Search today seeks evidence of fort's location

LAWRENCEVILLE - Fort Daniel's location is a mystery that a group of local archaeologists hopes to solve this weekend.

The fort, which could date to the late 18th century, exists in oral histories. But archaeologist Jim D'Angelo said no one has proved that it ever stood near the intersection of Gravel Springs Road and Braselton Highway, in the area of the county known as Hog Mountain.

"There's a tradition there," he said. "There's no physical evidence of the fort, but from the land form, it almost couldn't be anywhere else."

Today, members of the Gwinnett Archaeological Research Society and other groups hope to find artifacts that could finally put the speculation to rest.

D'Angelo said more than 30 people will search an area called the plow zone with metal detectors, looking for old nails, buttons, buckles or gun parts that could help prove there was a fort on the land.

Next week, they will use ground-penetrating radar to look below the surface for pits, wells or posts that could have been used in building the fort.

Now, the site is covered with trees. But the land is for sale, and could be sold to developers for a shopping center if archaeologists don't dig up something historically significant.

D'Angelo said that might not be a bad thing.

"It won't be a tragedy," he said. "The tragedy would be if we didn't get to investigate it and settle some of these questions."

If the site is archaeologically significant, D'Angelo said, some private residents have expressed interest in buying the four acres. He said the land is for sale for $150,000 an acre.

Some of the Fort Daniel story comes from a letter telling the militia to build a new Fort Daniel to replace the old one, D'Angelo said. While there is a historic marker on the road at the site, no one has ever looked on the land to see if there is any evidence of the fort remaining.

D'Angelo speculated that the new fort, which was bigger, was built around the old one.

Today's search will be limited to .8 acres of an area that has been plowed in the past. Archaeologists will dig up artifacts that are detected in that zone and D'Angelo said they should know by the end of the day whether the findings were fruitful.

"It seemed like it's now or never," he said of the project. "If we weren't doing this, the land would be sold and developed."

Students at nearby Fort Daniel Elementary School have been excited about the search, he said, and could be invited to participate in future searches if anything materializes.

D'Angelo said there were about 300 forts in Georgia between frontier days and the Civil War. Nothing is known about the size or shape of this one, but he said new details about it could provide more information about the area's history.

Oftentimes, forts like Fort Daniel are only of interest to local residents, he said. But bigger ones, like Fort Sumter, become larger parts of the nation's common history and draw people who want to feel closer to the past.

"They become places where tourists go because they're tangible reflections of our past," he said. "It's something for Gwinnett to be proud of."