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The Shoe Boat Mystery: A 150-Year-Old Discovery Near a Bridge

The Shoe Boat Mystery: A 150-Year-Old Discovery Near a Bridge

A mysterious shipwreck dating back 150 years has been discovered near a bridge in St. Augustine, Florida, during a drainage improvement project. The shipwreck was buried under 8 to 10 feet of sediment and contained several artifacts, including shoes, coins, and a lantern. The shipwreck was likely a local sailing boat from the 1800s, but its exact origin and purpose are unknown. The shipwreck was carefully disassembled and removed by archaeologists, who will work to find a permanent home for it.

Key Takeaways:

  • The 150-year-old shipwreck was discovered buried near the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Florida during a drainage project. It likely dates back to the 1800s.
  • The 20-foot-long wreck contained shoes, coins, a lantern, and other artifacts. It was carefully excavated and removed by archaeologists.
  • The ship was a locally-built sailing boat used for domestic purposes. Its exact origins and purpose remain a mystery. More research needs to be done.
  • Artifacts found on the wreck, like the shoes and coins, helped date it to around 1869. The shoes had separate left/right designs, an 1800s innovation.
  • After documentation, the wreck was disassembled and put into wet storage. Archaeologists will work to find a permanent home for this historic find.
  • St. Augustine has a rich maritime history, with 75 known shipwrecks offshore from its colonial days. Some wrecks have yielded treasures.
  • The city has a Shipwreck Museum displaying artifacts from famous wrecks like the Titanic, Spanish galleons, etc.
  • This new discovery adds to the maritime legacy and raises questions about the ship’s origins, purpose, and fate. It provides insight into the past.
  • The archaeologist called it an exciting find and a rare chance to learn about our heritage and connection to the sea. Historic shipwrecks intrigue us.

The near complete shipwreck was discovered near the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, which is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin in the United States, founded in 1565. The 20-foot-long wreck was extracted by archaeologists from the Florida Department of Transportation, who were surprised by the find.

“We had no indication that the vessel was present,” Ian Pawn, archaeologist at the Florida Department of Transportation, told Newsweek. “The vessel was buried under nearly 8-10 ft of sediment and later St. Augustine development, such as the eastward extension of the seawall, fill, and portions of the early 20th-century trolley station. A large palm wood piling was even driven through the vessel (likely for tying off ships), indicating that the vessel was not known even in [the] later 19th century/early 20th century.”

Pawn said that, without identifying markings, it is difficult to know exactly where the ship came from or what it was used for.

“A great deal of research still has to be done, and we may never know these exact details,” he said.

Archaeologists do know, however, that it was likely a sailing boat. While the boat’s deck and hull were “mostly well preserved” no mast was found.

“The vessel is what is known as vernacular, which means it was likely built locally, with local materials, for domestic use. The artifacts, many located atop the buried vessel, helped confirm the initial dating of the vessel,” Pawn said. “Finds included leather shoes (including different shoes for left and right, a 19th-century innovation), coins (one dated to 1869), coconut halves that were likely used as cups, and a portion of an oil-fired lantern.”

The boat was disassembled, plank by plank, and removed, with great care to keep each portion wet.

“The pieces will be observed in wet storage to stabilize as we determine future preservation efforts. We will be working closely with archaeologists and the City of St. Augustine to find a permanent home for this unique find,” Pawn said.

St. Augustine is known for its rich maritime history and heritage. There are said to be 75 shipwrecks near St. Augustine, Florida, due to a large sand bar that must be crossed to enter the lagoon. Some of these shipwrecks date back to the Spanish colonial era and have yielded valuable treasures and artifacts.

St. Augustine also has a Shipwreck Museum that showcases an exclusive variety of exhibits and engaging experiences that uncover some of the world’s most famous and interesting shipwrecks, including the R.M.S. Titanic, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, the S.S. Central America, the 1715 Spanish Fleet, maritime treasures from China, the Mediterranean, and more.

The discovery of the 150-year-old shipwreck near the bridge adds another layer of mystery and intrigue to St. Augustine’s maritime legacy. It also raises questions about who built it, who sailed it, and what happened to it.

“It’s always exciting to find something like this,” Pawn said. “It’s a rare opportunity to learn more about our past and our connection to the sea.”