Monday, June 11, 2018


I’ve invited you to partake in New Smyrna’s biggest birthday bash to date. On Saturday, June 16th, the City celebrates 250 years of heritage and culture. As the event, which runs from 9am to 4pm, is a festivity, some type of cake is required. To celebrate the history and archaeology of New Smyrna, I’ve been “making” a cake. Three centuries of local heritage provide the cake’s ingredients. Each candle, when “lit,” will represent one story, as told through archaeology, from each century. Smyrnea Settlement sites ignited the 1700s candle; coquina will spark the 1800s.
St. Augustine's Castillo demonstrating coquina's beautiful durability.
 In the most basic science terms, coquina is a sedimentary rock made from small clam shells. Accumulations of dead clam shells, changing sea levels, rain water, acidity, and calcium carbonate develop a material that may look more akin to Rice Krispies than rocks. In terms of archaeology and geology, coquina transforms into an extremely unique, versatile, durable material that people used for buildings and other founs. Residents of colonial St. Augustine first used coquina in 1672. Workers quarried and transported the material to build the Castillo de San Marcos.

Smyrnea Settlement residents also considered coquina quality material. Settlers incorporated the stone into their houses, reinforced the Settlement’s canal system with coquina, and built at least two large structures with the material: the wharf and the “fort” at Old Fort Park. Coquina’s popularity extended into the 1800s and 1900s. Laborers built the Cruger-dePeyster Sugar Mill (left) using coquina. Workers, primarily black slaves, processed sugar cane during the 1830s. A pedestrian bridge crosses one of the Turnbull-era canals in Myrtle Avenue Park (right). New Smyrna residents enjoyed strolling across a handful of these bridges in the early 1900s.

Old Fort Park has captured the attention and imagination of resident and visitor alike. Built into a Native American shell midden (a mound of accumulated shell trash), the coquina foundation’s origins and purpose shroud the structure in mystery. Multiple romanticized accounts consider the foundation to be a fort. Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers restored and reconstructed the “fort.” Myth and local lore served as an imposing guide to their endeavors. The foundation we see today is probably different from the original footprint.

Archaeologists and historians, however, have collected some information about this strange, yet captivating, structure. Although the foundation spans New Smyrna’s existence, residents most intensively used the site during the 1800s. George Clark’s 1817 Spanish survey map provides the first known reference to the site; Clark calls the structure “Turnbull’s Palace.”

Smyrnea residents constructed the foundation for (currently) unknown reasons. Archaeologists proposed the structure had a commercial purpose. Excavations revealed tabby floor surfaces with inconsistent thickness and wear patterns. Could these be the result of moving equipment or people walking the same paths and standing in the same places? Did the Smyrnea settlers build this structure to serve as a storehouse downtown?

 Ambrose Hull settled the site in 1803 and probably reused the coquina foundation for his home. Archaeological investigations suggest that, over time, differed people built the foundation up and out. During the 1850s, John and Jane Sheldon constructed a 60-room hotel atop the midden and foundation. The hotel remained on the midden for roughly 40 years. The building endured Union shelling during the Civil War, reconstruction, and demolition.

Old Fort Park’s foundation, however, endured. The site, which provides an opportunity to investigate the past and discover the City’s “mystery,” is now a public park.

Archaeologists from Environmental Services, Inc. recently excavated at Old Fort Park. They surveyed
four areas before the City planted trees for Arbor Day. The project offered no new information about
the coquina structure, but did provide new clues about the midden below the foundation.
May you find this slice of cake indulgent and delectable. If “lighting” the second candle sparked your curiosity, consider partaking in New Smyrna Beach’s upcoming 250th celebration. The park will feature areas that highlight New Smyrna during the 1700, 1800, and 1900s. An Archaeology Discovery Station will be present in each century. Explore archaeology of the 1800s. Engage yourself by playing Building Blocks. Challenge yourself to analyze Old Fort Park’s coquina foundation and, perhaps, to solve the mystery.

Savor this slice of the cake. Then come back for thirds on Thursday, June 14th, for the next serving.
Text and images by Sarah Bennett, New Smyrna Museum of History
250th logo produced by Shok Idea Group

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