Advertisement
  1. Pinellas

USF students seeking new answers to historic questions about Safety Harbor's Philippe Park

University of South Florida students dig one of 70 shovel pits they mapped out in Philippe Park as part of an archaeological excavation at the Safety Harbor site. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jun. 16

SAFETY HARBOR — Odet Philippe had a storied life.

He has been credited with introducing citrus farming and cigar rolling to the Tampa Bay area, serving as chief surgeon of Napoleon's army, and receiving a treasure chest from a pirate whose illness he cured.

"There are so many legends," said Thomas Pluckhahn, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida. "It is hard to separate fact from fiction."

Pluckhahn and a team of his students hope to get to the bottom of at least one of the questions Philippe left behind: What was the layout of the sprawling waterfront plantation he established in what is today the community of Safety Harbor?

The USF team has spent the past few months excavating at Philippe Park, where the military surgeon established his plantation in the early 1800s.

The excavation might also produce a map of a Native American village on the site. The people who lived there left a temple mound made of sand and shells, 20 feet high and 150 feet across, and now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

READ MORE: Archaeologists on Water Street project unearth the old so Vinik group can raise up the new

Combined with a short-lived Spanish occupation, Philippe Park stands as "one of the most important historic sites in the Tampa Bay area," Pluckhahn said, "if not the most important."

Since January, Pluckhahn and his students have focused on a square of property adjacent to the mound and measuring the length of about six football fields on each side.

They started with ground penetrating radar then began systematically digging holes a foot and a half wide, known as shovel pits, every 60 feet.

Through the first week of June, they had dug 50 of 70 planned pits and found artifacts in nearly all of them, including Native American shell tools and pieces of Philippe's structures.

READ MORE: They can't turn back waves, but USF and Seminoles are preserving Egmont Key in digital form

When the work is complete at the end of June, the areas where artifacts are found might help them understand more about the use of each section of the property and where people have lived there.

Researchers have long believed that the Native American village was built in the shape of an L, each leg extending from the temple mound. But some of the artifacts unearthed by the USF team were in areas away from the L.

"Was there a shift in the village?" Pluckhahn said. "Did it change over time?"

Historians say members of the Tocobaga tribe of Tampa Bay lived in the village from the year 1000 through the 1500s, thriving on the rich fishing grounds and wildlife in the area.

"The Spanish described being able to sail to the mouth of the bay right up to the chief's house and the chief's house would have been on the mound," Pluckhahn said. "There is no other site in Tampa Bay that matches that description so well."

The Spaniards arrived in the 1560s and built a fort and mission at the site. But they only occupied it for a year. They treated the Tocobaga cruelly, and the Tocobaga responded by slaughtering the unwanted immigrants.

Soon after, Spain sent reinforcements and burned the village in retaliation.

"And that ended the story of Tocobaga," Pluckhahn said.

In 1842, Philippe purchased 160 acres of land that included the site of the former village. He is believed to be the first permanent, non-native settler in what would become Pinellas County.

The Philippe Park website says several of his citrus trees remain on the property.

That assertion can be checked if the USF students find fossilized pollen, said Kendall Jackson, who is earning a doctorate in anthropology at the university.

Philippe died in 1869 and was buried on the property, according to the park's website, but no one knows exactly where.

The park, owned and operated by Pinellas County, has been excavated twice before.

In the 1920s, the Smithsonian Institution fully excavated a burial mound at the site. Two decades later, the University of Florida examined the temple mound plus a few spots around the village, Pluckhahn said, but no one has investigated the village area as thoroughly as his students.

"There is a lot we don't know about this site. We are searching for answers.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver faces charges of driving under the influence and refusal to submit to testing.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The fire destroyed one business and damaged others inside a strip mall at the corner of 49th Street South and 1st Avenue South
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Son and father both had weapons during an early-morning argument.
  4. Surveillance video from the Pinellas County Jail shows Deputy Amy Gee choking the neck of a 54-year-old Marie Butler. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A federal lawsuit says training deficiencies led to the injury. It follows a string of incidents this year in which Pinellas sheriff’s detention deputies mistreated inmates.
  5. St. Petersburg police are looking for the driver of a white sedan who struck a bicyclist as he was crossing the Pinellas Trail at 49th Street S on Nov. 1. The bicyclist survived. St. Petersburg Police Department
    Then the driver pulled an injured Steven Weldon out of the road, got back into his car and drove off, according to police.
  6. Forensic Science investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office collect evidence at the scene of the shooting behind the Walmart Neighborhood Market, 6900 US Hwy 19 N, in Pinellas Park, on Friday, November 15, 2019. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The victim was a Walmart employee. He was on break at the time of the shooting.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The woman crossed the road in inclement weather and was not in a crosswalk, deputies said.
  8. Olivia Pruna, a student at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center, practices with the school's drum line last year. The Pinellas County school district is asking parents and others for suggestions on ways to improve exceptional student education in the county. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  9. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  10. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement