The Lost Graves of St. Augustine - Writer Artemesia Holloway Jones' Grave Among Those Graves at Risk of Vanishing

The grave of Artemesia Holloway Jones at the Pinehurst and San Sebastian Cemetery - African American columnist at the St. Augustine Record

When walking through the Pinehurst and San Sebastian Cemeteries, a sense of calm surrounds you, and the essence of African American history in St. Augustine is clear. Lost. Forgotten. Hidden. Monumental. The sentiments are so strong, the feeling of awe and sadness intertwined, especially when the lost graves appear not once, not twice, but over and over again. 

After years of being left to themselves, the Pinehurst and San Sebastian Cemeteries are now at a point, where it is possible for families to go visit their relatives and friends buried in the cemeteries. 

The West Augustine Improvement Association, one of West Augustine's oldest nonprofit organizations, made it a mission to take over the cemeteries, and in recent years the organization successfully gained ownership of the cemeteries after years of neglect due to a history of changing ownership of these two African American cemeteries in St. Augustine.

The first Pinehurst and San Sebastian Cemeteries Restoration Day last fall made a dramatic difference in the old cemeteries set in the most beautiful setting right next to Evergreen Cemetery in West Augustine. The clean-up event uncovered many gravestones and restored some that had been deemed lost, but it also revealed many lost graves in two of the oldest African American cemeteries in Florida, as the elements and time had taken its toll. Some grave markers are gone altogether, while others have remnants of their black markings and letters scattered over the graves. In some places the headstones are sunken in, and in other places there is evidence of graves but no signs of headstones or any kind of marker. 

The grave of Artemesia Holloway Jones at the P
Grave of Artemesia Holloway Jones

The grave of Artemesia Holloway Jones is one of those graves in danger of soon being lost. Artemesia Holloway Jones was the author of Versanoie's Corner, a column in the St. Augustine Record. Her grave is almost impossible to find, but a photo taken of the grave about a decade ago left in a file at the St. Augustine Historical Research Library provides a guide by giving an idea of what to look for. 

Artemesia Holloway Jones passed away at the age of 84 on October 6, 1991, yet her grave - her name, her presence, her history - is in danger of being erased forever. 


The grave of Artemesia Holloway Jones at the P

Artemesia Holloway Jones was born on October 28, 1906 in St. Augustine, and she was a well-known columnist of Versanoie's Corner for the St. Augustine Record writing mainly about things and events in Lincolnville, the downtown St. Augustine neighborhood built by freed slaves and inhabited mostly by African Americans until development and gentrification moved into the area in recent years. She also wrote about happenings in other African American neighborhoods such as West Augustine. 

Versanoie's Corner column in the St. Augustine Record by Artemesia Holloway Jones
Versanoie's Corner column by Artemesia Holloway Jones. Published in the St. Augustine Record on September 2nd, 1966.

Holloway Jones resided at 75 Lovett Street in Lincolnville, she was a member of the First Baptist Church, where she sang in the choir. She was also a member of the Household of Ruth No. 839, which was the women's branch of the local San Sebastian Lodge under the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. At the time of her death, she was survived by her two adopted daughters Essie Mae Lovelace of Miami and Thelma Taylor of St. Augustine. Artemesia Holloway Jones was the daughter of Abraham Holloway and Fannie Bryant Holloway, and she is the sister of Nellie Holloway Meade, an educator and community activist who founded the West Augustine Improvement Association in 1956. 


Unfortunately, Artemesia Holloway Jones' name plate is not the only one disintegrating and many headstones and graves at the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries are without names. While the work to restore the two historic cemeteries has begun, it is far from done, and with little funds available it is a mammoth task for a small community organization. 

"It is very sad," says Ollie Mae Betts, a West Augustine resident whose relatives are buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery just a few streets over from the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries. "I'd be proud to have someone clean up the cemeteries. It seems like nobody cared. I am happy that someone cares enough to clean. We need somebody who cares." Betts remembers Mrs. Meade, the founder of the West Augustine Improvement Association. "She did a good job."

So many in the community have relatives buried at the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries or at the close by Woodlawn Cemetery, but many relatives have also left the area, and there are no one left to take care of many graves at the cemeteries.

