TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Gray News) — The National Park Service says it has confirmed the presence of a slave cemetery on the golf course at the Capital City Country Club.
According to NPS, historic records suggest the cemetery is associated with a former plantation once owned by the Edward Houstoun family. Records show the plantation operated from the 1830s through the Civil War. NPS says at its height, the plantation was about seven square miles large and had 80 slaves working on it. Today, this land includes all of Myers Park, Woodland Drives, Indianhead Acres, Magnolia Heights and the Governor's Square Mall area.
NPS first offered to investigate reports of an unmarked African American burial ground on the golf course for the city over the summer. NPS archaeologists from the Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee began a geophysical survey of the area. They used ground-penetrating radar and two trained human remains detection dogs over 7,000 square meters.
The GPR data showed the presence of what is believed to be 40 graves near hole seven on the golf course. NPS says the results were confirmed by multiple positive alerts from the HRD dogs. Heavy tree roots and a highly wooded area prevented crews from testing other spots where NPS says more graves may be.
Once all the testing and analysis is done, a report on the findings will be sent to both the City of Tallahassee and the Capital City Country Club.
"It may be prudent to form a small working group comprised of key stakeholders who can work together to recommend a non-intrusive solution to memorializing the burial ground as part of the golf course," Jeffrey Shanks, the lead investigator of the archaeological survey, says.
The country club is maintaining the gravesites and they’re in an area where golfers won’t disturb them, according to NPS. There are many examples of golf courses in America and beyond that both border and include historic burial grounds.
NPS says the slaves from the Houstoun plantation likely kept working on the land after the Civil War. They also likely helped form the African American community Smoky Hollow.
During this time, the plantation was inherited by Patrick Houstoun, who managed it as a stock farm and dairy. According to historical records, Patrick Houstoun was active in state politics and served as the Adjutant General of Florida when he died in 1901.
A few years later, most of the land was sold to Tallahassee attorney George Perkins. In 1915, Perkins donated part of it for use as a golf course for the Hill City Golf and Country Club, which is the forerunner of today's Capital City Country Club.
The original golf course was nine holes. During the Great Depression, the golf course was deed to the City of Tallahassee, and in 1936 was expanded to 18 holes using a federal grant. The golf course was operated by the city for 20 years before it was leased back to the club in 1956.
Today, the members of the club operate the golf course, which is open to the public and included on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.
NPS conducted interviews with longtime residents of the Country Club Estates neighborhood. They said at least a few graves were still there before the expansion of the course in the 1930s.
According to a Tallahassee Democrat article from 1970, an archaeological student from Florida State University relocated the cemetery. No formal testing was done, and an archaeologist from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research did not formally record the site until 1994. Its Florida Master Site File number is LE1574.
Jason Bench, the general manager of the course, sent the following statement to WCTV:
“As the oldest golf club in Tallahassee, we have a unique appreciation for history. Like many communities across our country, Tallahassee’s history is complicated, but it’s important to understand how the story all ties together.
Being located in our city’s only historic district means that our club’s history has many layers. Native Americans have lived here, Desoto camped here and celebrated the first Christmas in America, there was a large plantation with slave labor, and now there is a thriving historic neighborhood with incredibly beautiful open spaces including the golf course. We see ourselves as stewards of all that history.
We work hard to preserve these lands for recreational use and are excited to better understand and acknowledge how our community history has shaped the current environment. We hope people will want to spend time here - the club is open to the public and a great place to enjoy the beauty of Tallahassee. We hope people will join our club as a means for preserving and appreciating the Tallahassee story and all its chapters.“
NPS says it hopes its work at the golf course will serve as a model for the rest of the state and country on how to properly study, document and memorialize previously unrecorded gravesites that are found in urban areas.