Unique cistern from 1800's unexpectedly discovered

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A surprise was recently found in the ground in St. Augustine.

Crews on a construction site unexpectedly came across a cistern -- a holding tank for water -- that is believed to date back to the 1800's. While cisterns were common in the city during that time, this cistern's size and connection to a U.S. President make it stand out from the rest.

No one really knew it was on the property where the former M & M Market stood in St. Augustine on Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue in the Lincolnville neighborhood.

In the last week, a demolition crew was taking down the newer additions of the old building when they all of a sudden came across the cistern in the ground.

A cistern is a holding tank that collected water before things like city pipes and infrastructure was common.

So City of St. Augustine Archaeologist Carl Halbirt came out to the site.

"We cleaned it off and we realized the pristine state it was in," Halbirt said.

And it's big! At 8 X 16 X 5, Halbirt said it could've held 4800 gallons of water.

"It's one of the larger ones we have found in St. Augustine. Now, is the largest? I can't say, but it definitely is fairly large." Halbirt noted.

The possible original owner makes it even more interesting. The great granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson -- Maria Shine -- lived in the home in the late 1800's.

Halbirt said, "It was somewhat affiliated with her occupancy."

He believes it is in such good condition because it was underneath an addition to the original building.

And now, it's not going anywhere!

"Originally we thought, 'No, [the property owner] wouldn't preserve it.' But then the property owner came out, he got excited about it, and decided he would take a proactive position to try to integrate it into the development of this parcel," Halbirt explained.

He said the plan is to use the cistern to collect water in order to irrigate the parcel's landscape. The property will have a restaurant and residential units on it.

It's a way to keep a historic surprise in its place.


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