Excavations at Fort De Soto
By Waldo Rowell
Logic and calculation, simple tools, and a lot of persistence, pays off!
When I began to volunteer at the Park in 1994, Bob Browning, Park Supervisor, asked if I would be interested in finding the footings of the original buildings. Some work on finding these footings had been started by students from Eckerd College who had excavated the footings of the three Officers' Quarters. These footings were made of poured concrete, about two and a half feet square; brick pilings were then placed on top of the concrete. In most cases, few of the bricks remained. However, having copies of the original layout of the Post buildings, I was able to locate the next footings by measuring from those footings still remaining on the surface of the ground. Once, the concrete was exposed, a brick mason, a Park employee, reconstructed the foundation piers on fifteen of the buildings. Not all buildings could be found as any remnants of the fire apparatus house, wells, a water tank and the pump house are under the present day parking lot.
Now that I had found the footings of the ell, I moved forward to find the footings for the west wing itself. But everywhere I sounded with a strong metal rod, the bottom I hit felt as if it were concrete. It just did not seem possible that there was concrete in such a location, so I suspected some anomaly in the soil. Since I didn't want to dig about three feet down in such heavily compacted sand and roots, I measured again and moved to what should be the southwest corner of the west wing.
Once I located this corner, I dug deep and found remnants of a brick wall. Upon digging for a time along the west and south walls, I discovered a cement floor in the west wing. Next a Park employee used a backhoe to finish digging out the dirt in the area, exposing what appeared to be a cellar with a smooth concrete floor. Another surprise was the existence of a row of slate imbedded in the concrete about 6 feet from the east wall. Along one edge of the slate was a metal track. Is it possible the track was used for a sliding door?
However, very fortunately, in the fall of 2001, Bruce McCall, Research Archivist for the Egmont Key Alliance, in a trip to the National Archives found the answer: the basement was used for a "Dead Room" or morgue, storage for medical supplies, and ordinary storage. There was also a set of stairs leading up one flight to the hospital's kitchen.
Today, as you stand near the hospital and look at the surrounding area, you can see how deep the concrete floor was below the original ground level.
Come walk along the Historical Trail. Each building has now been outlined in shell so it is easy to use your imagination to recreate the Post as it would have been about one hundred years ago. Look at the one reconstructed building, the Quartermaster Storehouse, now a museum. Pay tribute to the young men of that era who endured heat and cold, mosquitoes and other flying, biting insects, hours of drilling in all kinds of weather on the parade ground, hours of drilling as they practiced loading the 8 12-inch mortars of Battery Laidley and the 2 3-inch mortars of Battery Bigelow. All of this while wearing woolen uniforms. These young men, far from home, dedicated years of service to defend and protect our country from the possibility of foreign invaders.
In remembrance, we honor their service to our country.