Portavant Temple Mound at Emerson Point Preserve

Visit the largest temple mound in the Tampa Bay area, overlooking the scenic Manatee River. This place has witnessed extensive human use for over 4500 years. The most striking evidence is the 1200 year old temple mound and surrounding village middens.

Emerson Point has a special location at the mouth of the Manatee River where it meets Lower Tampa Bay. Explore the preserve's unique history and wander the shady trails through the tropical hammock. This 365 acre state-owned, county-managed preserve is located at the west end of Snead Island, west of Palmetto in Manatee County, Florida. Visitors can take in the beauty of Florida's wildlife and native plant communities while exploring both prehistoric and historic sites. Historical resources include the Portavant Temple Mound, southwest Florida's largest Native American Temple Mound, and the surrounding midden complex. 

The Portavant Mound (or Snead Island Temple Mound) is one of fifteen or more "temple mounds" produced by the Safety Harbor culture (900-1725) found in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. The mound is four meters high, measures 45 m by 75 m at the base, and has a flat top that is 24 m by 46 m. Unlike other "temple mounds" around the Tampa Bay area, the Portavant Mound does not have a ramp to the top of the mound. There is a lower (one m high) platform, about 30 m by 30 m, that abuts the main mound. The Portavant Mound was made from soil mixed with debris from middens. Several other mounds, also consisting of soil mixed with midden debris, are near the "temple mound".[1]

Interpretive signs describe the lifeways of ancient inhabitants as well as subsequent Florida pioneers. Several historic home sites, occupied from the late 1800s to the 1960s, can be found along the Pioneer and restoration trails, including one site located on top of the Temple Mound. The Preserve contains a variety of native ecosystems including beaches, lagoons, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, extensive underwater grass flats, tropical hardwood hammocks, coastal strands, and upland wooded areas.


Emerson Point mound trail by Glen Hastings and eckotours.com

Indigenous people referred to as the "Tocobaga" are the most likely builders of the temple mound. They were part of the Safety Harbor Culture which encompassed the coastal zones around Tampa Bay. Discarding their refuse of shells, fish and animal bone, as well as broken pottery and tools, the people created mounds called "middens". They lived upon the middens in palm-thatched dwellings. At some point around AD800, they began to build the temple mound with midden materials and layers of sand. Its height and position on the narrow island gave a strategic vantage point for the chief's house and likely a ceremonial mound-top plaza. Religious ceremonies would be observed by the villagers below. Periodically, these ritual and chiefly structures would be burned down, and capped off with new layers of midden material and sand. As new structures were built and then burned, the temple mound grew to become one of the tallest around the bay. 

At Emerson Point, some smaller mounds near the temple mound were intentionally formed in shapes. Though not as clearly defined as other effigy mounds in the southeastern United States, this formation of shaped middens is unique among the dozen or more Tocobaga/Safety Harbor cultural sites around Tampa Bay. Coastal erosion, modern day usages, and time have made the shapes less obvious, but at one time there were serpent and bird shaped mounds right along the river edge. The ceremonial complex and village at Emerson Point was likely on the decline and all but abandoned when Hernando de Soto's expedition arrived in the Tampa area. It is unknown if this site is one of the places recorded in the expedition's journals. Archaeological evidence suggests the site's builders were already integrated into another culture or had moved on to a different location by the early 1500s. 

Emerson Point observation tower view by Dotty Motta

Emerson Point Preserve provides numerous recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, bird and animal watching. The network of shell trails, boardwalks, and paved bike lane provides six miles of natural beauty. Other features include an observation tower, a canoe launch, and four picnic pavilions. Gumbo limbo trees, centuries-old live oaks, strangler figs, wild coffee, and mangrove trees are a few of the plants you will see along the trails. Animals found in the Preserve include raccoon, fox, gopher tortoise, osprey, anhinga, wood stork, and roseate spoonbill, while the surrounding estuarine waters abound in sea life. A Welcome/Ranger Station is open Friday and Saturday for visitors to the preserve. Multi-use trails and boardwalks are aligned so that the natural habitat and cultural resources will be protected. There are two small picnic shelters available for small gatherings. There is also a large ten table picnic shelter available for rental/reservation. A canoe/kayak launch allows access to the tidal canals and Terra Ceia Bay.



5801 17th Street West
Palmetto, FL 34221
PHONE: (941) 721-6885
HOURS: Open Daily, see the PRESERVE WEBSITE for more information

Recreational uses on the property, includes the following elements:
Hiking and nature trails
Kayak/canoeing trails and launch
Environmental education
Non-motorized bicycle trails
Managed fishing
Picnic areas (two large and two small pavilions)
Wildlife viewing areas
Observation tower

page information credit: Manatee County Parks & Recreation, Florida Department of Historical Resources,
([1]Luer, George M.; Marion M. Almy (September 1981). "Temple Mounds of the Tampa Bay Area". The Florida Anthropologist. 34 (3): 128, 134. Retrieved 20 April 2012.)

photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors