Three amateur historians believe they have discovered the exact site of a lost Seminole Indian War fort in the Florida Everglades, solving an approximately 170-year-old mystery lost to time and the remoteness of its location.
The search for Fort Harrell, constructed in 1837 and last seen by engineers of the Tamiami Trail in 1917, had consumed outdoorsmen Shawn Beightol, a high school chemistry teacher; Chris Harris, a computer engineer; and Tony Pernas, a National Park Service employee; for about a year.
They said they found evidence of Fort Harrell on an overnight expedition June 26-27, The Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Saturday.
“It needs to be preserved and memorialized, Beightol told the newspaper. “I’d like to see a monument placed there for the people who served in that godforsaken location 170 years ago. Their story needs to be told.”
The three studied historic war maps, engineering surveys and aerial photos from the 1940s to narrow down possible locations to one particular clearing in the Big Cypress Preserve in Collier County. As they searched the area last week, Pernas noticed a series of post holes in the limestone used to support the foundation walls of the fort. They mapped out the geometry of the post holes and saw they were aligned in a roughly rectangular pattern about 135 feet long and 45 feet wide.
Florida archaeologist Bob Carr told the Sun-Sentinel if confirmed as Fort Harrell it would be a significant discovery.
“Any vestige of the Seminole War period in South Florida would be significant because few sites have been preserved and not all have been found,” Carr said.
Army soldiers used the fort to stock supplies and prepare for battles during the second Seminole War. It was one of eight smaller forts erected in the interior of the Sunshine State. Larger forts were built along the coast, including Fort Lauderdale, Fort Jupiter and Fort Myers.