Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diving Team Looks for Underwater Historic Sites

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diving Team Looks for Underwater Historic Sites

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, Times-Union staff writer

An underwater survey of St. Johns County's waterways has turned up some possible submerged historic artifacts, including what appears to be a steamship wreck in the St. Johns River off Picolata and Tocoi and the docks it could have tied up to in the late 1800s.

Divers from the nonprofit Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program will use sonar and magnetometer evidence they gathered over the past few months to dive on those sites soon and determine what is under the sand and mud of the St. Johns, Atlantic Ocean and Matanzas River.

The team, led by archaeologist John W. Morris III, isn't looking for treasure. And they probably won't recover many artifacts if targets turn out to be shipwrecks, colonial docks or submerged forts. Morris said they want to log what's under the waterways of the county to preserve them from development.

"We were looking in areas that have high probability of historic sites to show up, and areas likely to be impacted by development in the future," he said.

The discovery of possible steamship and dock sites in the northwest part of the county intrigues Mary Cornwell, chairwoman of the William Bartram Scenic Highway Corridor Advisory Group.

The group is seeking official designation of 17.3 miles of Florida 13 and has already catalogued dozens of historic sites along the roadway, including a former mission site at the southern end of Switzerland that dates to the late 1500s.

"It is exciting," Cornwell said. "There was so much going here, and the natural resources brought all kinds of people here, while Florence Cove provided fishing for prehistoric people. I am flabbergasted that there are still some remains that have survived."

Morris' team began a state-approved archaeological survey of St. Augustine's waters four years ago and targeted 55 potential wrecks after dragging sonar and magnetic sensors across the sandy bottom. …

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