Boca Raton Municipal Cemetery
by Marjorie Watts Nelson
Before the first settlers arrived in what is today Boca Raton, it was simply the name of an inlet on the southeast coast of Florida, thought to have been misplaced by early mapmakers who intended it to be farther south. The inlet was closed more than it was open, due to shifting winds and tides. During the time of the “Barefoot Mailmen” 1885-1893, it was closed and the letter carriers had an unbroken walk down the coast from what is now Delray Beach to present day Ft. Lauderdale. An uninhabited wilderness, the whole area was part of Dade County until 1909, when Palm Beach County was formed.
Henry Flagler was pushing his Florida East coast Railroad south and in 1895, hired Thomas Moore Rickards as superintendent of Flagler’s 55 acre orange and pineapple grove in Boca Raton. Rickards brought his wife and five children down from Ohio in1897. He built a two story house on the east side of the canal and the family settled in. They were the first white settlers of Boca Raton. The living was primitive. The only contact with the outside world was by boat or train. Rickards platted the town of Boca Raton and laid off 1000 acres in five acre tracts to be sold.
By 1902, there were three more families. Boca Raton became the shipping center for citrus, pineapples and winter vegetables. The population was 33 in 1906 and grew to 60 by 1915. There was need for a cemetery. Burials often took place on private property. Pine Ridge Cemetery (now Delray Beach Memorial Gardens) had opened in 1903 and was the nearest available burying ground.
In 1916, Frank Chesbro donated one acre of land for a cemetery between the railroad and the canal, south of what was to become the Boca Raton Club property. An association of plot owners formed Boca Raton Cemetery. Chesbro was elected president.
TO THE PEOPLE OF BOCA RATON AND DEERFIELD
The trustees of Boca Raton Cemetery have adopted the following rules and regulations:
No lots will be sold but a charge of $5.00 will be made for each burial. This is done to provide a fund for improvement, beautifying and maintenance of the cemetery and to avoid having the grounds disfigured by neglected and uncared for lots and graves. We intend to make a beautiful little park of the place and to care for it as long as we have friends there. The land has been deeded to us and can never be used for any other purpose. Everyone can have their choice of location for a grave or family group providing it does not interfere with our general plan. Relatives can erect headstones and plant flowers as they choose. An accurate record of all graves will be kept. The Superintendent and Trustees get no pay for their services – only for actual labor performed.
Trustees: Helen Long, Viola Purdom, Esther Chesbro
From 1916 to 1927, there were twenty-five burials in this cemetery. The Town of Boca Raton was incorporated in 1925 and in 1928, the Boca Raton Cemetery Association was chartered by the State. That same year, Clarence Geist, who acquired what is now the Boca Raton Hotel and Club wanted the cemetery land for expansion and gave the town ten acres in exchange for it. This second cemetery was located near what is now Glades Road and Northwest Second Avenue. By May 23, 1928, all the bodies had been reinterred there and from then until 1943, there were forty-one more burials.
During World War II, the military needed the cemetery’s ten acres for part of an Army Air Corps radar training base and the cemetery had to be moved once again. Lt. Col. Arnold MacSpadden, Battalion Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, selected ten acres for a new cemetery in the section of Boca Raton known as Sunset Hill. At 26 feet above sea level, it was the highest point in town. The bodies were reinterred in this, the third and present cemetery.
Those original ten acres comprise Sections A, B, C, and D. Section A is the only part of the cemetery where standing tombstones and monuments are permitted.
In 1948, the cemetery was turned over to the City of Boca Raton and the fire chief was put in charge of permitting burials and selecting the sites. The cemetery was restricted to whites only, which restriction was lifted in the 1960s.
During the 1970s, the City of Boca Raton acquired more land for the cemetery, twelve acres across S.W. 4th Avenue on the east and about five acres to the west of the original ten acres.
At that time, Forrest Haines entered into an agreement with the city to build a mausoleum for above ground burials. The first five buildings opened in 1971 on the western five acres of the property. Mr Haines, due to health reasons, sold the mausoleum to his attorney, Ray C. Osborne, the present owner. The mausoleum company handles sales; the city takes care of the rest. As of 2007 Boca Raton Mausoleum consists of 32 buildings and 30,000 entombments and/or inurnments. The mausoleum has never been restricted as to race or creed.
Temple Beth El is a Jewish mausoleum bordering the cemetery on the north. In 1976 Temple Beth El purchased 108 plots in the city cemetery for in-ground burials located in the southwest corner of Section H, on the east side of S.W. 4th Avenue.
Boca Municipal Cemetery is located at 449 S.W. 4th Avenue, south of Palmetto Park Road and west of Dixie Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. There are no gates; it is always open. This beautiful, well-kept cemetery contained 6,000 burials in 2007. The on-site office, located in the old section, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Phone (561) 393-7748. The mausoleum sales office is in the same building. Phone (561) 391-5717.
The 200 block of Section H is reserved for infants, but infants may also be buried anywhere in the cemetery. The 800 block of Section H belongs to Temple Beth El for their above ground burials. There are no Sections G, K, L, or M, those being in the undeveloped part of the cemetery. Entombments and inurnments in the mausoleum are not included at this time.
Compiled by Erik S. Hinckley & Marjorie W. Nelson, in 2007