TAMPA — Motorists rushing along Florida Avenue near the Fort Brooke Garage are likely driving over soldiers' graves.
A portion of a cemetery that archaeologists found on the site of the Fort Brooke U.S. Army post — established 192 years ago — lies under the busy downtown thoroughfare.
The Lee Roy Selmon Expressway stretches over part of the soldiers' quarters. The officers' quarters were right outside the front door of today's Tampa Convention Center.
Visitors checking out a current exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center will find it easy to look underground and long ago.
An interactive display lets them move a "spyglass'' window across the modern map of downtown Tampa and see what stood on the same spot in the 1800s, when Fort Brooke was an active military installation.
The idea for the exhibit came from Jeffrey Moates and Rebecca O'Sullivan with the Florida Public Archaeology Network.
"With all the changes coming to downtown, we thought this was really a good opportunity to highlight this part of Tampa's past,'' O'Sullivan said.
She said people don't think anything could be left of the fort, established in 1824 as a base for waging war against the Seminole Indians. But every time archaeologists dig downtown, "they find things from Fort Brooke.''
Slides in the exhibit show skeletons in graves. Archaeologists found the remains of 102 soldiers and non-Indian civilians and 43 Seminole Indians during a dig in advance of the construction of Fort Brooke Garage, which opened in 1980.
The remains of the Indians were turned over the Seminole Tribe. The soldiers and white civilians were reinterred a few blocks north at Oaklawn Cemetery on Harrison Street.
A display case reveals the accoutrements of their everyday lives. Spanning decades, the items include uniform buttons bearing the image of an eagle, with an "A" for artillery or an "I" for infantry; flints and a trigger guard for a flintlock rifle; musket balls and a bullet casing from a later era; pottery fragments, a "U.S.'' belt buckle; a tin that held liniment; an insignia of crossed cannons; ax head; horseshoe; pipe bowls and stems; part of a porcelain doll; a rusted pocket knife.
The exhibit includes early maps of the fort, among them a copy of the very first map made in 1824. An 1853 map shows what Tampa looked like eight years before the outbreak of the Civil War.
The overlay does not mark the location of the cemetery that extends partially under Florida Avenue. It does show an untouched cemetery east of Amalie Arena, which O'Sullivan believes is from a later period, starting in the 1840s. It's within the Channelside redevelopment area planned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and an archaeological study will be completed in the area before construction starts, said Bob McDonaugh, the city's administrator of economic opportunity.
"That's just the normal course of business,'' he said.
The 1853 map, created by surveyor John Jackson, is referenced today in downtown real estate transactions, said Rodney Kite-Powell, Tampa Bay History Center curator. It showed that Whiting Street marked the border between the fort and the town to the north. It's unclear whether the surveyor named Jackson Street after the president or himself.
Moates and O'Sullivan were able to line up the position of structures revealed during excavation to their designations on the old maps. That allowed them to produce an overlay showing the fort against present-day downtown.
"We've had a lot of great response from this,'' Kite-Powell said.
"I think it's fascinating to everybody, young and old, the idea that there were soldiers living here.''
Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.