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Cemetery gets financial help

Glen Oaks, Pinellas County's oldest cemetery, has received a $1,500 Preservation Services Fund grant.

The grant, awarded to the city's Planning Department by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will be used to help develop a management plan for the cemetery. The plan will include guidelines to protect and maintain the cemetery as well as provide parking for the adjoining St. Jude's United Holiness Church.

It also will provide for a written account of the history of the cemetery. The plan is expected to be presented to the St. Petersburg City Council by April.

Claudette Renney Dean, a descendent of some of those buried in the cemetery, has worked hard to get the grant.

Mrs. Dean has spent considerable time researching the graves, contacting other descendents and petitioning the City Council for help. Her efforts have resulted in the church and graveyard being designated local landmarks and the grant awarded from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The picturesque, moss-hung gravesite at 2012 Auburn St. S, and the tiny, white-frame St. Jude's beside it, have been subject to controversy in recent years.

Because of a lack of parking, parishioners use a part of the cemetery for parking, causing concern among descendants of people buried there. But church members worried that if the cemetery gained a national historic designation, they would not be able to make improvements to the property.

Bishop Edwin Nesbitt, pastor of St. Jude's, said that if the city wants to assume the care of the church, then "find us a place to park."

The headstones are inscribed with the names of many Gulfport and St. Petersburg founders and the names of the first black settlers in south Pinellas County. The property also is the site of an Indian mound.

But many of the markers have toppled with age and have been removed by vandals. St. Jude's bought the church building and property 21 years ago.

Jan Norsoph, the city's Urban Design and Development manager, says the Soil Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has donated its time to determine the boundaries of the cemetery, which contains approximately 100 graves.

"We will be putting together a management plan to determine how to preserve and maintain the graveyard. It's a matching grant, so the city staff time is being put to use on it," Norsoph said. His staff plans to work with church members to find alternative parking.

The earliest marker still in existence at Glen Oaks is that of Emma Kimball, who died in 1874, although the original owner of the property, Henry L. Slaughter, said he found evidence of graves from the 1850s, according to Mrs. Dean's research.