By Brett Nolan

Last month, we learned about the last voyage of the Union steamship “Maple Leaf.” For nearly 125 years, the “Maple Leaf” was just a story lingering in the depths of Father Time’s mind.

By 1984, Dr. Keith Holland, a local Jacksonville dentist, and the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc., located what was left of the “Maple Leaf,” confirming the contents inside the vessel’s hull in near excellent condition. With the technology of yesteryear, Holland used navigational river charts from 1884 and layered them with modern day maps. He was able to use his findings to begin years of legal negotiations — including filing a lawsuit against the United States — finally receiving access into the ship’s muddy hull.

Memorial Emergency Mandarin

Beneath the pitch-black, tannin river water, lights were useless. Divers could not see their hands in front of them. While not even 30 feet below the surface, diving to the boat was not a hard task, but scary would be an understatement. They were the first human contact the ship had longed for since the Union boots paraded her decks to and fro, loading the 800,000 pounds of luggage in preparation for her terminal voyage. By 1994, the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. concluded expeditions to the wreckage and the site received National Historic Landmark status. By then, more than 6,500 artifacts had been excavated from the muck; however, this representative sample was only a mere 0.01 percent of what was in the cargo hold.

The tragedy of the Union Transport Ship “Maple Leaf,” though small in the scheme of the battle amid the North and South, paints a picture of the cultural significance behind the life of a soldier during the Civil War. It tells the stories of men who have lost their voices to history, those who never wrote letters or journals — but the contents in their trunks talked to us. The artifacts detail what troops valued enough to take with them on the battlefield, things looted out of abandoned plantation homes — fine china, window panes, door knobs — even seashells collected along the shore of Folly Island to take home to their families as souvenirs (some never imagined traveling that far south had it not been for the call for service). Ambrotypes depicting loved ones, musical instruments, ceremonial military items, pipes and buttons — thousands of things still sit in the river waiting for their chance to see the light again. The “Maple Leaf” provides a world of cultural artifacts that are imperative to understanding the history of one of the darkest times in America.

You can view about 70 of these recovered “Maple Leaf” artifacts on any Saturday at the Mandarin Museum in Walter Jones Historical Park, 11964 Mandarin Road. And, you may actually meet and talk with Dr. Holland and his team of divers on the third Saturday of most months from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit for more information about Mandarin’s history and schedules.


Photo courtesy of Keith Holland.

Lee Manley and Keith Holland examining a recovered “Maple Leaf” artifact.


  • HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin, call to schedule your virtual tour
  • Pavers concrete and more Free estimates
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • Nautilus Behavior Health Let us help you and your family be at your best
  • Nemour's Childrens's Specialty
  • Quality Eye care 25+ years of experience
  • DIscount up to 30% Jim Register state farm agent
  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Academy of Dance
  • Affordable Water
  • Baptist Medical Center South
  • Episcopal Church of Our Savior
  • Irritated Eyes? Your not alone its allergy season! Schedule an appointment with clayeye for some relief!
  • Vote for Dr. Erick Aguilar Republican candidate U.S. House Fl 4th district
  • Nemetz dental associates
  • Havana Printing and office supply Call us today for all your cutome printing needs
  • Smart Choice Medical healthcare membership! No VoPay, No Deductibles, No Hassles
  • Memorial Emergency Mandarin
  • Mint cleaning tips for a clean virus free fresh home
  • George R. Hentshcel CPA, P.A. Taxes, Accounting, & Consulting
  • Railing Chiropractic & Acupuncture
  • Let them know you are open for business! Advertise in our may issue!
  • Luxury living and compassionate care come together at starling. Welcome Home.
  • Tousel and tease beuaty parlor! family friendly walk-ins welcome
  • Mandarin Garden Club Annual Plant Sale
  • Support community journalism! Subscribe to the Mandarin Newsline today!
  • The Windsor Senior living facility
  • Westminster Woods on Julington creek. Live well. Be Happy
  • Ackerman Cancer center, Leaders in proton therapy
  • Elder Source for senior and care giver resources
  • Future home loans. North Florida's Premier Mortgage Expert Ryan Proffitt
  • New! Camp Yalla Summer Camp grades 7-9
  • Alive Credit Union Start banking healthier today!
  • Clara's Tidbits Now in Mandarin!
  • Brian E. Floro DMD, PA Dental services
  • JR Dental General, Specialty, Dental Lab
  • JR Dental General, Specialty and Dental lab
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021