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Case Studies

Preservation and Protection of Historic Cemeteries in Florida.

Historica cemeteries site

The following case studies are examples of Florida cemeteries that had diverse problems threaten their historical integrity. The concerns of each were resolved by different methods, but all were successful in securing preservation and protection.

Huguenot Cemetery, St. Augustine

A municipal cemetery established in 1821 for the burial of yellow fever victims and non-Catholics; owned by the Presbyterian Church since 1832, clean-up and restoration efforts by concerned citizens (1946) and the City of St. Augustine (1951); Cemetery Restoration Committee of Memorial Presbyterian Church formed in 1989, members documented gravemarkers, obtained historic preservation grant for preservation plan, began restoration efforts; Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Organization has continued restoration, published history, developed tours of cemetery for visitors.

Historical Summary: The Huguenot Cemetery was established soon after Florida became a U. S. territory. The cemetery, located just outside St. Augustine's north gate, was first used for the interment of victims of the 1821 yellow fever epidemic and then for the burial of members of city's Protestant population. The cemetery property was acquired by the Rev. Thomas Alexander and then sold to the Presbyterian Church in 1832. By the late 19th century, over-crowding of graves, and the resulting concerns for sanitation and public health, required that the small public and religious burying grounds in St. Augustine be closed. New cemeteries, such as San Lorenzo and Evergreen, were subsequently opened to parishioners and the public.

The Huguenot Cemetery is significant because it was the first cemetery in St. Augustine dedicated for Anglo-American civilians. The burial traditions and funerary materials expressed at Huguenot, compared with the nearby Tolomato Cemetery (established by the Catholic Church in 1777), demonstrate both the differences and commonalties in funerary practices and religious attitudes of two distinct groups residing in 19th century St. Augustine. The gravemarkers at Huguenot Cemetery display a range of funerary art popular in the 19th century, including false box tombs with inscribed ledgers and finely carved headstones by highly skilled stone carvers in vogue during the 1820s-40s, and the more elaborate monuments that were favored during the Victorian period. The work of several important stone carvers in the southeastern United States has been identified at the cemetery, including Thomas Walker and members of the White family who had shops in Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.

The Concerns: The Presbyterian Church has owned the Huguenot Cemetery since 1832. After the cemetery was closed to burials in 1884, the church continued maintenance of the grounds, and some efforts of restoration were made in 1946 and again in 1951. However, it eventually became necessary to keep the entrance gates locked and restrict visitation to the site. While the burial site was relatively secure from vandalism and theft, natural weathering and deterioration of the markers continued.

The Response: In 1989 the Cemetery Restoration Committee of Memorial Presbyterian Church was formed. It initiated a program to document the Huguenot Cemetery's gravemarkers and research genealogical information about those who are buried there. In 1990, participants in the Preservation Institute: Caribbean made measured drawings of the more significant gravestones and box tombs at the cemetery. In 1991-92 the Restoration Committee was successful in obtaining a survey & planning grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources to develop a master preservation plan for the cemetery. The Plan's recommendations were adopted by the Committee and, as funds could be raised, work began on those funerary markers determined to have a high priority for restoration. The Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery was formed, and the organization published Sacred to the Memory: A History of the Huguenot Cemetery, 1821-1884, St. Augustine, Florida in 1998. The cemetery is located in a high-traffic area between the Visitors Information Center and the Old City Gate to St. Augustine's historic St. George Street. To prevent the one-half acre site from being negatively impacted by large numbers of visitors, members of the Friends group give guided tours of the cemetery at specified times of the week. The resident and contact person for Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery is Charles Tingley, who can be reached at the St. Augustine Historical Society's Research Library, 904.825.2333.

Rosemary Cemetery, Sarasota

Rosemary cemetery sitePrivate cemetery established in 1886, turned over to the City of Sarasota as a municipal cemetery in 1903. Members of historical and preservation organizations took action to cleanup the cemetery in the 1980s; the organization raised some funds for initial work, later private funding was obtained through a local trust for restoration of markers by professional conservators. Archaeology students at New College documented the grave markers; the Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Historical Summary: Rosemary Cemetery was privately owned from the time it was established in 1886 until 1903, when it was deeded to the town of Sarasota. It was used by most of Sarasota's population until 1925, when a public cemetery was established in the nearby town of Oneco. Although that new memorial park became a more popular cemetery for many Sarasotans, Rosemary Cemetery remained an active cemetery and occasional burials still take place there.

Rosemary Cemetery is significant because it is the final resting place for many of the town's pioneers, and its gravemarkers and attendant funerary art and architecture reflect the community's social history. The collection of markers also demonstrates the various styles and materials used to commemorate the dead in the central Gulf Coast region of Florida during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of particular interest are a variety of hand-cast concrete markers and a small number of early 20th century marble markers with designs influenced by the late Victorian period. The cemetery's original plan was centered around a pergola contributed to the community by Mrs. Potter Palmer.

