Gainesville’s Historic Evergreen Cemetery: An Oral History from City of Gainesville, Florida on Vimeo, courtesy of Aqueous Films.
History of Evergreen Cemetery and the Evergreen Cemetery Association
n February of 1856, the ground now known as Evergreen Cemetery received its first burial from the newly named community of Gainesville, Florida. The infant daughter of a well-to-do cotton merchant and landowner James Tilatha Thomas and his first wife, Elizabeth Jane Hall Thomas, died at the age of 10 days. They laid her to rest in a place of serene natural beauty beneath a young cedar tree, roughly in the center of vast acreage owned by Thomas that extended from Boulware Springs north to present-day Depot Avenue. Eight months later, in October 1856, Elizabeth died at the age of 40 years and Thomas buried her in the same grave as their infant daughter. Thus, the grave is a double grave, and is marked by a rare and elegantly simple headstone carved by W.A. White, a well-known stonemason from Charleston.
In 1866, Thomas sold the entire parcel of 720 acres to Watson Porter and William K. Cessna for $6000, reserving roughly one acre around the double grave for a graveyard that remained in his name until his death in 1877, when it passed to his heirs – two sons and a daughter (by his the deceased second wife, Sarah) and his third wife, Annie Maria Clark Thomas, who survived him.
At some time prior to 1888, the original Evergreen Cemetery Association was formed and in that year Jesse H. and Rebecca P. Goss, having acquired land from Porter and Cessna, deeded to the Association four acres already in use for burials, which immediately adjoined the original Thomas acre, plus an additional 30 unused adjoining acres. In 1890, the heirs of James T. Thomas signed a deed dated March 2 (filed April 20), 1900 covering the sale of the one-acre that had been reserved as a graveyard by the late Mr. Thomas to the Evergreen Cemetery Association for the sum of $1.
From that time forward to 1944, the Evergreen Cemetery Association and Cemetery were privately operated by a group of singularly devoted members of old Gainesville families who lovingly cared for it until they were unable to do so. Outstanding among these members of the Lafontisee, Kincaid, Warner, McClellan, Stringfellow, Wilson, Harper, Thomas and Saunders families. The person who stands out as the most significant organizer and supporter of the original Association is Mrs. Mary Glen Kincaid Warner (Mrs.Frank D.) who was well-known as “Miss Mamie Warner.” Her steadfast determination to keep it functioning is a model of volunteerism, and she ran the Association as if the Cemetery was her own private property. She and Mr. Ed Pons, the longtime caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery made an excellent management and operational team. When Miss Mamie was 79 and could no longer run the Cemetery, she prevailed upon State Senator Dr. James Dell and lawyer Thomas Fielding to negotiate its sale to the City of Gainesville. On May 11, 1944, the Association sold the Cemetery for $1.00, and the City has managed it since.
In the early 1990s, financial considerations caused the City Commission to consider the sale of Evergreen Cemetery to private interests. Following a public hearing on the matter in January 1994 and a vocal dissent by members of the community, the Commission decided that the City would maintain ownership of the Cemetery, and appointed, for the period not to exceed one year, a seven-member Evergreen Advisory Committee to provide guidance in a number of areas, including historical, cultural, financial and operational matters.
As part of this process, the Advisory Committee (Thomas H. Fay, Katherine E. Macdonald, Marcus A. Milam, IV, Dorothy Hampton, Elmo Beville, Lucille C. George and James G. Richardson) met weekly from March 1994 through March 1995 with Pamela Ganley, the City of Gainesville’s Evergreen Cemetery Coordinator. As a result, it prepared and the City Commission approved the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for the re-established Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville, Inc. which were filed on October 18, 1994.
Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville, Inc. received 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Code as a non-profit organization, in order to render donations tax-deductible. All donations are used directly for Evergreen Cemetery enhancement and furthering its place as one of our region’s most significant historic sites. Membership in the Association is open to all interested persons. Currently, membership includes approximately 100 members/families. Various levels of dues have been established so that those who wish may assist in maintaining the financial stability of the Association and the Cemetery.