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NORTHEAST FLORIDA SITES
NASSAU COUNTY SITES:
FERNANDINA -- at the very NE tip of Florida, Fernandina is a town much unexplored by amateur, and professional archaeologists alike. Strange, since so much early history happened here. At the entrance to the St. Mary's River,
where Fort Clinch State Park is situated, the Spanish erected a fort, probably in the same style as the Matanzas fort, in the 1500's, and one has stood there, roughly upon the same spot, under different flags and different architectural styles of the period, to the present day Ft. Clinch. The harbor behind Fernandina was the site of two of the earliest shipwrecks in New World history (1500's), and is outlined in the book La Florida of early Spanish document translations. The reef just N. of Fernandina, Pelican Shoals, is a natural trap much like Cape San Blas in the Gulf of Mexico, that has collected shipwreck after shipwreck for centuries. Steven D. Singer's book, SHIPWRECKS OF FLORIDA lists no less than 11 ships being lost on Pelican Shoals through 1900, and 18 on Amelia Island. I suspect many of the earliest shipwrecks listed as being lost at Amelia Island Bar were actually lost on the then unnamed Pelican Shoals. It could be well worth the effort to explore this reef, as it is not much explored or monitored. The existing Fort Clinch was begun in 1847, (along with Fort Pulaski further up the coast in Georgia) it was occupied by Confederate troops until early 1862. Now, a state park, the fort grounds do camping and restrooms, so a base camp could be set up here for hunting, although the grounds themselves are off limits (remember, the State of Florida cheerfully claims everything in this state as its own). One thing you might look for on the grounds is the original lighthouse, somewhere on the shoreline E. of the fort are it and the keeper's quarters remains -- look for bricks!
KINGS FERRY -- was the 1700's British crossing of the St. Mary's River. Reports in Steven Singer's SHIPWRECKS OF FLORIDA indicate gold coins were found in the river in the 1960's, and silver coins dated 1773-1794 were found in 1972, as reported in the 1983 copy
of Skin Diver. I don't doubt either of these stories at all. Kings Ferry was the factual ferry crossing of the river, and in view of the swift current at times here, it is easy to imagine a paymaster's cargo or two being dumped by an overturned flatboat. This is an excellent site to search; however, the current is quite swift (boiling at times), the water can turn pitch black in high rainfall years, alligators can be a problem, large tiger sharks are known to swim the river, and there are cypress and pine log snags strewn on the bottom. Other than that, it's a cinch to find treasure here. I don't doubt for a bit there are more gold and silver coins on the bottom from the ferry site and stretching 1/4 mi. downstream, due to the current rolling them along the bottom over the centuries. Were I to search here, I would use a depth sounder to find hard bottom (rocks) and search these natural coin traps, and the sand immediately in front of them. Kings Ferry is at the N. end of Hwy. 121A, Lessie Road, and 115A, which all converge here, but there is a good boat ramp at Orange Bluff, just 1/2 mi. upstream (west), and straight up Lessie Road.
DUVAL COUNTY SITES:
JACKSONVILLE BEACH -- off the end of Hwy. 90 in Jacksonville Beach, this is a very busy beach for bathers. A large searchcoil in the water is bound to be highly profitable. Although some fossil books claim fossilized sharks teeth can be found on the beach, the majority of finds actually come from the waters further south, around Mickler Landing.
COWFORD -- the US 90 crossing of the St. Johns at Hendrick's Point. Before Jacksonville was thought of, this was the original crossing of the St. Johns for cattle, the whole area being known simply as Cowford, and the Spanish thought so much of this crossing they erected a moat-filled fort on the W shore of the river to defend it. Spanish coins were found here in number in 1916 by searching the old moat. Apparently the soldiers of the time, with little to do and nowhere to spend their pay, skipped many of the flat pieces into the water.
McGIRT'S CREEK -- is accessible where Old Plank Road crosses it between Halsema and Whitehouse, just to the south. McGirt was one of the earliest settlers in this area (1700's), and had a mill somewhere along the creek. Many relics are undoubtedly in the creek, and it may not take much effort to find them. I would tend to concentrate on the area between the Old Plank Road, and the old railroad grade to the north, before working south towards Jacksonville.
CLAY COUNTY SITES:
GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- this was the water replenishing station for ships for hundreds of years, and the old ship captain's homes can still be seen on streets immediately north of the spring. Ships and steamers moored at the foot of Idlewild Avenue and many relics can still be found in the deeper water around the site. The spring itself has been encased in concrete to fill a park swimming pool, but by looking down through the grate, it is easy to see many coins that have been tossed in through the centuries. This whole area was a hotbed of activity, with much money and cargo changing hands, even some Civil War activity by Captain Dickinson's Cavalry, and activity continues to the present day in the park and river, so this is one of those sites that will never run dry.
