Old Plantation May Have Been That of First Hispanic Legislator; Archaeologists Are Preserving the Site off of Florida A1A

Article excerpt

Byline: JANETTE NEUWAHL

PALM COAST - As rain pelts down around them, two archaeologists sit in the dirt under a pavilion, working to preserve what early Spanish settlers used as an outdoor kitchen about 200 years ago.

Just a few feet away, coquina rubble juts out of the ground where a well once provided water for one of the largest plantations in Northeast Florida. Nearby, a whitish slab is visible with several compartments that may have served as tiny rooms.

All the structures are remnants of what historians believe is left of the early 19th-century home of Joseph Hernandez, the first Hispanic congressman in the United States and the man historians say was the first mayor of St. Augustine.

Burned down during the Second Seminole War, Hernandez' Mala Compra plantation site went relatively unknown for 150 years. But after five years of gleaning state grants and doing excavations, Flagler County officials are readying the former plantation - nestled at Bing's Landing off Florida A1A - to become an outdoor museum and testament to state history.

"This will be pretty unique to have such an interactive archaeological site located in a county recreational park," said Tim Telfer, Flagler County's environmental planner.

Archaeologists began working at the site in 1999 after former county attorney Al Hadeed wondered about a concrete wall on land the county commission had just purchased for the park. He dug out a bit of the well, then found a historical map of the plantation revealing the "Mala Compra well."

Since then, archaeologists have collected more than 14,000 artifacts from the site. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places, said Hadeed, who is president of the Flagler County Historical Society.

Marsha Chance, senior archaeologist at Jacksonville's Environmental Services Inc., was hired to coordinate the project using part of the state's $362,500 in grants and the county's $250,000 donation.

She split the preservation of the site into phases based on when funding was available from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. …