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A Walk Through History: Old City Cemetery

Established in 1852, the Old City Cemetery on East Union Street, is one of the most overlooked and underrated historic sites in Jacksonville's urban core.

Published April 23, 2007 in History      21 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Famed interments include:

John Freeman Young, a priest who was the translator of the song “Silent Night, Holy Night”

Francis Philip Fleming – A confederate soldier and lawyer who became the 15th governor of Florida from 1889 to 1893

Princess Laura Adorkor “Mother Kofi” – A Ghana native and founder of “The African Universal Church and Commercial League” who was assassinated on the pulpit in 1928.

John Finegan – Civil War Confederate Brigadier General in the command of the defense of Florida from Union troops at Olustee.

Old City Cemetary

Old City Cemetary

Old City Cemetary

Several grave sites from the events of the Civil War.

Judging from theheadstone, A.R. Merrill must have had something to do with the Merrill-Stevens Shipyards, a major shipbuilding site that is now being converted into condos by LandMar.

Old City Cemetary

Downtown is only a short distance away. However, this section of the core has been cut off from the rest by the elevated expressway ramps that connect State & Union St. drivers to the Matthews Bridge.



April 23, 2007, 08:40:09 AM
Nice photo tour.  I drive past here all the time and have always wanted to venture in for a visit.  It's sad this is cut-off from Downtown.


April 23, 2007, 11:07:21 AM
Looks like this is definitely a grave situation. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. IMO this cemetery actually looks a little better than some of the others I've seen in Jax.' esp. for how old it is. I could use some major landscaping, and masonry. Atleast there's no noticeable major damage to the gravestones.

L Jones

April 23, 2007, 02:08:45 PM
That's an interesting cemetery---the Merrill tombstone is great. Could be Alexander R. Merrill who, with his brother and a friend, founded Merrill-Stevens in 1887.  


May 14, 2007, 10:13:57 AM
OMG, I had no idea this place even existed!  This is so completely sad.

Judy McCabe

June 17, 2007, 08:24:25 AM
Shame on Jacksonville for allowing this to happen to our Pioneer Cementery. The condiction reflects the changes in our society over the years......too bad it's cut off from downtown.......but wasn't that the plan? We should always remember those that came before us.......because we are from them! :(


June 24, 2007, 11:28:37 AM
Abandoned Cemeteries Project
News Conference planned June 14

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA (June 8, 2007) – The Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is assisting the City of Jacksonville in facilitating a new project to develop a plan for the maintenance and preservation of the many abandoned cemeteries in Duval County.

A press conference announcing the new project will be held Thursday, June 14 at 11 a.m. at the Old City Cemetery, located at the intersection of Union and Washington streets, just north of Downtown Jacksonville. The project is based on Resolution 2004-1349 sponsored by Councilwoman Gwen Yates and Councilman Art Shad that called for the creation of a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to do the following:

The City Council determined that the Commission should study the issue of abandoned and neglected unincorporated cemeteries in Jacksonville and make recommendations regarding cemetery maintenance and record keeping. The basis for this determination is that there are more than 120 separate cemeteries in Duval County in size from one grave to 60,000 graves; a significant number of unincorporated cemeteries have not been maintained; a number of these cemeteries show no owner of record; and some family members are having a difficult time finding markers and graves for their loved ones.

Therefore the City Council determined that the issue of unincorporated cemeteries, their maintenance and record keeping is of great concern to the citizens of Jacksonville.

City Council President Michael Corrigan has appointed a nine-member Blue Ribbon Commission to serve as the Task Force for the project. Appointed are: Joel McEachin from the City’s Planning and Development Department; Brenda Ezell, a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association with real estate and foreclosure experience;  Marion Graham, a representative of the licensed funeral home/mortician industry; Richard Mueller a licensed cemetery operator; Hazel Mack representing a small faith based cemetery; Jon Ferguson, Emily Lisska, and Louise Warren, three at-large citizens with an interest in abandoned cemeteries;  and Jerry Spinks from the Jacksonville Historical Society, who will serve as Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will begin its research for the project this summer starting with a general public hearing in City Hall during July. The Commission and local interested citizens will hold a series of meetings to address the issue starting in September. Completion of the project and its presentation to the community is anticipated in December.

Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is a nonprofit civic organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Northeast Florida. Since 1975, JCCI has convened diverse groups of citizens each year to identify significant community issues for in-depth study. Its goal is to increase public awareness and promote positive action. JCCI’s study process and indicator reports have served as models for hundreds of communities around the world.  For more information, visit the JCCI web site at


August 24, 2007, 02:50:49 PM
Cleanup is in progress.  I've noticed (over the past couple of months) that the trash is being picked up in the cemetery on a regular basis, but warning to those with a weak stomach - the smell of human excrement and urine can be quite strong on hot days.  In my opinion, that's almost worse than the vandalism this poor cemetery has endured over the years.  Kudos to the JCCI (a fab group) to take this issue under their wing.


