F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epitaph was the last line of the The Great Gatsby. One of America’s great writers, his final resting place is in a historic cemetery in Maryland surrounded by high rises, strip malls and near a highway.
Individuals and groups from around the state are working hard to protect Florida’s historic cemeteries and keep them from the inappropriate development that mars Fitzgerald’s final resting place. Florida contains a tremendous diversity of historic cemeteries, and these outdoor museums provide symbols and clues to people lost to history and the reality of their lives.
Cemeteries are a catalyst for empathy and awareness for the people who came before us. Here are three ways you can take part in caring for a historic cemetery near you.
1. Explore a historic cemetery near you
Experiencing these historic resources is a first step in conservation. The beauty of cemeteries is they don’t just tell the stories of the rich and the powerful, or the winning side of history. In each historic cemetery a variety of stories are told.
Look for symbolism – a stone lamb on a grave often symbolizes the loss of a child and reflects Christian beliefs. Laurel leaves on a headstone represent victory, eternity, immortality and chastity. Seen in ancient time as a symbol of victory, a laurel wreath can symbolize victory over death. Obelisks are representative of a ray of sunshine, draw the eye toward heaven and thus speak of life after death. There are many good handbooks on grave stone symbolism. Here’s a quick online reference.
There is much a historic cemetery can tell you about the culture and the people who once lived there. See if you can find the oldest marker in the cemetery. What was going on in American History at this time? YOur cemetery will tell the stories of wars, disease outbreaks and local tragedies.
Look closer. African American burial traditions can include leaving shells and broken plates and bottles on a grave. The story of segregation can be told through segregated cemeteries. The tale of social standing can also be told. Look for segments of the cemetery that don’t appear to have markers. Are there dips in the ground? Most historic cemeteries have unmarked graves which may have been part of a potter’s field, where the poor or indigenous were buried. Or the empty spaces may have been graves originally marked with wooden markers since lost.
2. Participate in the 2017 Cemetery Dash
Check in on your neighborhood cemetery this month! How do things look? Is there damage from Hurricane Irma? Are the grounds well maintained? Find a site and make a report. It’s easy!
3. Work to preserve the cemetery for the future
Check if your cemetery is listed on the Florida Master Site File. If it is, you can file an update on the status of the site. If it isn’t, adding it to the Master Site File officially adds the cemetery to Florida’s historical record. The Guide to the Historical Cemetery Form, as well as the Historical Cemetery Florida Master Site File form is available online.
This year I’ve been working to add my historic family cemetery in Holmes County to the Florida Master Site File. It’s been wonderful to work with family members, review our history and know that the location of this rural cemetery will be recorded into the future.
Cemetery ownership and maintenance can be a complex issue. If you’d like to do more for your local cemetery a good first step is to contact the Florida Public Archaeology Network. They offer Cemetery Resource Protection Training around the state.
Quick guidelines for working to preserve a historic cemetery:
Know the laws – There are specific state and federal protections for cemeteries and burial grounds.
Headstones – To protect historic headstones, never do rubbings of the inscription. Don’t try to repair damaged headstones yourself and never use bleach to clean a headstone. The National Park Service recommends using water and a soft-bristled brush, or a mild chemical called D-2.
Maintenance – Lawnmowers, weed eaters and other equipment should not come in contact with headstones.
Clean up – Please be thoughtful when you are cleaning up a historic cemetery. Shells, toys and other items may be grave articles and protected. Also, historical vegetation may be part of historic cemetery traditions and are also protected.
Please share with us your stories of working to preserve historic cemeteries throughout the state – and thank you for working to save Florida’s extraordinary history and heritage!
Melissa Wyllie is the Executive Director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, the non-profit dedicated to protecting Florida’s extraordinary history and heritage. Follow her on Twitter at @MSWyllie.
Melissa is photographed at the grave of Alexander Hamilton, Trinity Churchyard, Manhattan.
With Hurricane Irma, historic resources and homeowners from around the state have been hit with the impacts of flooding. We care about your efforts to rebuild. Here are some tips for your recovery process in the immediate future and when facing local building codes and insurance claims.
1. The safety of you and emergency response teams is the number one priority. First and foremost heed all warnings and take all precautions that may not always be obvious. Wildlife such as alligators and snakes, downed power lines, standing water and pot holes can pose serious threats in and around your yard. Use caution if there are electrical appliances or electric outlets impacted by flood waters.
2. Flood waters in your building could be contaminated. Keep yourself informed of any reports from your local oﬃcials of compromised water treatment facilities so you know what level of protection is necessary when cleaning up your property.
