Water Street construction unearths graves from 1800s

Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-29 17:57:27-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Crews unearth a fascinating piece of Tampa's past as they work on the Water Street Tampa project — graves dating back to the 1800s. 

"The location was just lost in time,” said Tampa Bay History Center’s Curator Rodney Kite-Powell.

Before Tampa was Tampa, it was Fort Brooke — a military fort established in 1824 in our downtown and Channelside area.

"With the acidity of the soil and the harsh nature of Florida, termites and things like that, there really is no telling how much remains of any of that. There may just be trace evidence of what was left behind."

And way before it was a Tampa Bay Lightning parking lot, it was "Estuary Cemetery."

"You've had two hurricanes that have hit here since those cemeteries were established and they would have brought a lot of debris onshore. They may also have washed away headstones. So some explanation as to why we didn't really know about the exact location of this until now, was the location was just lost in time,” said Kite-Powell.

Before Florida was even Florida, Seminole Indians, U.S. soldiers and settlers lived and died here from diseases like dysentery, yellow fever, pneumonia and typhoid according to Kite-Powell.

"In 1830, your average soldier would have been somebody who came from a poorer family—oftentimes first or second-generation Americans,” he said.

Archaeologists will work to inter any remains with care and dignity.

"If they are military remains and can be determined to be such, they will be given a military burial. If they are remains of Indians, the Tribe will take care of that,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

And as work continues north of Channelside Drive, Tampa's new construction may reveal more old secrets.