Residents start grass-roots campaign to honor Maple Leaf

Residents start grass-roots campaign to honor Maple Leaf
Dr. Keith Holland with Mandarin Middle School History Teacher Khaki Hager and Mandarin Middle School Principal Moses Williams

Two Ortega Forest residents have started a grass-roots effort to recover artifacts from a Civil War ship in the St. Johns River.

Dr. Keith Holland, who located the Maple Leaf 120 years after it hit an underground mine and sank near Mandarin Point on April 1, 1864, had assembled a team in 1984 to recover the Army transport ship’s artifacts, but said they were only able to bring up a very small portion.

In addition to military equipment from three U.S. Army Infantry regiments, the Maple Leaf wreckage contained thousands of personal possessions of its soldiers, including eyeglasses, pocket watches, smoking pipes, musical instruments and personal care items like toothbrushes and combs. Also found on board were a variety of household items such as dishes and candlestick holders believed to have been looted from Confederate homes.

Katherine “Khaki” Hager, an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at Mandarin Middle School, has also become passionate about the Maple Leaf and, together with Holland, is leading a charge with local and state officials to incorporate the ship and its artifacts in a museum.

‘Dr. Holland and I met with Congressman John Rutherford’s office this summer in Washington, D.C., to see how Maple Leaf might ‘fit in’ with the Jacksonville Naval Historic Ship Association, the group responsible for bringing the USS Adams to Jacksonville,” she said. “We will be meeting with Congressman Rutherford this fall in Jacksonville. We have also sent out many letters, hoping to revitalize the ship’s memory and its National Historic Landmark designation. We started with Shad Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars, because we believe a Maple Leaf Maritime Museum would fit in nicely with Mr. Khan’s Iguana Company development on the St. Johns River. 

Hager is getting youth involved as well. She invited Holland to the Mandarin Middle School’s “Welcome Back to School Assembly” on Aug. 17 and he presented facts about the Civil War, the history and purpose of Maple Leaf, how the ship sank, and his dive team’s efforts to recover the ship’s artifacts. “The students learned how Dr. Holland used math, science, history, research, and perseverance to locate the 1864 Civil War Maple Leaf shipwreck in the St. Johns River off Mandarin Point,” said Hager.

The next day, Aug. 18, Mandarin Middle School students and their families visited the Mandarin Museum for extra credit to meet the Maple Leaf divers and view some of the recovered artifacts on display. 

“While some Mandarin residents knew about the famous shipwreck, a 1994 Dept. of Interior National Historic Landmark, others ‘confessed’ they had lived in Mandarin all their lives and never heard of it,” said Hager. “They were so enthusiastic and thanked us for enlightening them.” Several students expressed that they would like to be a part of the generation that finds a way to recover the remaining 99.9 percent of Maple Leaf’s Civil War artifacts, still sitting in the St. Johns River, only 20 feet down, in excellent condition, she said.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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