West Augustine resident Marlene Elmore has several relatives buried at the cemeteries, and it does not make her feel very good to know that the cemeteries were neglected for so long. "My grandmother is buried over there, my auntie is buried there, my brother is buried there," she says. Her husband used to go and keep the graves, but he passed away about twenty years ago. Elmore explains that she used to ride by every now and then, but that she would not go into the cemeteries, because they were so poorly kept.

The West Augustine Improvement Association is putting on another cemetery clean-up this coming Saturday, because the organization has realized that the enormous task of restoring and maintaining the historic cemeteries home to many unsung war heroes is too great for one small organization, and it takes the coming together of a community to give the cemeteries the respect needed.


How To Help

If you would like to help in any way. The West Augustine Improvement Association invites everyone to come help bring back dignity to the cemeteries. There will be food and great company, and while not required, everyone is urged to register for the cemetery clean-up event, so that enough food and supplies can be provided. 


Register for the Pinehurst and San Sebastian Restoration Day here. 

Pinehurst and San Sebastian Restoration Day




If you would like to become a member of the West Augustine Improvement Association, or if you would like to support the association's efforts to restore and maintain Florida's oldest African-American cemeteries in any way, please contact president Willie Cooper, Sr. at westaugimprovementassoc@gmail.com.

The West Augustine Improvement Association also meets every 3rd Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Collier-Blocker-Puryear Park (in the second pavilion) at 10 N Holmes Blvd, St. Augustine. 

The West Augustine Improvement Association is now on Facebook, follow them for updates and new cemetery clean-up events.



How to Help with the Restoration and Upkeep of the oldest African American Cemeteries in Florida:

In-kind Donations:

  • In-kind donations such as maintenance equipment, wheel-barrows, gardening tools, nylon-bristle scrub brushes, soft brushes, D2 biological solutions spray, spray bottles, 2 or 3 gallon-sized garden pump sprayers and etc.

Donate Your Time:

  • Organizations, faith groups, clubs, schools and individuals can donate their time one weekend or more a year to help with the maintenance and upkeep.
  • Organizations, schools, clubs, churches or businesses can help host fundraising events or help sponsor supplies and treats for clean-up events.
  • A law firm and/or an accounting firm can donate their services and help the association move their mission forward as they try to work with the county.
  • Tree trimming companies can donate their time to help with tree maintenance and removal.
  • Help spread the word about the condition of Florida's oldest African-American cemeteries through word of mouth and share how to help.
  • Use your social media accounts to bring attention to the needs of the West Augustine Improvement Association and their efforts to save the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries.
  • If you know of someone, who might be able to help either via donation of time, services or funding, reach out and help connect them with Willie Cooper Sr.
  • If you are a media organization consider featuring the The Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries to help bring attention to the needs of these and so many other forgotten African-American cemeteries throughout the state and the country.

Become a Member:

  • Become a member of the West Augustine Improvement Association for a $10 annual membership fee. 

Donate Funds:

  • Send a check made out to the West Augustine Improvement Association and mail it to: 
The West Augustine Improvement Association, 
850 S St. Johns St., 
St. Augustine, FL 32084

Or


If you have any questions related to the cemeteries, about making in-kind donations, of if you need a donation receipt, please contact Mr. Willie Cooper, Sr.  at westaugimprovementassoc@gmail.com . 





Learn more about black history in St. Augustine and St. Johns County at:


The Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center 

102 M. L. King Avenue, 

St. Augustine, FL 32084

The Museum Hours Are: Tuesday - Saturday 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

For more information check out the Lincolnville Museum website.


The Accord Civil Rights Museum 

79 Bridge Street, 

St. Augustine, FL 

(Open by appointment only, call 904-347-1382 to make a reservation)

For more information check out the Accord Civil Rights Museum website.


The St. Augustine Historical Society & Research Library

6 Artillery Ln.

St. Augustine, FL 32084

Research Appointment can be made for Tuesday- Friday from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. by calling 904-825-2333 ext. 2.

For more information check out the St. Augustine Historical Society website.


Florida Public Archeology Network (FPAN)

125 Markland Pl.

St. Augustine, FL 32084

For more information check out the Florida Public Archeology Network website.


FamilySearch

FamilySearch is a free, international non-profit organization dedicated to helping people discover information about their ancestors and their family history.

Visit the FamilySearch website to get started.



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