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The Surprising History of Davis Shores

Exploring the Past, Present and Future of one of St. Augustine’s Favorite Neighborhoods

Nestled in the heart of St. Augustine, Davis Shores holds a story as unique and intriguing as the Ancient City itself. From its early days as marshy wetlands to its transformation into a bustling residential neighborhood, Davis Shores exemplifies a tale of vision, development, and resilience. Today, as we walk through the serene streets of this charming neighborhood, let us delve into the surprising history of Davis Shores and discover the layers of time that have shaped this iconic area.

Origins: A Vision Over Marshes

The area we now know as Davis Shores began as an expanse of marshland on Anastasia Island, directly across the Matanzas River from downtown St. Augustine. In the early 20th century, this area was largely uninhabitable, frequented only by the local wildlife and the occasional fisherman navigating the inlets. At this time, there wasn’t even a bridge connecting St. Augustine and Anastasia Island. Tourists had to take a boat ride to get to the beach! However, the real story of Davis Shores began in the 1920s, when a flamboyant entrepreneur named D.P. Davis saw potential where others saw swampland.

D.P. Davis was no stranger to ambitious land projects, having successfully developed Davis Islands in Tampa, Florida. His vision for Davis Shores was equally grand—a lavish residential and tourist destination complete with hotels, a yacht club, multiple golf courses, and extensive residential areas. To achieve this, massive amounts of fill were dredged from the surrounding waters to raise and stabilize the land.

An archival advertisement of Davis Shores and St. Augustine
Image courtesy of Florida Memory

The Boom of the 1920s

The real estate boom of the 1920s provided the perfect backdrop for Davis’s vision. By 1925, he launched the Davis Shores project with a well-publicized sale that attracted potential buyers in droves. The allure of owning a piece of paradise in historic St. Augustine, coupled with Davis’s reputation, resulted in rapid sales. Ads of the time boasted of the modern conveniences and architectural elegance planned for the development.

The boom was not to last. The latter half of the 1920s saw the real estate market crash, significantly impacting developments across Florida, including Davis Shores. The Great Depression compounded these difficulties, halting most of the construction and leaving the grandiose plans largely unfulfilled. D.P. Davis himself met a mysterious and untimely death in 1926, which only added to the project’s challenges.

An Uncertain Future

The area remained quiet through the Great Depression and World War II, with few signs of the early extravagance that was once promised. It wasn’t until the post-war boom that Davis Shores began to see a revival. The 1950s and 60s brought a new wave of interest and development to the area. Families and retirees, drawn by the allure of coastal living and the historic charm of nearby St. Augustine, began moving in.

The original vision of lavish Mediterranean-style villas gave way to more practical and modest homes suitable for family life. Schools, churches, and small businesses followed, embedding Davis Shores into the fabric of St. Augustine’s community. The neighborhood grew steadily, characterized by its quiet streets, waterfront views, and proximity to the city’s vibrant historic district.

An aerial view of Davis Shores from 2021.
An aerial view of Davis Shores from 2021.

Davis Shores Today

Today, Davis Shores is known for its eclectic mix of architectural styles, from mid-century modern homes to newer, more contemporary designs with breathtaking views of Salt Run and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Its streets, named after the original Spanish explorers and settlers and inspired by St. Augustine’s sister city, Aviles, Spain, remind residents and visitors alike of its historical roots. The neighborhood is popular among both year-round residents and seasonal visitors, drawn by its scenic vistas, waterfront access, delicious restaurants, and tranquil atmosphere.

The history of Davis Shores is a testament to the vision of its founders and the resilience of its residents. What began as a speculative venture on swampy land has evolved into a thriving, vibrant community. Each street, home, and public space in Davis Shores tells a part of this remarkable story, a story of transformation and endurance.

As we look forward to the future, Davis Shores continues to embody the spirit of community and historical awareness, cherishing its past while embracing the challenges and opportunities of the future. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or simply seeking a peaceful place to call home, Davis Shores offers a unique blend of history, beauty, and community in the heart of St. Augustine.

Welcome Home to St. Augustine

Whether you’ve just started thinking about life in St. Augustine, or if you’ve lived in the Ancient City your entire life, there is always something more to discover. Browse our up-to-date real estate listings or give us a call at (904) 599-5633.

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