Since its inception in 1972 through 2014, the Broward County Historical Commission was charged with assisting in the preservation of Broward County archaeological resources. Beginning in the 1970s, the Historical Commission worked closely with the State of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources to protect archaeological sites and promote their appreciation by the general public.
In 1974, the Historical Commission worked with the office of the State Archaeologist in conducting the first attempt at a comprehensive survey of archaeological sites on land. This was followed in 1977 with the receipt by the Historical Commission of the first State Underwater Archaeological Research Permit to be given to a local governmental agency, when the then Secretary of State George Smathers came to Broward County to dive with members of the Historical Commission on the c.1835 wreck of the Spanish brigantine Gil Blas.
Over the years, hundreds of archaeological sites have been recorded in Broward County – both on land and underwater – many of which have been protected by local ordinance and preserved on both public and private lands. The archaeological sites that have been discovered within Broward County date from as early as 8000 years ago (the Archaic period) to present.
S.S. Copenhagen State Underwater Archaeological Preserve
One marine archaeological site that is well-known to many locals and visitors alike is the wreck of the S.S. Copenhagen. The Copenhagen was a single-screw steamer launched from England and registered in Scotland to the Glasgow Shipowners Company in 1898. The schooner-rigged ship was 325 feet long and rated at 3,279 tons.
In May 26, 1900, on a voyage from Philadelphia bound for Havana with nearly 5,000 tons of cargo, she wrecked three-quarters of a mile off-shore of what today is the Town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Salvage attempts were made but the vessel could not be freed from the reef and the Copenhagen was abandoned as a total wreck.
Over time the shipwreck became part of the local ecosystem and a rich and diverse ecosystem formed on her. In June 1994, the Historical Commission, working with a local dive boat captain, local divers and the state, succeeded in nominating and having approved the S.S. Copenhagen as the state’s fifth Underwater Archaeology Preserve. In May of 2001, the wreck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Broward County Shipwreck and Marine Archaeology Inventory
In May 2006, the Florida Legislature approved a $50,000 grant to the Historical Commission to conduct a shipwreck and marine archaeological survey. In 2007, with assistance of local and state government, local divers, and nonprofit marine archaeological organizations the Historical Commission was able to locate and record eight (8) newly found submerged archaeological sites. Research on these sites is ongoing as the Historical Commission continues its tradition of working with the public and the state in preserving and promoting the area’s significant archaeological heritage.