3. Remove standing water from the inside of the building and ventilate as best as possible, using fans and dehumidifiers if power is an option. Dry and sanitize surfaces to prevent mold growth. Hardware stores will be happy to point you in the right direction for these products. Read the labels to make sure the product you choose is safe for your historic materials.
4. When it’s time to make permanent decisions on repairing damage get more than one estimate and know all your mitigation options. Contractors and water restoration specialists WILL be making the rounds in your community. This is a big help when your local contractors may be dealing with their own damage and tending to all their clients but buyer beware – they will leave town and you may not see or hear from them if problems arise with their work product. Contact your local building department to educate yourself on what actions require building permits and licensed contractors. If the “contractor” refuses to get a permit it’s a red flag. Consider multiple mitigation options and choose the right fit for your budget and the long term sustainability of your building. Keep in mind if you are in a flood zone flooding could happen again. Unlike modern materials (drywall) historic materials such as plaster and wood lathe may be able to dry out and be preserved. Plaster is a cementitious material whereas drywall has a paper covering that can mold. If your contractor cannot distinguish these factors seek an alternate option. You should be able to have an informed discussion based on your particular situation. Do not assume you need to remove historic plaster walls if they are sound when cutting small ventilation holes is an option.
5. Check your crawl space for standing water and ventilate this space to the extent possible to prevent rising damp. Historic buildings with crawl spaces were intentionally designed to allow ventilation and building elevation before modern comforts. Keep these spaces clear in the future so water can easily pass and flush out quickly.
6. Ask your building department or search for your municipal building code online to determine the threshold for “substantial damage” and “substantial improvement” because this will aﬀect code compliance for significant repairs and there may be exemptions for historic buildings. In the immediate aftermath FEMA will be working with your local oﬃcials to determine the extent that properties are heavily damaged by their own indicators so that federal aid can be engaged. Your local building codes, though, are what impacts the code compliance measures that must be made during repair work and will be reviewed by your local building oﬃcial. The most challenging code factor is the required finish floor elevation to comply with flood plain management codes that could require a building to be elevated. For example, if your building is currently at a 6’ finished floor elevation and 9’ is the current flood code and your building is more than 50% damaged the repairs must include raising the finished floor to 9’ unless your local code exempts historic buildings from this requirement. Your local code may have an outright exemption or variance process. Always ask your building oﬃcial and enlist a knowledgeable architect to make sure other exemptions for historic buildings are being applied.
7. Find out what financial incentives are available for repairs and restoration. Federal tax credits are available nationwide for historic, income-producing properties for qualified repairs. Locally, there may be facade grants and property tax exemptions. At the state level, historic preservation grants are available to non-profits and local governments. In all cases there may be application processes and they may be competitive. As far as insurance options, there are FEMA programs to provide low interest loans and increased cost of compliance (ICC) funding to oﬀset some costs to bring your building into compliance with the required floor elevation. Hazard mitigation funding is applied to a community level for large projects and may be available in the future for projects listed in the local mitigation strategy. Consult your local oﬃcials to learn more and help advocate for these programs.
8. Conduct a full evaluation for structural issues that might not be immediately visible. Consult experts in historic property issues particularly for foundation, wall, and roof restoration. Temporary shoring can be installed while the evaluation and long term decisions are made.
9. Salvage interior details and your mementos. Papers, photographs, wood and plaster objects may be salvageable while upholstered items may be too far contaminated if they cannot be disassembled and treated separately.
10. Consult additional resources for more detailed mitigation and remediation options for historic buildings. The Florida Division of Historic Resources has a resource page: Guidance for Disaster Mitigation and Recovery for Historic Properties
The August/September issue of Paradise News, the news magazine of the south beaches and Downtown St. Petersburg, features great coverage of our May Florida Preservation Conference.
Read the full story by clicking the file below.
Although our wonderful time together at our Florida Preservation Conference in St. Petersburg wrapped up in May, the good news of our award winners continues to travel around the state.
The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota ran an article on the Newtown Alive project, The Palm Beach Daily News (also known as the “Shiny Sheet” because of the paper used) ran an article on Casa Marius’ beautiful rehabilitation, while The St. Augustine Record detailed the various awards the City and community residents received. It is so important for us to share these great projects and recognize the achievements not just amongst our preservation community at the annual conference awards ceremony, but also with the general public. Each year our Awards committee selects the winners, but you can vote for your favorite historic project year-round through your support and visitation.
