By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Musket balls and other relics from what could be the remains of a U.S. military fort built in 1839 have been unearthed from beneath a Fort Lauderdale parking lot near the Sheraton Yankee Clipper Hotel.
The discovery two weekends ago has touched off excitement among local archaeologists and historians who believe it may be the location of the fort for which the city is named.
“It’s an extremely interesting find,” said Broward County archaeologist Matthew DeFelice. “It is in the vicinity of where the third Fort Lauderdale was built. We can’t be positive, but we know this area was used by the military for the fort and that some of the artifacts are consistent with that.”
Artifacts found at the site were not immediately made available for public inspection. They are said to include musket balls, old coins and buttons from military uniforms.
Other evidence found at the site – shell tools and the bones of animals and fish – suggests that thousands of years earlier it was occupied by Native Americans.
“The material leads me to believe there’s a prehistoric site beneath this,” said Miami-Dade County archaeologist Jeff Ransom, a Fort Lauderdale resident.
Bulldozer may win
Experts, however, may have lost the battle against the bulldozer.
The Yankee Clipper site was closed and paved over late last week – before archaeologists had time to study it fully. On Tuesday, about 100 yards north, searchers used metal detectors and sifters to examine huge piles of fresh dirt excavated by a backhoe at work on the city’s continuing construction project.
Broward’s archaeological ordinance calls for development activities to cease when artifacts are uncovered during development. Why that did not happen at this site is unclear, and city officials familiar with the project had no comment.
The relics were uncovered during an ongoing $3.1 million project by MBR Construction to bury utility lines and construct a new beach park wave wall and paver walkway on the east side of the city-owned parking lot. Because the area has yielded artifacts in the past, the Broward Historical Commission asked the city to monitor the site a year ago during the development review process, DeFelice said.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said he’s thrilled about the find – which comes as the city marks its 100th birthday.
“This is pretty exciting. It’s a chance to look back on our history and reflect on our past,” Seiler said.
City hires archaeologists
The city has hired a Davie-based nonprofit, Archaeological and Historical Conservancy Inc., to investigate and report back to the commission on the site.
AHC Executive Director Bob Carr is well known in his field. His high-profile Florida excavations include the Miami Circle – an ancient ring believed to have been carved into limestone bedrock at the mouth of the Miami River about 2,000 years ago by Tequesta Indians. Carr was out of town on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
“We’re waiting for his report,” said city project engineer Earl Prizlee.
Seiler and the city commission were notified on Friday by Acting City Manager Allyson Love that “items of historical interest have been discovered” at the site. Love’s memo said she expects to receive Carr’s report “within the next few weeks.”
The beachside fort was the third of a trio of military posts known to have been erected here during the Second Seminole War from 1835 and 1842.
In 1836, in what came to be known as the New River Massacre, Seminoles attacked a plantation owned by one of the area’s first settlers, William Cooley, and killed his wife and children. The attack drove other settlers away.
Andrew Jackson sends Major Lauderdale
In 1838, at the direction of former President Andrew Jackson, Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Volunteers built the area’s first fort along the New River in what is thought to be today’s Sailboat Bend neighborhood. Seminoles destroyed the first Fort Lauderdale a few months later.
Two more forts were soon built including one on the beach in 1839, DeFelice said.
“The accounts I’ve read suggest the fort was rectangular in shape and probably similar to the forts built along the New River. The measurement for one of those was 60 feet by 30 feet,” he said. “It was a wooden picket structure. It would have been likely to have a block house on one or two sides, and a lookout structure built on to the pickets.
When the war ended in 1842, Fort Lauderdale was abandoned and the area was largely wilderness. DeFelice said the fort was used by the South during the Civil War, but by the 1890s it was in ruins.
In the 1920s the Coast Guard operated a base in the area around where Bahia Mar now stands.
Years ago, the historical commission received musket balls and ceramic artifacts from a longtime resident who found them in the about same area along the beach in the 1930s, DeFelice said.