The Concerns: Over the years, as families of those buried at Rosemary Cemetery moved away or died, and as public interest in the cemetery declined, the site became over-grown with vegetation and was sometimes used as a dump for the surrounding neighborhood. A number of the gravemarkers deteriorated because of natural weathering.

The Response: In 1983 a group of concerned citizens from local civic and preservation organizations began a campaign to clean up the cemetery. The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation formed a committee to address the special needs of Rosemary Cemetery. The Alliance's accomplishments included installing a sprinkler system, planting a row of oak trees along one side of the cemetery, placement of entrance gate posts for the center drive, and restoration of the pergola. In 1990 and 1991, the Alliance funded studies that made preservation recommendations for the cemetery. A private trust offered funds for a restoration program that would be supervised by the Sarasota Historical Society; since 1999, resetting and restoration of markers is done on a periodic schedule. In addition, Rosemary Cemetery has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places and archaeology students at Sarasota's New College have completed a grave-by-grave survey of the site. Rosemary Cemetery borders on the city's arts and cultural district, and is a significant area of green space within its revitalized neighborhood.

Greenwood Cemetery, Tallahassee

Established by a private cemetery company in 1937, Greenwood Cemetery was very important to Tallahassee's African American community for several decades. After the original members of the cemetery company passed away, there was little maintenance of the sit. In 1985 a large group of volunteers cleaned up the cemetery and met certain conditions so that the City's public works department could take over management of the site. The John G. Riley House and Center for African American History, a local museum group, sponsored the work required for the cemetery to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and developed commemorative booklets and self-guided tour brochures.

Historical Summary: In 1829 the Florida Territorial Council established an official burying ground near what was then the western boundary of Tallahassee. The cemetery was purchased in 1841 by the City of Tallahassee, which established an ordinance regulating burials at the site. It was determined that "all Negroes and persons of color" would be buried in an area "designated by a partition fence." The eastern half of the cemetery was used for burials of persons of African descent until 1936, when the city decided to close the Negro section of the old cemetery and to curtail the sale of grave lots in the "colored section of [nearby] Oakland Cemetery." Although the city tried to establish a new cemetery for African Americans, the community objected to the location.

In March 1937 members of Tallahassee's black community founded the Greenwood Cemetery Company "to acquire land so as to provide a burial place for the dead of the colored race near Tallahassee in Leon County." The company purchased ten acres of land on Old Bainbridge Road and burials began soon after the cemetery was established. In 1942 a plat of the site was approved, with the streets, driveways and paths dedicated as public rights-of-way. Over the years the cemetery property was increased to 16 acres. Greenwood Cemetery exhibits a rich diversity of gravemarkers and burial traditions that reflect the social structure of Tallahassee's African American community.

The Concerns: When the cemetery company sold burial spaces it was with the understanding that families and friends of the deceased would maintain the plots. However, over the years descendants moved away, ceased to care for the gravesites, or themselves passed on. Although burials continued, Greenwood began to look neglected and abandoned. Some individual plots were cared for, but much of the sixteen acres was not maintained. Vegetation was uncontrolled, with tall grasses and shrubs hiding graves from view. Many of the graves subsided, leaving gaping holes in the ground; wood markers rotted away and other markers were slowly covered by debris and earth. After all of the founders of the cemetery company passed away, the only continuity provided for the facility was the daughter of one of the founders. She continued to sell lots and manage her father's undertaking business.

The Response: In 1985 a group of citizens met to express their concern about the deterioration of the cemetery. This resulted in formation of the Greenwood Foundation, whose purpose was to restore the cemetery to a safe and respectable condition. One of the first actions the organization took was to raise funds to hire a lawn company to mow and trim the cemetery. In 1986 it was determined that Greenwood was the only private cemetery in Tallahassee that had streets deeded to the public. The City Commission voted to "accept responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the streets and drainage facilities," and requested that Greenwood Foundation provide perpetual care for the site. It was later agreed that the City would take over operation of the cemetery after the Greenwood Foundation and community volunteers cleaned and landscaped the site, brought its physical condition to the level required by the Public Works Department, and raised funds to clear a densely wooded area in the cemetery.

In May 1987 approximately 200 volunteers responded to a request for help in cleaning the cemetery. Several other cleanup days were held during the summer months. During this same time a history of the cemetery was researched and written and, under the guidance of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, volunteers conducted a survey of gravemarkers. By the end of September the entire cemetery was well maintained and ready for acquisition by the City. A rededication of Greenwood Cemetery was held on October 10, 1987. Since then, the John G. Riley House Museum and Center for African American History organized an anniversary celebration of the Cemetery's revitalization in 1997, and Greenwood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. A commemorative booklet and self-guided tour brochure were produced for the occasion.