Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Did you know that the City of St. Augustine has some of the best archaeology in the country? This is because there's a law, a City Ordinance, that says you can't dig in the ground in St. Augustine without first checking with the City Archaeologist. If you are in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the City (some of the City is over 400 years old), the City Archaeologist gets to test the history that's under the ground at the place where you want to dig, or build a house or anything else that will disturb what's underground. Oldest City + Lots of Archaeology = some of the best opportunities to learn about archaeology in the country! The FPAN staff thought it would be a great idea to create a museum exhibit around one neighborhood and one project done by the City Archaeologist.

Lincolnville is one of the older neighorhoods in the City. Over 30 archaeology projects have been conducted by the City Archaeologist in Lincolnville. There is also a wonderful museum in the heart of Linconville, the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center. They just happened to have an empty exhibit case and liked the idea of selecting a Lincolnville archaeology project to highlight. So, with the help of Carl Halbirt, City Archaeologist, we identified a Lincolnville project, selected some artifacts excavated from that project site and did some archival research on the people who had lived on the site.

And now for the rest of the story. The neighborhood of Lincolnville was first settled by freed Black slaves after the Civil War. It was originally named Little Africa. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was the principle Black neighborhood in the City of St. Augustine with its own Black businesses, professional offices and schools. The Excelsior School was the Black High School, now the Excelsior Museum.

The archaeology site we selected was the home of the Kelton family. Four generations of the Kelton family had lived in a house built in the late 1800s. City archaeology excavated the site in 2002 after the home was demolished to make way for a new house. When we researched the house and the family at the Historical Society Research Library, we found an amazing coincidence. Two of the sisters who were raised in the house were actually teachers at the Excelsior School. We found pictures of Kelton family members in the library but none of the two teachers, Emily and Agnes. A friend, Barbara Vickers, who had grown up in the neighborhood, provided a picture of the two sisters.

We installed the exhibit in June after selecting some of our favorite items from the site. The artifacts represent the material culture of an early 20th century Black family in St. Augustine. They were excavated from a trash pit and a privy in the yard. We have artifacts that represent food ways, decorative items, personal items, and work related items. Three panels describing the archaeology and introducing the family, including family pictures, complete the exhibit.
Go by the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center at 102 Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue. The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday, 12 noon to 5:00pm. There are many interesting exhibits on Lincolnville History, the African American Community in St. Augustine and the Excelsior School.

Toni Wallace

One Response so far.

  1. One of the great things about this town is that we have history where it happened. Thanks for a great story. I'm looking forward to visiting the exhibit.

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