A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

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Hunt for the Alligator Makes the News

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In September, I got a phone call from Dr. Roger Smith, Florida's state underwater archaeologist. He asked if we could go take a look at a recently reported wreck site, and put us in touch with retired meteorologist and avocational historian Dan Smith (no relation). Mr. Smith has conducted an immense amount of research related to a late 19th century steamboat called the Alligator, which indicates the sternwheeler was lost on the east side of Crescent Lake, south of us in Flagler County. A trip to the wreck site proved that it was a very interesting wreck, not only to us but to several news agencies.

The story made it to the national news, LAMP's first major national media exposure since my arrival in 2006. From MSNBC:

On Florida's Crescent Lake, there are beautiful birds, turtles, and Alligators, but a crew is looking for a different kind of Alligator on the edge of the lake.

A team of archaeologists and volunteers were working on the wreck of a steamboat. They wanted to know if it could be the Alligator which carried cargo and tourists down the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers around the turn of the century.

We also warranted a mention (with a link) in Archaeology Magazine's online Archaeological Headlines for December 10, 2008:

Volunteers and archaeologists want to know if a wreck on Florida’s Crescent Lake is the Alligator, which sank 99 years ago. The steamboat carried cargo, tourists, and early archaeologists to sites in northeast Florida.

Two news crews came out to visit us during the recent trip to the possible Alligator wreck site, reporter Jessica Clark and a cameraman from Channel 12's First Coast News, and reporter Marcia Lane and photographer Peter Willott from the St. Augustine Record, our local newspaper.

The story from Channel 12 First Coast News is online here, though there is no video up yet.

However, Jessica's report got picked up by other NBC affiliates, and you can see the video here on NBC-2 station WBBH in the Fort Myers/Naples region. Its pretty cool!

The front page article in the St. Augustine Record was also a really great write-up:

"Isn't it funny? That's one of the things that made it so attractive. It's like the archaeology of archaeologists," said Sam Turner, director of archaeology for LAMP.

He was working at the spot on the east side of Crescent Lake where the riverboat Alligator caught fire and burned nearly 100 years ago.

Or maybe it's not the spot.

"It's a big lake. It's got a lot of east side to it," conceded Dan Smith of Ft. Worth, Texas, a retired meteorologist who has become somewhat obsessed with the boat that was once headquarters for C.B. Moore, a wealthy Philadelphian who spent years digging up Native American sites in the southeast.

"Chuck (Meide, director of LAMP) keeps advising me to stop jumping to conclusions. But it's awfully tempting," Smith said as he stood knee deep in the brownish waters on the Flagler County side of Crescent Lake.

Half-a-dozen others -- the LAMP contingent -- were measuring, scanning and drawing as they surveyed the site that's basically just beneath the lake's surface.

On Tuesday a boiler and a 10-foot cylinder were lying on their side above the water. Archaeologists weren't sure what the cylinder was although LAMP's Brendan Burke, who's also a licensed steam engineer, thinks it may have been a condenser or water tank from the steamboat.

"We're just trying to get a handle on what we have," Meide said. "The more we poke around and dig, the more we'll know."

There has been a lot of local, regional, and national interest in this shipwreck, and if it turns out to be the Alligator, associated with the famous early archaeologist C.B. Moore, there will be even more. We are excited not only at this prospect, but because it is a really interesting steamboat wreck in a beautiful bit of untouched Florida wilderness. It will certainly prove informative about the early steamboat days of northeast Florida even if it turns out not to be the Alligator.

For those who want to learn more about the history of the Alligator, and the archaeological investigation of this shipwreck, stay tuned for an upcoming LAMPost blog entry which is being written by Brendan. It should be up soon!

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