In a city with over four centuries of history, city crews are used to uncovering evidence of our past and not surprised when City Archeologist Carl Halbirt casually identifies the findings as being from the 16th or 17th or 18th century.
But St. Augustine’s history does not have to be hundreds of years old to be forgotten and then rediscovered. Such was the case recently when a Public Works Department crew uncovered the foundation of a forgotten imposing stack pipe water tower located at Toques Place in downtown St. Augustine.
The massive circular concrete slab, approximately 30' in diameter which is the tower’s foundation, was found in the parking lot that lies just off Hypolita Street, near its intersection with St. George Street. The crew was working on the construction of a new municipal trash compactor to be used by area businesses and will eliminate unsightly and unwieldy dumpsters located in the area.
The tower was constructed in 1897 as part of the City of St. Augustine’s water works system, which consisted of a pumping station and reservoir just north of Davenport Park. The original water works building, most recently the home of the St. Augustine Garden Club, is still standing and awaiting restoration.
“The cement mixture used is similar to that associated with the late 19th century Alcazar, Ponce de Leon, and Casa Monica hotels,” said Halbirt.
The lot on which the tower was situated was occupied by the city until 1917 when Polar Water Company became the occupant. Polar Water Company was later named Polar Water and Beverage, bottlers of mineral spring and distilled water.
In 1964-1965, the city once again took over the property and demolished the stack pipe water tower in preparation for the city’s 400th anniversary of the founding of the city.
When the western boundary of St. Augustine was near present day Cordova Street, back in the early 18th century, that border was defined by a earthen wall known as the Rosario Line. Running from today’s Orange Street south to San Salvador Street, the Rosario Line got its name from its likeness to a rosary, with a number of small redoubts or bastions along the wall much like the beads on a rosary.
A reconstruction of the Rosario Line, which was build in 1720, may be seen today on Cordova Street across from the streets intersection with Saragossa Street. A reconstruction of the northeast corner of the line sits at the intersection of Orange and Cordova Streets near the Visitor Information Center.
As well as the earthen berm worked to protect the city, in 1761 Spanish Governor Lucas de Palazio ordered the construction of a barbette stone redoubt behind the governor’s residence, now the Government House. The redoubt known as El Rosario was constructed using coquina stone.
Recently, city work crews unearthed remnants of El Rosario under the sidewalk near the corner of Cordova Street and Cathedral Place. Approximately 10 linear feet of the wall’s foundation was exposed, almost 6 ½ feet under the sidewalk and 3 ½ feet within the Government House property, the West Garden Park. The foundation of El Rosario ranged from almost 3 ½ to almost 4 feet in width.
In order to protect the site from future intrusion, City Archeologist Carl Halbirt oversaw the excavation of the site. Halbirt documented and mapped the redoubt's exact place to ensure its preservation and to determine the wall’s orientation as well as the size and condition of El Rosario’s foundation. Lastly, the redoubt’s location would be a source for establishing the trajectory of the earthen berm, which was parallel to Maria Sanchez Creek, and ran generally where Flagler College and City Hall are today. Once the foundation had been completely exposed, it was mapped and photographed with the location plotted into the City’s GIS mapping program.
In addition to the foundation of the wall a number of artifacts were recovered, including an olive jar fragment and a green-glazed earthenware fragment.
At a later date, the City of St. Augustine will place a plaque at the site describing El Rosario and marking its location.