FOBB works to maintain, improve city cemetery

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Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 23, 2019 — 5:00 p.m.

Bonnie Dickens

On behalf of the Friends of Bosque Bello (FOBB), Steering Committee member Bonnie Dickens updated the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at their August 20, 2019 Regular Meeting on the group’s goals and activities in support of preserving and maintaining the city’s historic cemetery.

The FOBB Steering Committee works with city staff — Nan Voit, Parks and Recreation Department Director and Sal Cumella, Historic Preservation Planner — to promote the cultural heritage of Bosque Bello Cemetery through community interest and involvement.  Steering Committee members include:  Marilyn Barger, Adrienne Burke, Phyllis Davis, Bonnie Dickens, Peg Lehosit, Teen Peterson and Mary Anne Sharer.

The cemetery, which dates back to Spanish times, covers 29 acres and is divided into two sections:  the Ancient Section, established in 1798; and the New Section, which was donated to the city in 1945 by Bonnie Dickens’ great aunt and great uncle, Jim and Sadie Cooper.  There are about 5,500 burials in the cemetery.

FOBB came together as a community support/action group following the city’s adoption of the Bosque Bello Master Plan in 2015. One of the recommendations in that plan was to identify county groups for partnership to help in the maintenance and care for the cemetery.  Initial calls for public engagement in 2017 yielded 70 individuals willing to work on a variety of tasks.

Via group meetings three initial priorities were established:  maintenance/restoration; security; columbarium construction.

Those volunteers who received training offered by the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) engaged in hands on cleaning of old headstones and footstones obscured by dirt and lichens.  Other volunteers worked to remove overgrowth and debris from the cemetery.

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FOBB has also worked with the Fernandina Beach Police Department to increase patrols in the cemetery in an attempt to deter vandalism.

All efforts to date have been done without need for additional city funds.

Dickens encouraged the FBCC to support two measures included in the upcoming FY2019-2020 Budget:  a small maintenance vehicle, that would be able to navigate in the Ancient Section of the cemetery without further damaging old cemetery architecture; and a columbarium to support the need for additional burial space, since the cemetery is running out of space.

Future goals include developing a landscape plan for the cemetery; improved training for maintenance staff; and investigating listing the Ancient Section of Bosque Bello on the National Register of Historic Places.  

FOBB will continue its outreach and educational efforts.  A listing of upcoming programs and activities was provided.

A website is under development for FOBB.  Until it is up and running, interested individuals may obtain more information or ask to be included in email updates by sending a request to [email protected]. 

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