A Well of Time

Whether you are in search of the Fountain of Youth or a great colonial well, St. Augustine has you covered. As long as there has been people here, life has focused around fresh water. Springs trickling up from the aquifer attracted generations of human habitation long before Juan Ponce de Leon. When European settlers arrived on our shores, they brought with them a practice of building wells. Today, let us dive into the excavation of one such well found at Cofradia Site.

A color photograph of a ceramic sherd lodged in soil with a board featuring archaeological details next to it.
A ceramic shard found at the Cofradia site on March 30, 1990.

The Coquina Well at the Cofradia Site began offering refreshing water to Aviles Street in the early 1600s, but stopped by the end of that century. The well disappeared to history until a 1990 archaeological investigation of the site discovered it. Unlike most colonial wells – which involved burying barrels – this one consisted of coquina.

Within the well, the archaeologists uncovered a mystery. They pulled from the well: furniture fragments, chunks of building material, and other household items. What could of caused this debris? Colonial residents often filled their sour wells with garbage and sand, but not like this. Archaeologists hypothesized that a catastrophe must of took place. Maybe a fire raced through a structure? Or possibly an attack took place?

A color photograph of two men examining a stone at an archaeological dig. One man stands in the trench and the other next to it with equipment behind him.
A team of archaeologists working at Cofradia Site in 1990.

A 1764 map revealed that the site once belonged to the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament – a religious organization of laypersons. Though earlier documents did not provide an answer to the well’s sudden end. Until researchers uncover more clues, we can only imagine what happened to this colonial water source.

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