Many people see cemeteries as a place for solemn gatherings and heart-wrenching goodbyes, but Gainesville’s Evergreen Cemetery on Sunday transformed its site to a place of pure celebration.
The historic cemetery honored its beginnings by celebrating its 160th anniversary with music, walking tours, and history presentations.
People like David Johnson said a visit to the cemetery, where more than 10,000 people are now buried, sounded like a worthwhile experience.
“We saw the ad in the newspaper and we’ve been in Gainesville for like 45 years, and I had never been out to this cemetery,” he said. “So I’ve been interested in genealogy and the history, so I just thought it was something to do.”
Elizabeth Jane Thomas died 160 years ago and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, located at 401 SE 21st Ave. in Gainesville, just 10 days after her birth in February 1856.
Thomas Holland Fay is the grandson of James T. Thomas, the man who founded Evergreen Cemetery and buried his 10-day-old daughter on its land.
With its flowering trees, community ties, and extensive land the Evergreen Cemetery is known to some as a truly wondrous place.
Fay dedicated a poem to the site, that with its name brought “This Wondrous Place” to life. He spent his childhood in the cemetery and grew up within the same fifty three acres of land that Evergreen is on today. Dr. Fay said the poem wrote itself.
Cultural Affairs Manager Russel Etling said Evergreen Cemetery is a landmark for the community and the whole region of the country.
“Once one gets to know how beautiful it is, how tranquil it is, you really realize it is a wondrous place,” said Etling.
The first burial was in 1856, and since then there have been more than 10,000. Some of the interred include Florida Senator William Augustine Shands and the creator of Gatorade, Dr. James Robert Cade.
“We call it a historic cemetery,” said Dr. Jimi Brown, president and historian of the Evergreen Cemetery Association. “And it would be easy to write that off as merely a product of its age.”
The Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville has spent years preserving the extraordinary landmark, keeping it active and as beautiful as it is.
Among the magnificent memorials and graves is an area known as “Babyland,” which is home to 211 infants with unmarked stones. The cemetery is now replacing the simple cylinders of concrete that anonymously mark a baby’s grave as part of the Babyland Renewal Initiative.
“We would like to have a marker for every single one of those babies so that they are not forgotten anymore than anyone else who has mortuary art adorning their space,” said Dr. Brown.
The cemetery has already renovated 19 stones and is reaching out to the community for donations for the other 146.