Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Brent R. Weisman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy Marie White, Ph.D.


South Florida, Frontier Archaeology, Public Archaeology, Reconstruction Era


In 1866 the seat of Manatee County was moved to Pine Level, a newly-formed town in the wilderness of south Florida. By the 1880s, it contained stores, boardinghouses, churches, and government buildings. In 1887, Pine Level became DeSoto County’s first seat. However, when it lost county seat status to Arcadia only 18 months later, in 1888, Pine Level rapidly declined in population and importance, and eventually died out. The investigations of the Pine Level site detailed in this thesis were carried out as a public archaeology project, involving the DeSoto County Historical Society, University of South Florida, and the Florida Public Archaeology Network West Central Region.

As a public archaeology project, one central goal of this work was to involve the local community in the fieldwork and ongoing research. The efforts of community volunteers, along with graduate and undergraduate students, were critical to several phases of this project, which is presented in this thesis. The second goal of the project was to learn as much as possible about the little-studied site of Pine Level and its inhabitants, and to contextualize its founding, growth, and downfall within the development of the south Florida region. Specifically, one goal was to learn more about the people who moved to this rural town, including their ethnicity, social status, livelihoods, and political outlook. The second research question was discovering how Pine Level had been spatially organized, whether this layout had changed over time, and x what this spatial patterning could reveal about the town’s function within greater south Florida.

Historical and archaeological research methods were used to try to answer these questions. Historical research into the Reconstruction era placed Pine Level in context within the tumultuous changes of this period. Study of primary documents revealed information about how the town was organized, and how several buildings at the site were probably constructed. Oral history interviews were also conducted with community members who had knowledge of Pine Level. Archaeological investigations at the site included a surface survey, artifact collection, shovel testing, and unit excavation. This work was focused on ground-truthing the information gathered during the historical research and oral histories. Last, analysis of the ceramic, glass, and metal artifacts at the site added to the interpretation of the social status of Pine Level’s citizens, contributed to an evaluation of the site’s spatial patterning, and underscored functional differences between certain areas of Pine Level.

The research presented in this thesis shows that Pine Level was the creation of a Republican politician, and that it functioned as an enclave of Republican power during the Reconstruction era. During this time, Pine Level’s growth was sluggish, and it remained unpopular with many citizens in Manatee County. It consisted of a few government buildings in the center of the town, but little else. However, with the fall of the Manatee County Republicans in 1876, Pine Level suddenly began to prosper, adding many new landowners and businesses. A distinct business district developed, and areas of the town near the major roads garnered particularly high prices. Artifact analysis shows that the income level of these newcomers was probably modest, but that they had xi access to consumer goods from across the United States and as far away as England. The town’s prosperity was short-lived, though. As detailed in this thesis, once Pine Level lost county seat status, it immediately began to decline, and businesses quickly moved to Arcadia. The town continued on as a small community through at least the first decade of the twentieth century, but eventually became a nothing more than a spot on a map.