Colonial history may ground spaceport plans - New York News

Colonial history may ground spaceport plans

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CAPE CANAVERAL (FOX 13) -

Now that NASA's fleet of space shuttles has been retired, developers want to build a new commercial spaceport near the Kennedy Space Center. But the future could collide with the past.

One site being proposed is where a sugar plantation once stood in the 1700's. Our FOX 13 crew went to the barely-visible ruins along a remote coastline. We saw stones that experts say are from the early buildings of the plantation that covered more than 2,000 acres, including villages for slaves.

"This is definitely one of the most important historic sites in North America in our opinion," said Margo Schwadron, an archeologist who works for the National Park Service, which oversees part of the plantation site which is located on land owned by NASA.

THE PLANTATION

Historical records show the plantation was built around 1763 on land owned by William Elliott, a wealthy man in England who hired Scottish overseer John Ross to run the plantation, which produced sugar, rum and indigo. He acquired more than 80 slaves in Georgia to transform the barely explored coastal area into a remote plantation.

"This was the end of the line," explained John Stiner of the National Park Service. "This was the southernmost British plantation on the whole east coast of North America."

ANCESTORS

The plantation ceased operation in the 1780's after raids by Spanish privateers, but not before the slave population had built homes and raised children.

Schwadron says the site may hold special importance to some here.

"Descendants of the people that lived on this plantation, and descendants possibly in this community today," she said.

The site is on the Brevard-Volusia county line near Titusville. Schwadron, along with local archeologists and historians, has performed at least two archeological digs at the site in recent years, unearthing tools and tableware used by the slaves. She says the Park Service will not make the decision on the future of the site, but may be called on for information.

BUT WAIT

Developers say a new commercial spaceport could help revive the local economy, which was shattered by the end of the shuttle program. The new jobs it would bring are sorely needed here.

A spokesperson for Space Florida, the state's space development organization, says the historical plantation is part of the environmental impact process and could impact a final decision on whether the spaceport will be built here. Environmental organizations are also raising concerns about wildlife in the area.

Meanwhile, the ruins of the plantation are largely undisturbed, as they've been for 250 years.

"They may be basically a few stones above the surface, but all that's under the surface is still there," added Stiner.

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