19th century ship found buried in St. Augustine

You might expect to unearth something old when you dig in the Ancient City, but this was truly unusual.

Crews from the Florida Department of Transportation stumbled onto the remains of a 19th century ship as they began a drainage improvement project on State Road A1A in historic downtown St. Augustine.

Before any pipe went in, they encountered a timber section of the buried ship. Fortunately, FDOT had already subcontracted with Southeastern Archaeological Research to help if something surfaced. And it did, said FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray.

“The archaeologist went down to dig a little bit further and found what appears to be a vessel in the construction zone,” Ray said. “They found what appears to be the starboard side of the vessel. We are continuing to do some excavation throughout the weekend to extract the vessel and move forward from there.”

19th century ship found buried in St. Augustine - Jacksonville TodayThis is the site where part of a 19th century ship was found in St. Augustine, under a piling from an old wharf. | Florida Department of Transportation

The $4.2 million project at King Street and State Road A1A is intended to improve drainage along the Matanzas River waterfront. It will replace a drainpipe under Avenida Menendez. Other improvements will include a new concrete masonry wall system, metal and concrete stanchions with guardrails, sidewalk upgrades, bicycle path and new landscaping.

Work crews began the project by digging up the current roadway and first found part of a former trolley station that served the downtown in decades past, Ray said. Then came the piece of pier, part of an old wharf that served the original marketplace that existed when the river came up to the current Plaza de la Constitucion along King Street.

Ray said the ship wasn’t unexpected.

“We don’t really know any details, or who may have used this vessel,” Ray said. “But it is certainly an interesting find and discovery. That’s why we have the archaeologist out there. We all want to make sure we protect and preserve all those historical components related to this vessel and take the appropriate measures.”

Work on the drainage project is suspended until the ship’s remains are removed and conserved, which could take until early this week, Ray said. There is a temporary detour on northbound Avenida Menendez to the Bridge of Lions, which remains in effect over the weekend,.

Southeastern Archaeological Research has a Jacksonville office and is working with staff from its other Florida offices on researching more about the ship, Ray said.