June 16, 2008, 07:19:12 PM
My grandfather is buried at Mount Olive Cemetery. He passed away in July 1979. Mount Olive Cemetery is listed a local landmark and is being 'cleaned up'. I think the efforts are commendable.  I am looking for anyone who may have information as to where he is buried. The only family member who knew the location is now deceased. At the time of his death my family could not afford a headstone so he is one of the many lost but not forgotten.


June 17, 2008, 12:12:58 AM
I think I brought up old gravesites on another thread one time. I know this Cemetery though. It was featured in the "Insane in the Brain" movie.

Here is the link:

They shot like a third of the movie in the cemetery. Its kinda funny too.


June 17, 2008, 09:48:38 PM
Several of the graves there were moved there from the small cemetery that once existed north of the St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.  Well, at least the grave markers were moved.  Human skeletons were discovered during the excavation prior to the building of Parks at the Cathedral.


June 17, 2008, 10:28:55 PM
Humm.... So we have a poltergeist scenerio right here in Downtown Jacksonville?  Maybe we should have our own ghost walk tours.


June 18, 2008, 07:53:38 PM
I believe they used to have something like that a few years ago operating out of the Landing.


August 29, 2008, 11:28:34 PM
makes me think of the cemetery on moncrief. you start out with a noticable cemetery and as you drive down it gets more delipitated until you end up with tombstones in the woods


November 06, 2009, 03:58:27 PM
Mayor Peyton has an event on his schedule entitled, "Old City Cemetery Re-Dedication" scheduled for Friday, November 13 from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.


November 14, 2009, 02:00:11 PM

It had been a couple of years since Clare Hogwood  visited her relatives’ graves in the Jewish section at Jacksonville’s Old City Cemetery.

The markers were weather-beaten and covered with moss. Some had fallen over. Shin-high stone walls around the section had become dirty and overgrown, disappearing from view.

“You couldn’t even read some of the stones,” Hogwood said.

History had not been kind to Florida’s oldest Jewish cemetery.

Disgusted, Hogwood took her concerns to her synagogue, Congregation Ahavath Chesed, trustee of the plot of 46 graves.

On Friday, she was back — this time in celebration — as the congregation and the city rededicated the Jewish portion of the Eastside cemetery with a memorial stone and service.

Mayor John Peyton called it a successful public-private partnership, since the city donated the land to Jacksonville’s Jewish community 152 years ago  and the congregation financed the recent restoration.

Rabbi Joshua Lief  read from Psalms and Cantor Margaret Bruner intoned a prayer over the now clean, white grave markers before about 30 relatives of the deceased and congregation members. Some fought back tears.

Lief said those living today owe thanks to previous generations for making life possible.

From the 19th century

In this case, the thanks date back to 1857,  when Yellow Fever was ravaging the region and the city donated the parcel to Jacksonville’s small Jewish community.

It was the first Jewish cemetery in Florida and the group charged with its maintenance grew to become Congregation Ahavath Chesed, which built the city’s first synagogue.

Among the first graves are those belonging to the Dzialynski  (pronounced da-linsky) family, who were the first Jews in Jacksonville and who produced the city’s only Jewish mayor, Morris Dzialynski, in 1881.

Some of the dead served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, though none died in the conflict, congregation archivist Hazel Mack said.

The last burial was in 1935  and the plot eventually fell into disrepair.

“It’s under the shadow of the Mathews Bridge,” Lief said. “It’s sort of a forgotten place and no one gets buried there anymore.”

Complaints from Hogwood and other descendants spurred the six-month restoration project, Mack said.

Congregation board member Douglas Oberdorfer  said it was a moving experience to finally see the grave of Abraham Zacharias.

“He was my great-great-grandfather,” said Oberdorfer, 37. He had last been to the cemetery as a kid, when both grave and marker were lost in the overgrowth.

“It gives me a sense of connection and reaffirmation with my family, my congregation and Judaism,” he said.

Hogwood felt relieved that her teenage daughter and son could finally see the grave of her great-great-great-grandfather Philip Dzialynski, who died in 1896.

“To me, it’s just cool,” she said. “It’s my family.”


November 14, 2009, 09:17:53 PM a member of this congregation, I am quite proud....wish I could have been there Friday, but work got in the way

Charlotte Lynn Hopkins

August 10, 2012, 09:59:57 AM


August 15, 2013, 09:01:54 AM
Charlotte, I am in the same boat. I just found out that my grandmother's infant sister is buried here, yet there is no marker on the grave. I want to find out where this baby is.  Does anyone know where graveyard site maps are kept?


August 15, 2013, 09:50:14 AM
Two great sources would be Lauren Mosley at the historical society archives in the old St. Luke's Hospital and COJ's Historic Preservation Office on the 3rd floor of the Ed Ball Building.


August 26, 2013, 10:05:54 AM
Charlotte Lynn Hopkins:  If you ever make it back here, I found someone with a site map and burial list--she couldn't help me, as my loved one didn't have listed the plot location, but she may be able to help you.  Write to me and I'll send you her info (she gave me permission to share it with you): lloyd.fam(at)  ~Dori
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