BAYARD POINT -- (N29° 56.32 W81° 36.26) was where the Spanish blockhouse guarding the inland side of the Spanish trail to the Tallahassee region was located and across the river was the matching Piccolata fort, guarding the St. Augustine side of the road. Known by various names (Poppa, Puppa, etc.) this fort was destroyed in the 1698-1704 raids by James Moore against missions in the Tallahassee region and anywhere else his army could find Spanish influence on the mainland. William Bartram described the Piccolata fort in the mid-1700's as being a square fort with rings for mooring ships to the fort. His description fits the fort on Rattlesnake Island today, and there is no reason to believe that these two forts were not close (if not carbon) copies. By land, you can get to this location by taking Hwy. 226 east off of Hwy. 17, south of Green Cove Springs. Hwy. 226 will run into the hamlet of Walkill, and there you will find one small road leading east off this junction with Hwy. 209. Take this road east to the first right (S) fork then turn left at the only street going left. The fort site is straight ahead at the shoreline. In addition to the fort, there are two springs in the cove to the N. of the fort's site, although the river was to high (dark) for me to spot them and get a GPS location. I will periodically try to plot them again.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY SITES:
CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS -- ships from the mid 1500's to the late 1800's were moored within a 400 yard span in front of, and just to the south of the fort in St. Augustine. The mooring location is an excellent place to dive for old Spanish bottles and early American relics, but you must be wary of boat traffic. The best time to dive is a weekday in winter, when the traffic is almost nonexistent. The bars offshore of the inlet have claimed more 16th & 17th century shipwrecks than any other site in America, save for the Florida Keys.
RATTLESNAKE ISLAND -- site of the Spanish outpost Ft. Matanzas, which guarded the southern inlet to St. Augustine. The waters around the island deserve a thorough look for relics, and I would not be surprised that a search with a large coil metal detector would turn up coins over the hard-pan or rock areas of the bottom. As with the Jacksonville garrison, (and the men may have served at both posts) the men had many months with little to do, and a few coins undoubtedly skimmed their way across the water. Immediately across from the island, on the Intracoastal side of the Matanzas River, is the site where the Jean Ribault's shipwrecked army was taken behind the dunes, a few at a time, and beheaded, save for a few that converted to Catholicism.
PICOLATA FORT -- (N29° 55.75 W81° 35.00) was a close match to the above fort, guarding the St. Augustine to Tallahassee Spanish Road, and on the opposite shore is Bayard Point, site of its sister fort. By land, the site is off Bass Harvey Road, and there is a boat ramp on the E. side of the Shands Bridge, and another off Moody Canal Road on the S. side of Hwy. 13. The boat ramp off Moody Canal Road sits atop an old Indian village. More information and photography on this fort are above, in the Clay County sites.
BAKER COUNTY SITES:
OCEAN POND -- although the Battle of Olustee is usually referred to having been fought at
Ocean Pond, the battle was actually fought to the SE, with the Confederate position being anchored at the small pond in the NE corner of the fork formed by Hwy. 250A's intersection with Hwy. 90/10 (Lake City to Jacksonville). This pond is almost certain to hold many artifacts from this large Union defeat.
PUTNAM COUNTY SITES:
COLUMBINE: opposite Camp Branch Creek, on the St. John's River (Horse Landing), are the remains of the 133 ton Civil War Steamer, Columbine, sunk by the famous (in their time) Confederate Florida raiders, Captain Dickinson's horse troopers, with its entire cargo of union supplies intact! I understand a historian/diver did some investigations on this site in the 70's, leading to the discovery of the ship and landing (just N.).
DRAYTON ISLAND -- at the N. end of Lake George, in the Ocala National Forest. At the time William Bartram explored the interior of Florida in the 1700's, he found on Drayton Island groves of citrus, abandoned, and other evidence of early Spanish occupation. Although I have not found this island mentioned as a Spanish post, they did have at least two missions further south, and a fleet of ships had explored the river to this point as early as 1565. A small lake in the center of the island would be the most likely spot to find artifacts from the colonial period.
WELAKA SPRING -- (N29° 29.65' W81° 40.44') is located in a large bay N. of Stephen's Point, N of the town of Welaka, at the junction of Hwys. 308B & 309, on the E. Bank of the St. Johns River, just above Drayton Island. I am not aware of anyone having scuba dived in this spring, it is likely a prehistoric site.
FORT GATES -- (N29° 25.33 W81° 40.13) a Seminole Indian Wars fort, situated on the former site of a trading post, it was located on the bluff above the present day ferry. The ferry site has been in use for at least 300 years, possibly longer. There is no way to know what relics could be found here in the dark waters of the St. Johns River. The best strategy would be to go at low water, when the dark tannic acid from forest runoff clears out.
FLAGLER COUNTY SITES:
FLAGLER BEACH -- stretches from the Flagler Beach Pier (municipal beach) S. two miles to the Flagler Beach State Recreation area. Many college kids lose their jewelry to the waters off the beach every year at Spring Break!
BULOW PLANTATION RUINS -- one of the earliest sugar plantations in the Americas, was destroyed durring the 2nd Seminole War in 1836. Today, scattered remnants remain, and the state has made a park out of the plantation. The interest for the artifact diver would be in Bulow Creek, behind the plantation, because Seminoles and perhaps the plantation managers undoubtedly dumped many artifacts into the creek. The State Park entrance is 3 miles W. of Flagler Beach on SR. 100, then S. on CR. 2001, or take Old Dixie Hwy. E. from I-95 to Old Kings Road, go north 3 1/2 miles to the Bulow Plantation. Canoes can be launched here or at the Walter Boardman Lane Bridge (more private). To get to the bridge: go South from the park to Old Dixie Hwy., turn E., go 1/2 mi. to Walter Boardman Lane, and the bridge will be just over a mile to the East. Another access point is High Bridge Park: go E on Walter Boardman Lane over Bulow Creek to High Bridge Road, and turn S. to High Bridge Park.
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ÓMatt Mattson, 1997, 1998, 1999, all rights reserved.
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