The story of Evergreen Cemetery
Evergreen Cemetery’s main gate off Main Street.
Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1880 by a group of local businessmen and philanthropists hoping to create a “necropolis,” a city of the dead, which would have space for anyone in the city. Jacksonville’s earlier cemeteries, like those in most of the country, were located in the urban areas, often associated with particular churches or family plots. Evergreen, by contrast, was part of the rural cemetery movement, which sought to create larger spaces outside the city limits.
The Evergreen Cemetery Association acquired a total of 180 acres. Parts of the property were sold off or donated to particular religious groups with their own burial rites, notably the Catholic St. Mary’s Cemetery and Jewish cemeteries. Additionally, Mount Olive Cemetery was carved out for African Americans and another parcel was given to the City of Jacksonville for a potters field, while other sections were set aside for members of social groups like the Freemasons, Woodmen of the World, and the Odd Fellows. Most of these sections have since been reintegrated into Evergreen Cemetery.
Photo by Katie Delaney.
Since the first burial in 1881, Evergreen Cemetery has been the final resting place of Jaxsons from every imaginable walk of life. Virtually every ethnic and religious group in Jacksonville is represented in the cemetery. It contains the graves of 14 Jacksonville mayors, five governors of Florida, four U.S. senators, and numerous other political and social leaders – even the city’s founder, Isaiah Hart, is here. There are also the plain folks, everyday people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
Today, Evergreen contains more than 80,000 graves, and is the oldest cemetery in Jacksonville still in active use for interment. According to Michael Ondina, the cemetery’s manager, the 167 acre cemetery still has space to operate for another 100 years.
It’s been said that the history of a city is written upon its tombstones. For Jacksonville, Evergreen Cemetery is a veritable Library of Alexandria. Below are a few of the individuals and sites you can visit at Evergreen Cemetery, representatives of 14 decades of Jacksonville history.
The Flame of Freedom. Photo by Katie Delaney.
Just inside the main gate is a space dedicated to American veterans. One monument was placed in 2014 in honor of Navy sailors and Marines. Another, placed 2019, is dedicated to the servicemen killed in the Beirut barracks bombing on October 23, 1983. The site also contains a markers for local servicemen killed in the Iraq War, a flagpole, and the Flame of Freedom. The latter was donated to the City of Jacksonville by the American Legion in 1969, and dedicated to all U.S. veterans. It originally stood in front of the old Duval County Courthouse on Bay Street downtown, but after the Courthouse moved to its current building in 2012, the flame and the space around it fell into disrepair. In 2014, Evergreen Cemetery offered to take and maintain it at their own expense.
Carillon tower and mausoleum
One of the most striking features of Evergreen Cemetery is its 96 foot tall carillon tower. Construction started on the tower and mausoleum complex in 1956 and completed in 1978. The tower’s Westminster chimes and horns were a gift of Thelma and Fay Johnson in memory of their daughter, Jill Joyce Johnson, who died in 1939 at the age of 7. The mausoleum contains over 2,000 above-ground crypts and niches for cremated remains, plus five private rooms and a chapel at the base of the tower. Known as the garden cloister mausoleum, the complex is a unique feature that can’t be found elsewhere in Northeast Florida.
James Harvey Tomb and the CSS David monument
James Harvey Tomb Jr. (died May 5, 1905) was a sailor in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. In 1863, he served in Charleston Harbor aboard the CSS David, a Confederate torpedo boat – essentially a small, steam-powered submarine with a spire on the bow used for ramming explosives into an enemy ship. On October 5, 1863, the David nearly sank the USS New Ironsides, a U.S. Navy ironclad. Upon his death, Tomb had this monument installed; it is dedicated to his shipmates on the David. He is one of the many Confederate and Union veterans buried within Evergreen Cemetery.
Photo by Katie Delaney.
Cora Crane (July 12, 1868 – September 5, 1910) was one of the most interesting people in Jacksonville history. An adventurous socialite born Cora Ethel Eaton Howarth, she moved to Jacksonville in the 1890s where she owned the Hotel de Dreme, the most prestigious brothel in the city’s red light district. In 1896, she met the writer Stephen Crane, author of the famous novel The Red Badge of Courage, and the two became lovers; ultimately she adopted his last name.
Crane had intended to go to Cuba to cover the Cuban independence movement, but his ship sank on the way; this experience became the basis for his well known story “The Open Boat.” When Crane headed for Europe, Cora joined him. She launched her own writing career and in 1897, she became one of the first known female war correspondents while covering the Greco-Turkish War. Upon Stephen’s death in 1900, Cora returned to Jacksonville, where she opened more high end brothels and continued her writing.
Confederate Colonel J.J. Dickison
Photo by Katie Delaney.
Another of the many Civil War veterans buried in Evergreen, John Jackson Dickison (March 27, 1816 – August 20, 1902) was a Confederate cavalry officer who operated in the wilderness of Northeast Florida. His most significant engagement was the Battle of Horse Landing on the St. Johns River south of Palatka. There, Dickison and his men surprised and captured the Union gunboat Columbine in one of the only instances in which a cavalry unit captured a gunboat.
After the war, Dickison served in the Confederate veterans’ association. He was formerly memorialized in a bas relief on the Confederate monument in James Weldon Johnson Park, until the Confederate imagery was removed in June 2020.
Henry John Klutho, architect
Henry John Klutho (1873 – 1964) was one of the most significant architects in Jacksonville history. He moved to the city following the Great Fire of 1901 to help rebuild its destroyed downtown. Working in the Prairie School style, he designed many of Downtown Jacksonville’s new buildings, including the St. James Building (now City Hall), the Dyal-Upchurch Building, both towers of the Laura Street Trio, the Florida Baptist Building, and the Morocco Temple. He also designed buildings in Riverside, Avondale and Springfield, where he lived.
By the mid-20th century, Klutho’s style was out of fashion and many of his buildings were demolished or remodeled. He died poor and largely unappreciated at the age of 91, as evinced by his modest grave marker. In the 1970s, architects and preservationists led a reappraisal of Klutho’s work; since then, has received his due as Jacksonville’s foremost early architect, and many of his buildings have been preserved.
The Coleman family and the “Coleman Angel”
Photo by Katie Delaney.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Coleman family were prominent citizens of the Westside town of Baldwin, owning the general store as well as the Coleman House in Downtown Baldwin. According to family lore, in 1908, Ida Clark (nee Coleman) ordered a stone angel very much like the present one from Italy to mark the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery. In 1912 it was sent over via ship; unfortunately, that ship was the Titanic. The current angel is a replica sent over in 1914 to replace the one that remains on the Titanic.
This isn’t Evergreen Cemetery’s only Titanic story. Reverend R.J. Bateman died in the wreck; his grave and a cenotaph to him are in the western part of the cemetery. Additionally, Lebanese siblings Jamelia and Elias Yarred (later known as Amelia Garrett Isaac and Louis Garrett; more on them in a moment) survived the sinking and were buried here upon their deaths.
Next page: More graves at Evergreen Cemetery