JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a marked headstone was found near one of the two sites where skeletal remains were found earlier this week, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office ceased investigative operations in accordance with Florida laws concerning removing a monument or disturbing a grave.
On Thursday afternoon, police said they had recovered remains of multiple people at a highway construction site on Main Street at the Interstate 295 overpass and on private property on Eastport Road about 3 miles away from where crews were recovering fill dirt for the project. A human skull and other bones were found Tuesday when a bulldozer pushed through a pile of dirt being used to build a new ramp.
JSO announced Friday that the headstone that excavation crews recovered Thursday had a name and military rank on it and officers were working to track down living family members to notify them. In addition the grave marker, crews found other items consistent with burials: nails, wood, metal and handles.
Records from the Work Progress Administration Veteran’s Grave Registration for 1940-1941 documented the site as a cemetery. The Florida Department of Transportation and the State Archeologist were notified and at this time and the processing of the rest of the remains will be handled by state officials and their experts.
Scroll down to see the WPA document highlighting the Eastport Cemetery.
Emily Lisska, president of the Florida Historical Society, said the preservation of burial sites is taken very seriously.
“(The) city of Jacksonville certainly has private burial sites. It’s a sure bet they are all not discovered,” Lisska said. “Sometimes these sites are originally marked. Almost all materials disintegrate after a while. Many decades ago the work to take care of these remains wasn’t what it is today.”
Barry Sing, an amateur historian with the Southern Genealogical Society, said the map shows the site being used for fill dirt for the project can be traced back to a community called Pollytown.
“Pollytown was formed after the Civil War and it was an all-black community and now it’s mixed,” Sing said. “But the old neighborhood is still there, same boundaries.”
According to the WPA document, the cemetery was not fenced. Sing said that over the decades, people must have lost track of it.
Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland said little is known about 150 documented cemeteries throughout the county.
“Identifying there was a cemetery in this area was important. For our records, we liked to be accurate,” Holland said. “Find these locations, indicate them, so if future development comes, a cemetery can be located that we can let them know -- the owners and the community -- the cemetery exists.”