The Barnhill Mound at Boca Raton

When most people think of Native Americans in Palm Beach County, they may think of the Seminole Indians or perhaps the Miccosukee. But the original Palm Beach county residents go back much further in time. No one knows the exact date that Native Americans set foot in Palm Beach county. Most lived along the coastline of the Intracoastal Waterway or the barrier islands ocean side. They hunted and gathered food and practised no form of agriculture. Best estimates are that people first inhabited the county 700-1000 years ago.

One of the more prominent archealogical sites is the Barnhill Mound in Boca Raton. The mound was known in the 1920s as a high hill covered with fine sugar sand.

Picture of the mound in the 1920s

The property was eventually aquired by E.G. Barnhill, a famous early Florida photographer. Born in 1894 in South Carolina, Barnhill is famous for his hand-colored photographs and paintings of the old Florida landscape. He was also interested in Native American culture and collected artifacts throughout the nation. Upon having the property explored by University of Florida archeaologist Dr. Ripley Bullen, it was discovered that the large mound was actually a burial mound. Barnhill named the attraction “Ancient America”  and opened it in 1953. The bones of the deceased were bundled together and placed in small niches in the mound. Barnhill tunneled through the mound and set glass panels in the sides so tourists could peer in and see the bundles of bones. The attraction was open until 1958, and never proved to be popular.

Postcard from Ancient America depicting the ancient village

Archealogists mapped the original site and assume it was a ceremonial center and village, probably housing 150 residents. The most likely tribe are the Tequesta, who populated the areas that today are Broward and Dade counties.

So what happened to the Barnhill Mound? In 1981, the site was long abandoned and was on a list of Palm Beach county sites to be purchased for historical preservation. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it was sold to developers who built the Boca Marina Yacht Club.

I went down to see what was actually left of the mound. Most articles I had read on the site indicated that the mound was completely gone, but that proved not to be true. I took the picture below from the sidewalk on the street. I wanted to get a bit closer, but the guard would not let me walk back to the mound. I asked the guard if she knew what the hill was; she did not know, thinking it was just a pretty hill. When I told her that this was actually an indian burial mound, she got a kind of creepy look on her face. What is sad is that were this property available today, it would be a park and educational site. But alas, the mighty dollar spoke.

The Barnhill Mound as it appears today.

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4 Responses to The Barnhill Mound at Boca Raton

  1. RADFORD FOX says:

    Remember going there with my parents when we first moved to FlA in ,1957. Always tried to remember where it was. I was 12 yrs old back then

  2. Kathy says:

    A great photo – and even better story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Frank B. says:

    I was able to visit the site several years ago for research purposes. The mound still does exist but, of course, I have no idea what has been preserved underneath. The mound is taken care of with grass and landscaping, so that’s a plus for the property owner.

  4. Rusty W says:

    I grew up in the neighborhood bordering to the north end of the property. In the lates 1970’s we would regularly explore the abandoned property and even camped out in the tunnel a few times. We called the area “Beanpickers”

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