By Ann Henson Feltgen, BrowardBulldog.org
Archaeologists hired to examine artifacts unearthed last year at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park now say they are convinced they mark the sites of both a U.S. Army fort built in 1839 and a prehistoric home of the Tequesta Indians.
A team led by Robert Carr, executive director of the non-profit Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, conducted the research. A decade ago, Carr led the team that excavated the Miami Circle at Brickell Point in downtown Miami.
“Significant archaeological evidence was uncovered that includes artifacts associated with the Tequesta Indians and the historic Seminole War fort, the third Fort Lauderdale built during the conflict,” says Carr’s recent report to the city.
More than 200 artifacts – including buttons from military uniforms, musket balls, and even hand-hewn Dade County pine posts used to construct the fort – were used to establish the fort’s location at the park. Prehistoric pottery sherds, animal bones and shell refuse are cited as evidence that the Tequestas inhabited the site as early as 1200 AD, the report says.
Like the Miami Circle, the report says Fort Lauderdale’s richly diverse beachfront dig site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Carr recommends in his report that the city consider seeking that protected status, and authorize additional archaeological investigation.
“I think if you were to rank the historical sites in Broward, this would be in the top five,” Carr told Broward Bulldog. Hundreds of archaeological sites – on land and under water – have been recorded in Broward since the 1970s, according to the county’s web site.
“It’s definitely a very significant find,” said Broward County archaeologist Matthew DeFelice. “The Indian artifacts go back to between 2,000 years ago and the 16th century.”
LOOTERS ARMED WITH METAL DETECTORS
But archaeologists’ excitement about the site has been tempered by fear of looters.
“There was a lot of publicity about the site when the first artifacts were found, and a lot of treasure hunters have gone out there with metal scanners and stolen artifacts from the city,” said Carr, whose Davie firm was hired to fulfill requirements of state and county law regarding the protection of historic properties. “I’ve seen their postings online.”
DeFelice also has read the Internet posts.
“This is a shared piece of history,” he said, pointing out there is no market for such artifacts. “There’s no reason for going out to a site and taking a musket ball. This should not be any more permissible than going out to a park and digging up a tree.
“It’s upsetting that people will go out and they’ll relic hunt thinking they can make a buck or two,’’ he said. “But [the artifacts] will probably sit on a mantle or in a drawer.”
Carr’s report urges the city to take steps to protect the site, including “increased police protection and surveillance.”
Mayor Jack Seiler said he was not aware of the theft of artifacts at the site.
“Nobody has approached us about adding additional security at this location,” Seiler said.
The relics were uncovered between February and July last year during a $3.1 million construction project in the park. The discoveries coincided with the city’s 100th birthday celebration.
DEAD SOLDIERS BURIED ON THE BEACH?
Carr’s team worked alongside construction workers, looking through soil from 15 trenches and various holes dug on the city-owned property to bury utility lines.
The archaeological work cost the city about $27,000.
“Through the artifacts, we can gain valuable information on how people moved around at the fort — what areas of the property were used for cooking, recreation, sleeping, caring for the wounded and ultimately for burying Army personnel when they died,” Carr said.
“It’s not altogether surprising that we found evidence of the fort,’’ Carr said. “We have survey maps from the 1870s and 1890s, and from those maps we had the approximate location where the fort existed.
Only a small section of the 24-acre park was examined. That includes an area that was repaved before it could be studied, Broward Bulldog reported in May.
The site contains additional artifacts, which are buried under sand but could be dug up by looters. Security at the site was provided only during construction.
Carr’s suggestion that the city nominate the site for listing in the National Register of Historic Places would provide protection from redevelopment. He also recommended adding the fort location to the city’s list of historical sites to add another layer of protection.
The city has beach regulations that prohibit digging holes, and erecting tents, canopies and fencing, according to city officials. But the city does not have an ordinance that addresses the use of metal detectors.
DeFelice said the city’s Historic Preservation Board is considering an ordinance that would focus on issues such as where metal detectors can be used. If the board agrees that such a measure is needed, it would be forwarded to the City Commission for possible adoption.
“The language should provide additional measures from historic sites being looted, but that will take at least six months,” DeFelice said.
MORE WORK TO BE DONE
Carr’s report recommends more work at the site to search for additional artifacts that would help explain more about the fort, the third of a trio of military posts built during the Second Seminole War.
“We have just scratched the surface,” DeFelice said. “We need much more documentation on the property and we must manage it accordingly. This is an opportunity to share U.S. history with people from all over the world.”
The cost would be about $50,000, Carr said.
But city officials were not optimistic that any local dollars could be found.
“Right now there is no extra money in the budget,’’ Seiler said. “Our budget is set up by priority, and as for money for the work, it depends on priorities.”
Carr said grants from the state or other interested groups might be found. One idea is to make the site a controlled tourist attraction.
“One of the things I am going to propose is to request funding from the Tourist Development Council for the work and do it during tourist season,” he said.
Carr’s report says three forts were established at different locations between 1838 and 1842.
MAJOR WILLIAM LAUDERDALE’S FIRST FORT
Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Volunteers built the first at the forks of the New River. It was abandoned on May 7, 1838, and re-established briefly nearly on the north bank of the river the following winter.
The third fort was sited in an area across the street and slightly south from what is today Bahia Mar. The Army and Navy Chronicle of 1839 described it as “a perfect rectangular closure with a block house at three of its angles – the guns were placed in order to sweep the most assailable points.” the report says.
The beachside fort, constructed on a spit of land that grew due to dredge and fill operations 100 years later, was a launching point for “numerous military expeditions into the Everglades in pursuit of the Indians,” the report says.
The fort was abandoned in 1842, eight months before the end of the Second Seminole War.
In 1876, the U.S. government built a House of Refuge for shipwrecked sailors — a precursor of the U.S. Coast Guard — on the beach just south of the area that is now Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. It moved to the site of the fort in 1891, and the Coast Guard began operating a station there about 30 years later.
The dig turned up artifacts from those periods, too.
Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at [email protected]