Every summer my daughters create a summer bucket list – oh to have long summer vacations again! So as summer begins to wind down, I thought it would be fun to challenge ourselves to do one, too. As you ponder your Florida staycation or perhaps have a summer weekend to spare while the crowds are minimal, go explore some of Florida’s extraordinary historic places. If it’s possible for you, include a stop at one of the historic and cultural places that received a 2017 Florida Preservation Award as part of your summer travels.
Wondering where to start? I created a list of locations, in no particular order, to inspire your historic summer travel plans. I’ve included our 2017 preservation winners marked with an asterisk, but there’s also some additional travel ideas to get you going. Please call the Florida Trust office if you need more information on a specific project or location. And remember, in many places, a little historic exploration is possible even during your lunch hour. Not quite as exciting as an entire summer off, but a great way to celebrate summer and Florida history!
Happy exploring and please share your visits with us via social media! The Florida Trust is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Hotel Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine*
George Adderly House, Crane Point, Marathon*
Walk or drive over a historic Florida bridge (perhaps the Bridge of Lion’s in St. Augustine)
Miami Dade County Courthouse*
Historic Hampton House, Miami*
Visit your local Historical Society or history museum (such as the Palm Beach County Historical Society, or the Old Wakulla County Jail)
Government House, St. Augustine*
Keys Energy Services building, Key West*
Stroll through a historic cemetery (like Miami’s Woodlawn Cemetery at SW 8th Street)
Le Meridien Hotel, Tampa*
Oesterreicher-Mccormick Cabin, Jacksonville Beaches*
Take in the art (like the A. E. Backus Museum & Gallery in Fort Pierce, the Ringling in Sarasota or the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale)
The Grove Museum, Tallahassee*
Observe a traditional ceremony of the many cultures we have around the state
St. Augustine archaeological exhibit at the visitor’s Center and marker’s throughout the City*
Newtown Conservation District, Sarasota*
Watch the Tidally United summit online*
Participate in a festival celebrating crops or aquaculture from our state
Cape San Blas Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters*
Key West Women’s Club*
Throw a penny into a historic fountain
Take a stroll through a historic neighborhood or Main Street
Enjoy one of our historic lighthouses, beach communities or hidden gems (like Lichgate on High Road in Tallahassee)
Friederike Mittner is the Board President of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservaiton.
Dr. Leslee F. Keys, Assistant Professor of History and Director of Historic Preservation and Special Initiatives at Flagler College, has been elected to the 21-member Board of Trustees of the United States chapter of the International Commission on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS). She is the member representing Florida, and one of four newly-elected trustees.
Founded in 1965, US/ICOMOS is the single professional preservation organization in the US with an international emphasis, enabling participation in worldwide heritage conservation. US/ICOMOS promotes strong ties between national, regional, private, and governmental organizations within the U.S. and the international preservation community.
Keys stated, “I am honored to be elected to the US/ICOMOS board of trustees. This opportunity builds on my previous board service at the local, state and national levels and provides an opportunity to promote the heritage of Flagler College and St. Augustine. More importantly, Flagler College is building its international programs, and a relationship with US/ICOMOS and this network of professionals can foster opportunities to inspire the next generation of scholars to serve as stewards for international cultural resources.”
Keys has been an employee of the College since 2005, after three years as an adjunct faculty member. Before joining the Department of Humanities faculty in 2012, she served as the director of corporate, foundation and government relations in the Office of Institutional Advancement. She has been involved in historic preservation in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida. She has served as guest faculty for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and UF’s Preservation Institute: Nantucket, and is the author/editor of five books on history and preservation.
This month I participated in the National Trust for Historic Preservation Leadership Training: Preserving History, Building Community. The training focused on place-based redevelopment and partnered with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Parks Service. I attended thanks to a scholarship provided by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Preservation professionals from around the country worked alongside stakeholders to strategize potential real estate and community development options for the A.G. Gaston Office Building, a vitally important piece of the Civil Rights District’s historic fabric.
The A.G. Gaston Office Building is directly across the street from the A.G. Gaston Motel and Kelly Ingram Park and one block down from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It was built in 1959 and served as the headquarters for A. G. Gaston, the most prominent and financially successful mid-century African American entrepreneur and businessman in Alabama.
During the training real estate, preservation, museum interpretation and financing professionals involved looked at a common question from many different angles. That question was: why and how do we preserve historic places?
So why do we preserve historic places? The Florida Trust believes in not just saving buildings, but working so that historic preservation is an important part of deliberately planning and strengthening communities. For historically disinvested communities, which exist around Florida, America and the world, there is a need for reinvestment in the built environment, infrastructure, cultural and social programs.
