FLORIDA - The artifacts are more than 150 years old: lead musket balls, a kaolin clay pipe fragment and buttons from soldiers' and sailors' uniforms.
They are among the 100 treasures discovered in April and May that archeologists and city officials displayed on Thursday afternoon on Fort Lauderdale's South Beach.
Significantly, they are tactile evidence of the city's third namesake fort. The finds are what historian Susan Gillis called a tangible piece of the past, a garrison that stood, from 1839 to 1842, on the sand across A1A from today's Bahia Mar resort.
Workers driving modern earth movers continue to work side-by-side with archeologists using metal detectors, shovels and screens.
They sift the sand that is releasing relics dating from the Second Seminole War, that was fought from 1835-42. That was when Broward County was sparsely settled and the Everglades began where I-95 now carves through the landscape.
The discoveries have come during the city's $3.1 million renovation of the parking lot at the beach, where ditches are being dug to bury utility lines and build new sidewalks and a decorative wave wall.
Robert S. Carr, executive director of Archeological and Historical Conservancy Inc. of Davie, is leading a team digging ahead of, and after, backhoes in a 100-foot-long ditch.
Carr said confirming the fort's location is of local, state and national significance and that it may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. He told city leaders, who will determine where the relics are stored, that the fort site deserves an interpretive sign and exhibit.
"It is exciting, during the 100th anniversary of the city, to find its namesake," said Carr, who hopes to dig up wooden remains of the fort's foundation. "It's the most significant find in Broward County and Fort Lauderdale, and one of the most significant finds in the Seminole Wars era."
City resident Ryan McCauley, who likes to meditate on the beach, said he hopes the digging can continue while the city improves the site.
"Fort Lauderdale is kind of soul-less," the 30-year-old Web designer said. "Something historic that would bring culture would be really cool."
Heading to the basketball courts nearby, Matt Griglock, of Davie, said he felt the same way.
"I've lived here since '86," Griglock said, "and I didn't know there had been a fort here."
Gillis said the fort was once a staging area for soldiers to travel to inland camps along the New River and battle Seminole Indians.
"It was an era of guerilla warfare," Gillis said.
Two inland forts were abandoned because malaria killed so many soldiers, she said. A contemporary newspaper called the Niles National Register described the beach fort as a perfect rectangle, with block houses at three of its corners that held lookouts and, possibly, artillery.
Gillis said Seminoles visited the fort to trade with soldiers, but it was not used after 1842 or during the Third Seminole War, from 1855 to 1858.
On Thursday, archeologists found a large spike that could be a remnant of a lifeguard station, called the House of Refuge, from 1891. Or, It may be from the Coast Guard base that followed. Or, it could be from railroad tracks that were built on the sand for on-shore movement of large ships and, during World War II, modern cannon.
Carr said people from all three structures left old cans, broken pottery and spent bullet casings in trash and cooking pits.
"It's all right there, in Robert Carr's pocket," Gillis said. "To think that we're now a resort community and it was once a military installation in a raw wilderness.
"History is all around us, and this shows that someone walked this path before," she said.
Carr said the oceanside fort began a long tradition of stationing and training American soldiers on the beaches of South Florida that continued through World War II. His research found that the fort's residents enjoyed bathing in the clean water of what is now the Intracoastal Waterway along with the Atlantic surf, both free from disease-carrying insects.
The ruins of the abandoned fort were a tourist attraction in the 1890s, Carr reported to city officials.
A traveling exhibit about all three of the city's forts, early settlers and Seminole Indians is on display at the Fort Lauderdale History Center, 219 SW Second Ave. For information, call 954 463 4431 or go to www.oldfortlauderdale.org
Treasure hunters will have to be content with seeing the exhibit. City officials warned that extra security will guard the dig, and Carr said anyone who disturbs it could face felony charges for robbing the community of its history.
“Treasure – If it’s out there, we’re going to find it!” (Tommy Vawter)