Mala Compra Plantation Archaeological Site: Exploration at Work

Lisa Fritscher February 10, 2011 No Comments

Mala Compra Plantation Entrance

The roadside sign barely hints at what to expect

On a recent trip to St. Augustine, Florida, we took some time to simply drive around the area. We love to go out in a new town and get slightly lost, discovering hidden attractions along the way. On one of these drives we ended up at the Mala Compra Plantation Archaeological Site. It’s a park with a playground, and we weren’t sure there was anything to see. But we needed to stretch our legs anyway, so we parked the car and took a stroll. We were amazed to find an excavation site, complete with artifacts and detailed historical markers, just a short walk from the playground.

Mala Compra History

Mala Compra Plantation Foundations

The foundations are in reasonably good shape

Located on a barrier island a few miles south of St. Augustine, Mala Compra Plantation was part of a large network of plantations developed during Florida’s Second Spanish period, which lasted from 1784 to 1821.

The plantation’s name literally translates to “bad bargain,” and that certainly seemed to be the case. Both original owner Josiah DuPont and second owner Miguel Crosby suffered endless setbacks that kept the plantation from being profitable. But fortunes seemed to change under the third owner, Joseph Hernandez.

Noted for being the first Hispanic American in the United States Congress and the first delegate from the Florida Territory, Hernandez purchased Mala Compra in 1816. Under his guidance, Mala Compra boomed, becoming one of the most significant cotton plantations in northeastern Florida.

Hernandez experienced some ups and downs in both his professional and his personal life, but perhaps the biggest blow was the destruction of Mala Compra. Like many other nearby plantations, it was burned by the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War in 1836.

Mala Compra Excavation

Mala Compra Artifacts

A number of artifacts are on display

Mala Compra is of particular interest to archaeologists for several reasons. It was one of the most prominent plantations of its time. Original plat maps still exist, giving archaeologists a guide to assist their digging. Additionally, the foundations are made of coquina, which is largely comprised of compressed shells. Native to the area, coquina holds up remarkably well. Many of the site’s features were still relatively intact.

Surprisingly, the archaeologists actually unearthed evidence of two different homes. It appears that the older home, which may have belonged to DuPont, was incorporated into the larger Hernandez home. Hernandez made some modifications, but changed the original structure very little when he expanded it.

The Site Today

Mala Compra Archaeological Walkways

The walkways extend out over the ruins

Located behind a playground just off a relatively busy road, an archaeological site is the last thing you would expect. But it is carefully protected by a series of elevated walkways overlooking the site. It would be difficult to get down to the actual ruins, and even more difficult to make your way back up again.

The walkways completely surround the site, and along each path are historical markers and interactive displays that explain the plantation’s history. Look for detailed displays on the Hernandez family and the process of excavating the site.

Tips for Parents

Mala Compra Plantation in 1800s

Help kids imagine what the site looked like in the 1800s

Plan to spend your time at the site reading signs and interpreting the information into child-friendly terms. Most kids seem to love looking at the old ruins, but may get bored easily if they don’t know what they’re looking at. Use the story of the Hernandez family as a jumping-off point to help kids imagine life in the 1800s, or talk about carrying water from the large well.

Although your visit could easily stretch to more than an hour if you take the time to read every sign, parents should plan for approximately 30 minutes at the ruins. Besides the playground, the park also has plenty of picnic tables and room to run and play. The surrounding area is extremely scenic, making it a great place for a family drive. So if you have the time, consider making a day trip out of it. Pack a picnic or visit a nearby mom-and-pop diner, visit the ruins, and spend some time playing outside.

Mala Compra Plantation Safety

Handrails and chain link fences help minimize the risk of falls

Keep a close eye on the kids while walking around the plantation ruins. Although there are handrails and chain link fences, kids could get hurt if they are running or not paying attention. A bit of common sense goes a long way toward preventing injuries.

Admission to the site is free, and the ruins are open from dawn until dusk. Visit during the week to avoid the crowds, as the attached park seems to be a popular destination for picnics and family reunions on warm weekends.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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