Florida drainage project anchored in history

Construction worker helping to excavate a small boat
Crews from Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc. (SEARCH) removed soil and mud layer by layer to expose an approximately 20-foot-long section of the maritime vessel found during a drainage improvements project at the intersection of King Street and Avenida Menendez in St. Augustine, Florida. Credit: Daniel Fiore, SEARCH/Florida Department of Transportation, District Two

A typical roadway project made way for an extraordinary excavation project this fall in historic St. Augustine, Florida.

A construction crew from the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) District Two was digging as part of a drainage project at the intersection of King Street (State Road 5A) and Avenida Menendez in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., when it discovered a mostly intact, approximately 24- to 28-foot-long 19th century maritime vessel sitting 8 feet beneath the surface.

According to FDOT, its maritime archaeology specialist crew from Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc. (SEARCH) has been painstakingly removing the mud and soil around the well-preserved vessel. The waterlogged, easily broken wooden planks and other associated found artifacts were placed in wet storage to protect them from the damaging air.

Hanson designed the new stormwater drainage outfall system in this busy commercial district. The project entails the installation of a 54–60-inch drainage pipe system and backflow prevention device from the Matanzas River wall through the intersection of Avenida Menendez and King Street. The improvements also include reconstructing a concrete masonry wall, a new timber pergola, metal and concrete stanchions with guard railing, curb and gutter, sidewalks, lighting, asphalt resurfacing and other incidental construction. New landscaping will be installed in the area once the project is completed.

“We always knew that this construction project would yield interesting historic finds, given its location in the heart of the oldest city in our country,” said Chantal Bowen, P.E., a senior project manager in Jacksonville, Florida, who served as Hanson’s project manager for the drainage work. “It has been exciting and fascinating to follow SEARCH’s team of archaeologists and FDOT as they recovered, documented and removed this gem from its home of many years. It makes you wonder where this small vessel traveled and who it carried.”

Chantal Bowen, P.E., can be reached at cbowen@hanson-inc.com.