The value of historic places is cultural, living histories that tell human stories; economic, with residual value in the building difficult to recoup; and environmental, the most environmentally friendly building is the one already built.
Jack Pyburn, FAIA, is a principal and preservation architect with Lord Aeck Sargent in Atlanta and one of the trainers for the Preservation Leadership Training event in Birmingham. He may have said it best in his presentation when he described who we do preservation for. In the present moment, we adapt historic places to our current needs and in current markets with information and technology relevant only into the near future. But the big picture is we are preserving historic places long term for future generations so they can interpret, experience and learn in their own ways.
Solution for preserving historic places are innumerable. We know each project brings its own unique challenges and opportunities. To be effective preservationists have to be willing to work with a variety of stakeholders, listening to the community and staying willing to compromise.
Historic preservation is complex and plays in shades of gray. It cannot be done in a silo. A building isn’t saved because it remains standing. It is saved when it has a vital use relevant for its community and culture. As the Florida Trust continues to advocate and educate, with programs such as our Florida’s 11 to Save program, we want to incorporate all of these details into creative solutions that preserve Florida’s extraordinary places for future generations.
Those creating the Civil Rights National Park District in Birmingham strive to preserve the places that tell the story of civil rights in Birmingham. They preserve those places not just to share the story of Alabama, but to tell a story about the quest for human rights everywhere.
It’s interesting to take a step back and contemplate why you work to save historic places. We would love to hear your story.
Melissa Wyllie is the Executive Director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, the non-profit dedicated to protecting Florida’s extraordinary history and heritage. @MSWyllie
We will be traveling Sept. 30 through Oct. 7, 2017 and our program includes hotel, most meals and excursions and your flight from Miami to Havana and back to Miami. On our trip we will we be exploring the architecture, culture and history of Havana, but also traveling to Cienfuegos and exploring Trinidad de Cuba. Adding these two locations will allow travelers to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the many historical treasures of Cuba.
Cienfuegos is a city on the southern coast of Cuba and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. According to UNESCO, “Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.”
Founded in the early 16th century Trinidad de Cuba was built on the prosperity of the sugar trade and was an important step on the way to colonization of the American continent. We will stay two nights in the city, with highlights including visiting a restored sugar plantation, the Old Quarter and a private visit to a 16th century church.
We hope you can join us on this amazing adventure to Cuba! Please see the links below to access the full program and to register. Registration is open through August, and all program registrations include a membership to the Florida Trust.
Feel free to call the Florida Trust office if you have any questions (850) 224-8128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newtown Alive project wins statewide historic preservation award. Written in the Herald-Tribune.
This famous Palm Beach house earned a state preservation award, Palm Beach Daily:
St. Augustine projects recognized at historic preservation conference, St. Augustine Record.
Forests, trees and Flagler’s footprint, St. Augustine Record:
The Florida Trust recently announced its annual 11 to Save during the 2017 Florida Preservation Conference. Making media headlines was the Milton Historc District which was included on the 11 to Save list. Read these articles for more on this endangered area.
I’m feeling a little wistful as we wrap up Historic Preservation Month. We at the Florida Trust have felt your energy as you work to save and promote the historic places that matter to you this month – and it’s been wonderful. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.
Wouldn’t it be great if each month we felt this enthusiasm? I know I gave myself permission to experience new historic places in May, after all it was Preservation Month. What if we carried that enthusiasm and motivation with us all year long?
I can’t help but think it would recharge our batteries and remind us why we work to preserve these special historic treasures. There is nothing better than getting out and experiencing Florida’s history to understand why these places must be preserved.
During my Preservation Month travels, I visited the St. Marks Lighthouse in St. Marks, Florida. It is the second-oldest light station in Florida and is remarkable in so many ways. It has survived hurricanes, Union bombardment during the Civil War and even a female lighthouse keeper. There is a remarkable fourth-order Fresnel lens, installed in 1867.
Today, the lighthouse is part of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The St. Marks Lighthouse Friends association is working to preserve the building, including the keeper’s residence, and again open it to the public. The St. Marks Lighthouse is included in proposed Division of Historical Resources Grant funding this year, we are waiting to see if it will be signed by the governor.
How can you keep Preservation Month alive? Visit historic places near you, and make a point to include some on your travels. Share the historic places you love, and your Florida Preservation Stories, with us.
Also, this summer, please try to visit your local lawmakers and share with them a historic place worth protecting in their district. Let us know if we can help with those visits. Let’s stay excited about our history and committed to preservation all year long.
Melissa Wyllie is the Executive Director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, the non-profit dedicated to protecting Florida’s extraordinary history and heritage. @MSWyllie