A Short History
West Palm Beach, Florida was founded by Henry M. Flagler on the west shore of Lake Worth as a commercial city for his hundreds of railroad and hotel workers. The year was 1894. Pioneers started Lakeside Cemetery in the center of town. In 1895, they acquired three acres of land south of the town limits on the east side of today’s Dixie highway. Flagler soon bought their in-town cemetery property and all the bodies were removed to the new Lakeside Cemetery location. In 1904, Flagler had 17 acres of pineapple fields laid out as a public cemetery on the west side of Dixie Highway, opposite the pioneers’ Lakeside Cemetery. Flagler named his Woodlawn Cemetery, forming a corporation of the same name to administer it. As was his custom, Flagler spared no expense and the cemetery soon became a tourist attraction. The St. Augustine Tatler of January 1905 reported that socialites would spend the afternoon there admiring its rock roads and “rows of oleanders, Australian pines, and crotons.” A postcard description, circa 1906, reads: “The main entrance to the beautiful Woodlawn Cemetery is guarded by a massive gate of iron, black with letters of bronze. The avenues are of that pure white splendor which is characteristic of all roads in this vicinity.” The ornamental iron gateway bore this inscription in bronze letters: “That Which Is So Universal As Death Must Be A Blessing.”
Flagler also acquired two lots across Dixie Highway, opposite the main entrance of Woodlawn Cemetery, and there built a house for the cemetery superintendent. A stable at the rear was for two mules and a “coffin wagon.” Later there was a handsome matched pair of black horses to draw the hearse.
Henry M. Flagler died in 1913 and a year later, Woodlawn Cemetery Association deeded the cemetery and superintendent’s house and lot to the city of West Palm Beach, which took over the operation and maintenance of the cemetery. Superintendents became city employees and the superintendent’s house was sold to private interests in 1972.
Lakeside Cemetery was conveyed to the city of West Palm Beach in 1921 and many of the bodies there were reinterred in Woodlawn Cemetery. In 1922, a group of Jewish merchants of West Palm Beach formed the Jewish Community Center, an unincorporated association, which bought seven blocks of previously unplatted land on the western edge of Woodlawn Cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery was platted in June of 1923 and by 1952, all the lots had been sold.
In 1925, Woodlawn Cemetery lost over an acre of land with the widening of Dixie Highway and the ornamental iron gate had to be removed. A year later, the present cement archway was built at the entrance to the cemetery. The same inscription was carved into the arch and the letters painted black, which was determined to be cheaper and more secure than the detachable original bronze letters.
Because Woodlawn was nearly full by 1927, the Australian pines were removed to make room for 422 additional lots. In later years more burial spaces were made available by the closing of most of the east-west roads dividing the blocks.
The devastating hurricane of September 16, 1928 drowned more than 2,000 people when Lake Okeechobee overflowed the dike. Local cemeteries were called upon to bury the dead as quickly as possible to prevent an outbreak of disease. A trench was dug in part of Block 8 of Woodlawn Cemetery and many of the victims were buried there side by side over the next ten days. A small stone marker was erected at the spot the following year.
In 1941 the United Daughters of the Confederacy were granted permission to erect a monument honoring Confederate soldiers at their expense. The monument stood for over seventy-five years before it was removed by the city during a national wave of removing any monument or statue honor or commemorating Confederate soldiers, and leaders, At the time there were proposals to remove any statue, monument, or other honoring of slave owners in our history, including Washington, Jefferson, and others.
Woodlawn Cemetery increased in size in 1975 with the city’s acquisition of slightly more than two acres adjoining the north border. This addition is known as Woodlawn North Cemetery.
In recent times, because of vandalism, the whole property has been fenced in and only one entrance, the main gate on South Dixie highway, is open. Though in former years Woodlawn was not tended regularly, it is now a beautiful, well maintained cemetery. Containing 18 acres, the three cemeteries comprising Woodlawn totaled 10,085 burials from January 1905 through December 1994. It is located in West Palm Beach, Palm beach County, Florida, one block south of Okeechobee Boulevard, bounded on the west by the Florida East Coast Railway and on the east by South Dixie Highway. The gate is open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily.
Knowing that in every cemetery there are some unmarked graves, we planned to rely on the information found in the city clerk’s offices rather than recording tombstone information. However, we soon discovered that Woodlawn Cemetery records were disorganized: some located in the West Palm Beach city clerk’s offices; some at the cemetery office; some in the City Records Retention Department; some missing altogether. No list exactly matched another. Every attempt has been made to include all known burials, and to be accurate as to spelling and dates, with the information available to our volunteers.
The dates are almost always burial dates. In the case of a person who died before Woodlawn Cemetery was opened in 1905, was buried elsewhere and then was reinterred in Woodlawn, the date is the reinterment date. However, the actual date of death is on he tombstone. No distinction is made between burials of bodies and burials of cremains.
Woodlawn consists of three cemeteries; Woodlawn Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery and Woodlawn Cemetery North. Each cemetery is listed separately.