Genuine Florida Mysteries
Since this site is pretty much devoted to Florida mysteries, I want to take this opportunity to stretch your mind a bit with the real thing. In the coming months I'll post here some of Florida puzzles that perplex others or myself. Some of the "mysteries" are merely a bit of smoke and a reflection from a mirror or two. Others are certified brain twisters.
Let's start with a puzzle that has a completely completely verifiable answer. What is Florida's BEST KNOWN GHOST TOWN? Send me your guesses, and I'll post them the next time I revise this site. Prize--come on, you don't really expect anything do you? Check back for the right answer and a short feature on that Ghost Town.
Now, however, for this go-round's Puzzler.
Who built the "Old Fort" in Old Fort Park, New Smyrna Beach? What was the original use for that pile of interesting coquina rock?
There have been a lot of guess regarding this structure. So far none ring absolutely true to me. Here is the best overview shot I have of the ruin. In fact, there are two separate structures built at completely different times. You can only see the earlier one in this picture. The later one was probably constructed during the American period after 1820 or so. The building in the background is the Southeast Volusia Historical Museum.
The two most common conjectures for the use of this building are one that it was used as a fortification by the Spanish or that it was the foundation of a Catholic church for Turnbull's Minorcan colony, which was established here in the 1760s. The Spanish were known to have had an outpost in this area. For instance, Jonathan Dickinson who was shipwrecked in 1699 near present-day Jupiter and who passed by here on his way to Saint Augustine, encountered a Spanish guard post in the area. Unfortunately, Dickinson's party was famished. His only interest was food, which the guard detail, had very little of, so Dickinson quickly moved on north and said little about this area. Just for the heck of it, let me note that the Spanish treated Dickinson very well once he got to Saint Augustine. Although a Quaker, he repaid the Spanish for their hospitality by filing a report with the British authorities on the fort under construction there. Later, a exact namesake was the only person at the Continental Congress not to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Some probably regard these apertures as possible gun emplacements but they could just as well be seatings for wooden columns. Also, this building is in the wrong place to be a very effective fortification--a conjecture that is amply supported by the ease with which a Union raiding party burned the buildings atop the structure during the Civil War. Any real fort should have commanded the inlet to the Atlantic Ocean, and therefore would have been placed approximately three miles north of this location.
Indeed the current best thinking is that this structure was built as a foundation for a church by the Minorcans who settled this area. I can't say I find this speculation totally satisfying. Although it is known that early settler's frequently lavished a fair amount of their resources on churches, this building would indeed have been a gargantuan effort for a colony that was wracked by illness and other problems. Also, the settlers were indentured to a Protestant who is unlikely in my view to have countenanced the squandering of a great deal of labor and resources on a nonprofitable enterprise. Nevertheless, at present, I suppose we have to accept this hypothesis. By the way, the city marina is right across the street. Those things sticking up in the background are boat masts.
My guess is that any archeologist with an interest in European architecture could determine quite quickly the period and the nationality of the builders by simply comparing the architectural styles involved. For that reason, I am including here a fair number of shots of the buttresses and other telling features.
Here's a shot of the fill demonstrated by a corner where the facing has fallen away.
Here's a view of the south wall of the "Old Fort" and the north wall of a dual retaining wall which I speculate was built during the American period. The photo below shows another strange feature of the "Old Fort,' the parallel and slightly lower inner walls. The parallel walls could have been used as a powder magazine or something of the sort. Although I doubt the narrow space between walls was used for for a military purpose, what other possible purpose could it serve?
We are looking here from the "American" wall toward the Old Fort proper.
Well, send me your conjectures--supported always with, let's hope, sound arguments--and I'll pass them along in the next installment. I think it's about time this puzzle is solved for good.
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