It started with a baby and a cedar tree.
In 1856, James Tilatha Thomas, a cotton farmer and landowner, buried his 10-day-old daughter beneath a cedar tree.
Eight months later, his wife Elizabeth Jane Hall Thomas passed away. He buried her on the land, too. It’d be 21 years before Thomas would rejoin his family.
Thomas’ small family graveyard expanded into the Evergreen Cemetery, which was honored April 12 with a Florida Historical Marker. This will preserve the Gainesville cemetery’s condition as a cultural and historical landmark.
The marker is inscribed with the cemetery’s early history and the names of notable historical figures found there.
The Evergreen Cemetery Association and the city of Gainesville maintain the nearly 53-acre municipal cemetery.
“It’s one of the oldest cemeteries in Alachua County,” said Gary Smith, the cemetery coordinator. “It is the only municipal cemetery in Gainesville.”
Smith said the cemetery holds the final resting places of some of the city’s most notable historical figures, including Gainesville founder James B. Bailey and Gatorade inventor Robert Cade.
The land holds over 10,000 marked graves and 2,000 unmarked graves, and about 30 people are buried here annually.
The cemetery holds veterans from every major U.S. conflict ranging from the Second Seminole War to the Vietnam War. It includes commanders like Maj. Gen. Albert H. Blanding, the namesake for Starke’s Camp Blanding military training center and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal for service in World War I.
Dr. Jimi Brown, president of the Evergreen Cemetery Association, said over 100 of those graves include deceased soldiers from the Civil War.
The graves of Florida’s first female physician Sarah L. Robb, ecologists Archie and Marjorie Carr, and also William A. Shands, namesake of the UF Health Shands Hospital, can all be found at the cemetery as well, Brown said.
On behalf of the county, the cemetery has been governed and maintained by The Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville Inc. since 1994.
The nonprofit association raised money for enhancements and cemetery-related programs and hosts events throughout the year to honor the veterans on the cemetery’s grounds, including this year’s Masonic Appreciation Day in late April.
“You go through a very lengthy process to receive this designation,” said Russell Etling, the city’s interim cultural affairs manager.
According to the Florida Division of Historical Resources, in order to qualify for a state historical marker a landmark, building, structure or site needs to be at least 50 years old and represent regional significance in the areas of architecture, archaeology, Florida history or traditional culture.
“It lends credence to the notion that it should be kept as it is,” said Brown. “It is historically significant and is recognized by the state of Florida.”