Disgraced & Desecrated: Disturbed Urban Cemeteries

March 11, 2018

Five sites in and around Downtown Jacksonville are built over old public burial grounds. Apparently local developers have never seen Poltergeist.



Old City Burying Grounds



During the early 2000s, the Parks at the Cathedral townhomes at 256 East Church Street were one of the first new infill projects to be constructed in the downtown core. However, during the project's development, JEA contractors discovered 150-year-old human remains on the site while working on underground utilities. It was determined that the development site was once part of the Old City Burying Grounds, Jacksonville's oldest documented public cemetery. Just north of the St. Johns Cathedral, one of the oldest congregations in the city, burials took place here prior to the establishment of Old City Cemetery in 1852. It was inaccurately long believed that all of the bodies buried here were relocated in 1859.








Old Mount Herman Cemetery


The tomb of Thompson Williams is incorporated into the sidewalk of a public street developed over what was initially Mount Herman Cemetery.

A large cemetery for Jacksonville's black citizens that dated back to at least the 1880s, Mount Herman Cemetery  was located between Sugar Hill and the former Seaboard Air Line Railroad (S-Line Urban Greenway). By the time E.J. and Mary E L'Engle donated the cemetery to the City of Jacksonville in 1941, it had become a large overgrown, weed filled field surrounding a small Hogans Creek tributary. In 1953, much of the forgotten cemetery was revamped into a park. In 1964, what is now the Mount Herman Exceptional Student Center, as built on the northern portion of the old cemetery.


A 1938 plat map of Jacksonville illustrating the location of Mount Herman Cemetery. Image courtesy of the Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department.

During this era, most of the cemetery's grave markers were removed, deteriorated or had been stolen. Today, only a few graves are easily identifiable.  The handful of remaining graves with headstones includes to tomb of Thompson Williams. It was preserved and incorporated into the street built around it because he was a black man who had given his life in 1908 to save a white woman.


A 1943 aerial of an overgrown Old Mount Herman Cemetery. Historic aerial photography courtesy of the University of Florida Digital Collections.


A 2017 Google Earth aerial of Emmett Reed Park. During the 1950s, the cemetery was converted into a public park and community center.

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