Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

Jacksonville archaeology group ponders Civil War mystery

JACKSONVILLE — It's a nothing-special grass parking lot in LaVilla, on the edge of downtown. But the members of a fledgling group called the Cowford Archaeological Research Society see it as something quite grand.

To them, this nondescript patch of land is beginning to look like the site of a lost Union fort, built in 1864 just outside the city walls of old Jacksonville.

They've dug, and they've found intriguing items from that era, including what they say is a nicely preserved shell casing for a Spencer rifle, which was used by Union troops.

Exciting stuff. But for members of the mostly amateur archaeological group, there's a mystery in the city's vast northern marshes that they think could be far older and even more important. But it's going to take bit of a hike to get there.

This is some serious jungle: Dean M. Sais and George Burns, founders of the Cowford group, handed out plastic leg coverings, to guard against snakebites. There was extra water. Sais went ahead, urging his four companions to stay 10 meters apart: "If you hear me yell Ow! — run like hell. That means yellow jackets." Burns whacked away with a machete.

The 20-minute walk passed uneventfully. And soon, they were standing by their discovery.

Right on the edge of one of the countless marshes in that area, it has four earth and oyster-shell walls, roughly rectangular, perhaps 6 feet high at its highest.

In one corner, there's an opening. Could it have been a door, or is it just natural erosion? Inside the walls, the ground is low and muddy, and trees are growing up from the mud. In all, it's about 115 by 80 feet.

Sais got a tip from a hiker who told him about the strange find in the woods. After struggling through mud and thick vegetation, he saw it for himself.

The find intrigues Sais and Burns, though they don't know what it is — other than to say that it's definitely man-made. They can't know until more research is done.

Burns is a registered professional archaeologist, with a master's degree in the field from Colorado State. Sais has worked for decades as a contract archaeologist, and he has a business selling tools of the trade.

The site in the marshes could very well be something quite mundane. But they wonder: Could it be the earthworks of a fort ordered built by James Edward Oglethorpe, the British founder of Georgia, in preparation for his failed 1740 siege of the Spanish in St. Augustine?

"They've been looking for it a few hundred years," Sais said. "We think we've found it."

Archaeologists dream of such discoveries. And as Sais, 60, likes to say: "Everywhere you walk in Jacksonville, history's under your feet."

At the LaVilla site, searchers have found perfectly intact glass bottles used for medicines. A Union soldier's uniform button. A fancy crystal handle and nice ceramic pieces that might have been used by officers.

Recently, out came two telling finds: First, the casing for the bullet for a Spencer rifle. A short while later, up popped a metal rod with a circular handle. It was most likely used to clean the fuse hole of a cannon.

In LaVilla, they took clues from an 1864 map of Jacksonville, which had the location of "Ft. Hatch," just outside the city walls. They figured out where it might be today, asked permission from the landowner, and dug a few holes, each carefully mapped and logged. Everything that's found at the LaVilla dig — or the possible marsh site — will be given, Sais said, to the landowners.

No one's getting paid. Not Sais or Burns or the eager amateurs who pitch in to dig.

The Cowford Archaeological Research Society — named after an early, descriptive name for Jacksonville — began in April. It's a nonprofit group that has dreams of one day starting a museum and having schoolchildren and the disabled helping on their digs. Corporate sponsorship would be nice, too.

At the LaVilla site, Dave Gentkowski, retired from the Navy, brought his son, Lorenzo, 12, for a field trip. They pitched in, digging and sifting — and signing Cowford membership cards. Gentkowski grew up near the Manassas battlefields in Virginia, which sparked in him an interest in archaeology. He once found a trigger guard for a musket, and a neighbor found a U.S. Cavalry belt buckle.

Lorenzo said he was happy to be there. "I was hoping I'd find a cannon," he said.

"Confederate gold," said his dad.

That sense of discovery drives the searchers, who look past the humble parking lot and see a bustling Civil War fort.

"There's enough work for us to do for the next 10,000 years" is another thing Sais likes to say. And he and his amateur volunteers are just getting started.

Comments
Tampa Bay Rays 2018 spring training schedule

Tampa Bay Rays 2018 spring training schedule

Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd., Port Charlotte, 33948Get tickets here: (941) 206-4487Pitchers report: Feb. 13. Squad reports: Feb. 19TEAM SCHEDULE(games at 1:05 unless noted)(ss - split squad)Feb 23 at Orioles (ss) (Sarasota)Feb 23 PIRATE...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
On Jan. 18, 2018: Record cold in Tampa Bay. On Jan. 19, 1977: Snow.

On Jan. 18, 2018: Record cold in Tampa Bay. On Jan. 19, 1977: Snow.

One day. Just one day on a calendar separates an epic cold snap from what was arguably the most historic January weather event in Tampa Bay history.On Thursday, the region dealt with a brutal arctic blast produced record low temperatures that caused ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners are set to unveil a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit. Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional tr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Princess Pigtails' diary: the first 97 days of a foster mom and the little girl in her care

Princess Pigtails' diary: the first 97 days of a foster mom and the little girl in her care

Editor’s note: Shannon Colavecchio, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter now living in Tallahassee, decided in the summer of 2016 to begin the process of becoming a foster parent. Having been raised by her grandparents after her biological mother ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: One more chilly morning before a return to Florida weather

Forecast: One more chilly morning before a return to Florida weather

Tampa Bay can finally bid farewell to this week’s stretch of brutally cold conditions.10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area It will be a bit of a slow return to normal, as some residents are still waking up to frost and sub-fr...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

WASHINGTON — A bitterly-divided Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown this weekend in a partisan stare-down over demands by Democrats for a solution on politically fraught legislation to protect about 700,000 younger immigrants from being dep...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Daystarter: WWII veteran’s missing dog tags returned; can bus rapid transit solve Tampa Bay’s transit woes?; Lightning’s slide continues; tips for attending Gasparilla Children’s Parade

The Daystarter: WWII veteran’s missing dog tags returned; can bus rapid transit solve Tampa Bay’s transit woes?; Lightning’s slide continues; tips for attending Gasparilla Children’s Parade

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• Thankfully, the cold snap is over. Today’s temperature will rise into the 60s, according to 10Weather WTSP. And the weekend will be beautiful: Saturday and Sunday will both b...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Daniel Ruth: If it’s time to move on from light rail, let’s move faster this time

Daniel Ruth: If it’s time to move on from light rail, let’s move faster this time

Perhaps it was that noted existentialist philosopher Kenny Rogers, or maybe it was the post-modernist French thinker Michel Foucault, who first said, "You need to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em." But let’s not quibble.If you are one ...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

CLEARWATER — Voters may not be too familiar with the name John Funk.So since launching his campaign for City Council Seat 5 against well-known incumbent Hoyt Hamilton, Funk said he has knocked on 2,000 doors to introduce himself. Before the March 13 ...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

CLEARWATER — By asking voters to elect him into office a fifth time, Hoyt Hamilton knows he’s now considered part of the old-guard. Born and raised in Clearwater, his family roots stretch back here more than 100 years. Hamilton, 59, spent nearly his ...
Published: 01/19/18