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Rosemary Cemetery

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Location: 801 Central Avenue, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Rosemary Cemetery photo

Rosemary Cemetery is located in the northwest corner on the original plat of the Town of Sarasota . The City of Sarasota has in years since expanded to include a much larger area and today the cemetery is located in the midtown area. The cemetery originally measured 300 feet by 300 feet. Today the cemetery with altered boundaries extends 255.79 x 300 feet and has approximately 740 gravesites with 380 recorded burials dating from 1887 to the present.

The entrances on the east and west sides of the cemetery are marked with concrete piers reconstructed in 1987 from hand-formed blocks of the type found in the central pergola. An iron Memorial Gate installed by Maus and Son in July 1886 s is no longer present. At this time there are no gates. In 1911 hog wire fencing encompassed the site. This had been replaced at some point with chain link fencing. In the late 1990's the City of Sarasota installed a wrought iron fence on the east and west boundaries. The cemetery is accessible by both car and foot.

The east and south boundaries of the cemetery have remained intact. A chain link fence intrudes into the cemetery by 5 feet for a length of about 124.6 feet on the north boundary. The western boundary has been obliterated by the widening of Florida Avenue where 20 feet was taken from the cemetery for the road.

Markers are primarily granite with representations of crosses, obelisks and tablet styles. Marble markers are rare, but a small number of marble tablet-stones mark children's graves. The children's grave stones are typically adorned with a lamb motif. There are several marble box tombs.

Cast concrete markers are particularly significant. They represent a small percentage of the markers at the site, but display a large variety of styles. Some of these may have been constructed by family members. Shell work decorates some of the cast markers and a few have been hand-lettered. There are a few brick structures at the site including brick-end vaults. A few of the small brick tombs at Rosemary are similar to, but much later than, those found at St. Augustine and Pensacola. The brick could be a type of coquina or brick with considerable shell aggregate, not unlike tabby. Both these materials are unusual for the Sarasota area. Some of the cast markers have been stuccoed. A significant cast concrete fence bordering the Morrill plot is one of the two most architecturally significant features in the cemetery.

Numerous concrete slabs or vault covers appear in the cemetery. Most of these are of reinforced concrete with little ornamentation. Duncan style vaults were provided by Baden Concrete in Bradenton. This bell-top style is reinforced with flat metal straps and flares below ground with cast slots into which a long bar was inserted to raise the lid. Monarch lids with rounded tops were cast by Wilbert Products in Tampa. Both styles were cast off-site.


The cemetery is associated with the most prominent founding families of the Sarasota area. This pioneer cemetery contains the names of people who made their mark on Sarasota's history: J. Hamilton Gillespie, Carrie Abbe (first postmistress), Browning family (original Scotch colonists), Burns (developer and purchaser of all holdings of J. Hamilton Gillespie), Rev. Lewis Colson, (a member of the 1884 survey team doing work for the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company and a prominent member of the black community of Overtown), Dr. Jack Halton (early Sarasota physician), Harry Lee Higel (early merchant and Sarasota mayor), Cunliff, Nash, Pearce, Pelot, Thompson, Whitaker, Wilson and others.

The center pergola was a gift from Mrs. Bertha Palmer in 1911. Mrs. Palmer was one of the regions' largest landholders and a prominent figure in the development of Sarasota in the early 1900's. Colonel E. W. Morrill surveyed the cemetery for the Town of Sarasota in 1903. The formed concrete fencing surrounding his family plot lends architectural and historical significance to the site, as well as the pergola and Morrill fencing.

The mature oaks, cedars and palms were gifts from many of the prominent families in Sarasota in the 1910's. Few of Sarasota's founders interred at Rosemary have other structures still standing to commemorate them. The cemetery documents life and death in a Sarasota that is remote from us today.

The Florida Mortgage and Investment Company of Edinburgh, Scotland was one of the many British companies speculating in the 1880's on the sale of real estate to emigres seeking to establish new homes in the United States. The Company's survey team led by Richard Paulson surveyed approximately 50,000 acres in 1884. In July 1886, the Company filed a plat for a "Town of Sarasota" on which a sizeable area was marked "cemetery" In 1886, J. Hamilton Gillespie, son of the president of the Company, was sent to Sarasota to manage the Company's investments. The town of Sarasota was incorporated in 1902 and Gillespie was elected mayor, a post he was to hold until 1907. On 14 April 1903, the cemetery was deeded to the town by John Hamilton Gillespie and his wife Mary A." The deed clearly states:

"...that the said tract is hereby conveyed to be used solely for the purposes of a burial place for the inhabitants of Sarasota town and vicinity the party of the second part being by acceptance hereof obligated to upkeep said tract in a suitable and decent manner as a burial place..."

This cemetery, now known as Rosemary, occupies only a small portion of the area shown on the original 1886 plat.

The town council paid thirty-five dollars to Col. Edward W. Morrill, a civil engineer and prominent citizen, to prepare an internal pattern for the cemetery that was filed and recorded March 1, 1904, in the Manatee County Plat Book.

The name "Rosemary" (for remembrance) was attributed to Mrs. E.W. Morrill.

Some early settlers were buried in Rosemary Cemetery with permission of the Company. The earliest known burial was that of Tom Booth (listed on the ship's passenger list, December 10, 1885, arriving at New York City as T.W. Booth being 34 years old, a clerk and citizen of England. His wife came with him). He was a member of a colony of Scottish, Irish and English people who bought land from the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. There is no record of his grave; however, Alex Browning, another colonist, who wrote his Memoirs in 1932, is the authority for recording that Booth was from Leeds, Yorkshire, England, where he "had been the head gardener on an estate." Date of death given on this report is March 17, 1887.

The earliest marker is that of Ella J. Colburn Green and children. They were the wife and children of Dabs Green, who murdered them. According to probate records they were buried September 10, 1887. Delos Green was shot on the road to Manatee near the town of Oneco after being captured by a sheriffs deputy when he tried to grab the sheriffs gun while being taken to jail. He was buried where he died. Probate records show that a William Pierce was paid $7.60 for a "monument" for Ella and the Green children. Thacker Mortuary maintained original records of burials and records show that lot B-25, in which the Green family was buried, was bought by a Fannie Alexander.

The City's record book of purchases of cemetery lots shows seven dated sales in 1903. It is written that L. H. Cunliff bought the first lot from the City of Sarasota on May 22, 1903 for $15.00. The City record book confirms this sale, but lists no date.

Although many of the town's most prominent early citizens are buried there, during the economic depression of the 1930s the families of many who died could not afford to pay for headstones. At that time the north and south borders of the cemetery were platted for single graves and many remain unmarked. Lot purchasers' names are known, but these are not necessarily the people who are buried within the lots. There were many burials marked "charity" and "county" with the lot numbers recorded, but not the locations within the lots. Today, the cemetery is still in use by the families who originally purchased plots from the City of Sarasota.

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