Ancient Native American burial mound uncovered in East Florence, Alabama

Lo! The Poor Indian.

The Tide of Development Disturbs His Peaceful Sleep,
On the Banks of the Rolling Tennessee

August 15, 1891

Gentlemen: We have been digging up prehistoric men for about a week, thick skulled fellows. Today we discovered a skull in place that ante-dates the others by a “long spell.” I have been making measurements but am entirely unequal to the task. Can’t you have a good surgeon come here and investigate the subject while it can be done. I think it will prove one of the most interesting cases of the kind.
Yours truly,

This month marked 125 years since the accidental discovery of an ancient Native American burial mound picturesquely lying in the fork of Sweetwater Creek and the Tennessee River in East Florence. Workers from the Philadelphia Furnace, located just West of the Florence end of today’s Singing River Bridge, were digging a pit to dump their rubbish, when they began uncovering prehistoric human remains. A total of eight graves were found in a mound that measured four feet high and thirty feet in diameter. All the bodies, except for one, were buried with their heads toward the Northeast.

Below, I have included a complete transcription of the Florence Times article that ran on August 15th, 1891. More research needs to be done to find out if any further documentation was made, any more excavations were uncovered, and whether or not the bones have been preserved with city records. My gut feeling is that this entire discovery has been completely forgotten in the name of ‘progress’ as the workers made way for the Philadelphia Furnace’s refuse dump.

Burial Mound location
This is the approximate location of where the burial mound was discovered. The image on the left is of the Philadelphia Furnace as it was located on an 1899 map. The image on the right is a current view of the same area from Google Maps.

TRANSCRIPTION: August 15, 1891 – The Florence Times

In compliance with the above invitation from Mr. King, the General Manager of the Iron Department of the Cotton and Iron company, a Times representative, in company with Dr. Percy Price, went down to the Philadelphia Furnace on Wednesday, and along with the crowd dug around among the decayed bones of the “prehistoric men” whose bodies have lain for lo, these many years in a mound in sound of the surging waters of the Tennessee.

The workmen at the furnace, engaged in excavating a dumping place for the refuse of the great establishment between the cast house and the river, had come upon a mound, about four feet high by thirty feet in diameter, round in form and ascending from the base all around to the top. In the work of removing the earth they found eight graves, or places where graves had been, each distinctly marked in the red clay soil by the outlines of the bodies in the dark-colored earth; and in several of the graves the bones of the Indians were found, though in the larger number of graves, every vestige of flesh and bone were gone and only the distinct dark outlines of earth in the red clay showed where, years ago, the bodies had been laid. In one grave a hollow thigh bone was found and in two places were discovered skulls still in shape, with teeth almost perfect. A measurement was made of one of the skulls by Mr. King, which showed a large, broad, flat head, the figures showing the proverbial high cheeks, with heavy jaws. This latter feature called from Mr. King the reflection that his chief business in life seemed to have been to eat. All the bodies (excepting one) were buried with their heads toward the Northeast.

The men engaged in these excavations and whose interest was naturally aroused relative to their interesting discovery are Messrs. Daniel King, general manager, Daniel Knepper, foreman, and G.W. Thomas and G.F Merrill.

How long have those Indians lain here? What is the history of this pretty little mound, so picturesquely lying in the fork of Sweetwater and the Tennessee? Who can unravel the mystery that appeals so strongly to one’s curiosity?

The natural scenery around the Philadelphia Furnace is strikingly beautiful. With the clear rippling Sweetwater creek on the West, the swift-flowing Tennessee river on the South, and North and East the ground rising abruptly and with natural terraces and undulations to East Florence Heights, it must have been, before the hand of the “Pale Face” mutilated it, a romantic spot indeed.

Thomas Hollingsworth

Mr. Thomas Hollingsworth - Florence, Alabama

Thomas Hollingsworth was born in Algiers, LA to parents of English descent. When Thomas was just 7 years old, his parents took him and moved back to England where he grew up and served 3 years and 3 months in the British army.

Moving back to America 1874, Thomas came to Florence in 1885 having only 15 cents to his name. He got a job working for the Muscle Shoals canal. One of his first real estate ventures was the purchase of a half-acre lot on Royal Avenue near the L&N depot for just $90. He later sold the same property for $3,550. Making many similar investments, Thomas quickly became a very influential member of the Florence community and a member of the city council.

By the 1890s, Thomas was worth over $50,000 and had built over 15 structures mainly in East Florence; the most notable of which was the Sweetwater Opera House built at a cost of $8,000.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 3rd, 1891 City Councilman Thomas Hollingsworth was found dead in a ditch. After attending a city council meeting on Monday night, Thomas headed for his home in East Florence with D.M. Wilson’s buggy (Wilson also lived in that direction). The two men stopped off at Schall’s Saloon for a few drinks and stepped back outside to find their buggy stolen. They both acquired horses from a near by stable and went in pursuit of the stolen buggy. Once the arrived in Sweetwater valley, each men went to their respective homes to inform their wives that they would be later than usual due to the pursuit of Wilson’s stolen buggy. Planning to meet up on Huntsville Road on Sweetwater Heights, Hollingsworth was never seen alive again. Wilson failed to find his friend and returned home.

On Tuesday morning, Hollingsworth’s body was discovered in a gulley beside Huntsville Road face down in the mud. A physician by the name of Dr. Kernachan, who viewed the body, stated “the cause of death to have been a fall, producing unconsciousness and suffocation by drowning.” Thomas Hollingsworth’s body was buried in the city cemetery the following day.