History and Cultural Signs
Spanish Hole and Shipwreck
Spanish Hole and Shipwreck at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Florida. Published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
|Florida Pocket Maps|
30° 9.099' N 6 5 4 Mandalay: site of Aucilla River St. Marks Lighthouse: site of Lighthouse, Ft. Williams, and Spanish Hole/Shipwreck Mounds Station: site of Paleo Mounds Indians and Shell and Naval Naval Stores Stores 83° 58.769' W 83° 10.955' 58.769' W 84° 84° 9.869' W St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge History Trail Wakulla Beach: site of Wakulla Beach Hotel and West Goose Creek Seineyard Seineyards 84°8.892' W 30° 7.797' N 30° 6.316' N 1 Plum Orchard: site of Port Leon 84°8.710' W 84°15.703' W 2 East River: site of CCC and Salt Works GPS Coordinates: 84° 10.955' W ~ 30° 4.658' N 3 GPS Coordinates: 84° 10.955' W ~ 30° 4.658' N (Courtesy St. Marks Refuge files) 30° 6.985' N 30° 4.658' N 30° 5.282' N Fort Williams, in a drawing from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newpaper, February 22, 1862 (detail). (Courtesy State Archives of Florida) When Spanish explorers first searched the shallow waters of Apalachee Bay they found few places to anchor near shore, but in the mouth of the St. Marks River they discovered deeper water which has long been known as Spanish Hole. For centuries, vessels that could not navigate up the St. Marks River have anchored there. In 1528, Spaniard Panfilo de Narvaez led 300 men across Florida from near Tampa into Apalachee territory. Instead of treasure, they found hardship. Legend says that the expedition stayed near the mouth of the St. Marks River long enough to build four rafts to carry the men to rejoin their ships. Eight years later, four survivors arrived in Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca, one of the survivors, wrote about their ordeal in 1536 or 1537. Hernando de Soto came with 600 men in 1539, and followed nearly the same route, believing that he could find the This WWI sub chaser may be similar to the ship that sank in 1928. (Courtesy St. Marks Refuge files) gold that had eluded Narvaez. He did not. The first wooden fort at San Marcos, at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers, was built by the Spanish Governor in 1679. Pirates likely anchored at Spanish Hole and crept upriver to loot and burn the fort in 1681. A second wooden fort, built in 1718, was replaced by a third fort constructed in 1739 with limestone from a quarry that is on refuge property. This fort fell into disrepair. When Florida was under British control between 1763 and 1783, the Panton - Leslie Company trading post was established on the west side of the Wakulla River, just north of U.S. Highway 98. The Spanish regained control of San Marcos by 1786. Occupation has not been continuous, but the area around the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers has seen settlements come and go since the first Europeans arrived more than four centuries ago. Not far from Spanish Hole lie the remains of a small vessel which is visible at low tide. In 1928, a ship anchored off Long Bar, west of the lighthouse, caught fire and burned, according to the late Alton Gresham. Gresham’s father, John Y. Gresham, was the lighthouse keeper at the time. The elder Gresham attempted to tow the remains up the St. Marks River, but the boat ran aground and sank. The vessel may have been the former World War I sub chaser that had been purchased by the Florida Shellfish Commission and renamed Dispatch. Under- Small boats called “lighters” shuttled goods and people between the ships at Spanish Hole and the upriver ports of St. Marks, Magnolia, Port Leon, and Newport. (Courtesy State Archives of Florida ) water archaeologists from Florida State University studied the site in 1998 but could not find conclusive evidence that would identify the vessel as the sub chaser. The St. Marks Refuge Association, Inc., with a matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, produced the signs and brochures for the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge History Trail. The association is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports educational, environmental, and biological programs of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Visit www.stmarksrefuge.org for more information. 9/2010