Spanish-Colonial enclave of buildings that offer many amenities including a world class PGA Tour spa.
A 6,300-acre community with more than 44 percent of those acres greenbelts and preserves, World Golf Village is at one with nature, while offering all the necessities of a self-contained town. Pools, parks and picnic tables, tennis courts, soccer fields and basketball courts, volleyball, baseball and playground equipment and a range of varied dining opportunities assure residents that they could live well without ever leaving the village.