Volunteers help cleanup historic Archer cemetery
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - A long forgotten historic cemetery is being restored.
The cemetery in Archer is getting a makeover from volunteers and there are plans there are to learn more about its history in the near future.
Established around 1875 by freed slaves the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church was adjacent to a cemetery that has been nominated as one of Florida’s 11 historic sites needing to be saved.
Melissa Wyllie is the CEO of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation who helped set up the cleanup and placed the cemetery on it's 11 to save list.
“Florida’s 11 to save is the list of the most endangered historic resources in the state and it’s nominated by the public,” she said. “So the public here in this community said this is a historic resource and they need our help to preserve it.”
Public Archaeologist Nigel Rudolph has visited the site to document and clean previously and says there’s plenty of lost history to be discovered and saved.
“This is an African American cemetery so this has been a part of this community as a final resting place for the descendants of the people who still live in this area. We look at historic cemeteries as outdoor museums, a direct reflection of the people who still live in this community.”
A group of volunteers came to help clear the area of debris and carefully clean headstones as a precursor to a more extensive project funded by a $25,000 dollar grant from the State of Florida Division of Historical Resources via the University of Florida to research and document the cemeteries lost history.
“Creating a management plan, doing further documentation of the cemetery using ground-penetrating radar, doing what we call photogrammetry which is basically taking 3D images of the entire cemetery,” explained Rudolph. “Massive historical research of all kinds with different kinds of components starting probably in September.”
“There’s so much more to what happened in this space and a lot of that is probably because the markers were wooden and in Florida, those won’t last so there’s even more to the story here,” Wylie added.
It’s estimated there are more than 80 unmarked graves to be documented says Rudolph, with many being the final resting place of former slaves from the nearby Cottonwood and Haile plantations.
“Throughout the state, there has been systemic erasure of historic cemeteries, particularly African American cemeteries. Purposeful erasure of these sacred places and getting folks out here to do the cleanup process helps stymie that.”
The church originally located next to the cemetery has since been demolished and all its historical records lost.
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