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A timeline detailing the creation and disappearance of Tampa’s College Hill Cemetery

College Hill Cemetery had burial sections for Black and Cuban people. More than 1,200 buried there are missing.
A plat from 1887 of a Cuban burial section located on land that today is used as a parking lot by the Italian Club Cemetery
A plat from 1887 of a Cuban burial section located on land that today is used as a parking lot by the Italian Club Cemetery [ Courtesy of the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts ]
Published May 19
Updated May 19

The Italian Club says their cemetery at 2520 E. 24th Ave. was established in 1896, but maps, land deeds and federal records say otherwise.

Related: 1,200 graves are missing in Tampa. How did they disappear?

The five-acre Italian Club Cemetery was once College Hill Cemetery that was broken up into six burial sections with different owners. The Italian Club began purchasing those sections in 1908 and over time converted that land into the Italian Club Cemetery. During that process, more than 1,200 bodies went missing.

Here is the timeline of events that led to the disappearance of the College Hill Cemetery:

This U.S. Bureau of Land Management record shows that Horace Thomas homesteaded the land that now includes the Italian Club Cemetery.
This U.S. Bureau of Land Management record shows that Horace Thomas homesteaded the land that now includes the Italian Club Cemetery. [ Courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ]
This shows the location of the land that Horace Thomas homesteaded in 1862. The property that would become the Italian Club Cemetery is located on the corner of 24th Ave. and 25th Street.
This shows the location of the land that Horace Thomas homesteaded in 1862. The property that would become the Italian Club Cemetery is located on the corner of 24th Ave. and 25th Street. [ Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network ]

1862

Horace Thomas, a colonel for the Union Army during the Civil War, homesteads 160 acres in Hillsborough County that includes the property that is now the Italian Club Cemetery.

1885

The first known burial on the land occurs on April 9, before any cemetery was officially established. The headstone for 1-year-old Henry Armwood is still there — though it is unclear if the marker is an original. Perhaps that burial is why the Italian Club thought the Armwoods once owned the land.

This plat map from 1891 shows a "Colored Cemetery" where the Italian Club Cemetery's parking lot is located today.
This plat map from 1891 shows a "Colored Cemetery" where the Italian Club Cemetery's parking lot is located today. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts ]

1887

Allen and Mary Randall file a plat for Randall’s Subdivision, an area the document also identifies as the College Hill neighborhood. Then located outside city limits, College Hill’s modern-day boundaries are 26th Avenue to the south, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the north, 29th Street to the east and 15th Street to the west.

In all, the Randalls owned 80 acres of Thomas’ homesteaded land, but it is unclear from whom or when they purchased it.

This overlay of maps from the late 1800s over a modern map shows that College Hill Cemetery's Cuban and Black sections were located where the Italian Club Cemetery's parking lot and mausoleum are located today. The Cuban section is closest to the road. The Black section is in the bottom corner.
This overlay of maps from the late 1800s over a modern map shows that College Hill Cemetery's Cuban and Black sections were located where the Italian Club Cemetery's parking lot and mausoleum are located today. The Cuban section is closest to the road. The Black section is in the bottom corner. [ Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network ]

1889

A plat for “Cuban Cemetery” is filed. Overlaying that plat onto a modern map places the cemetery on the front half of the Italian Club Cemetery’s parking lot and a piece of land where Italian are buried today. It is unclear who operated that burial section. Ybor City’s Cuban Club for immigrants from that nation was not founded until 1902.

The Randalls sell land to the “Nickle Club of Tampa for colored people,” a social club for Tampa’s Black residents. Club officers were prominent Black businessmen Isaac Howard and Henry Hopkins and Black undertaker Henry Blair.

The Nickle Club files a plat for a Black burial section. Overlaying it onto a modern map places the cemetery on what is today the back bottom corner of the Italian Club Cemetery’s parking lot, under a portion of the mausoleum, a piece of land where Italians are buried today.

1894

The Italian Club is founded as a mutual aid society for Italian immigrants.

1904

The Centro Espanol purchases land for their cemetery at 2504 E. 21st Ave that, according to their history book, neighbored College Hill Cemetery. Their history book does not mention the Italian Club Cemetery, which today neighbors the Centro Espanol Cemetery. Centro Espanol’s 1904 minutes — handwritten in cursive and Spanish — say they bought the property from JM Tucker.

The overlay map shows how the property located between the Italian Club’s modern grass parking lot and the Centro Espanol Cemetery was three burial sections owned by JM Tucker, JL Reed and EE Cone in the early 1900s.
The overlay map shows how the property located between the Italian Club’s modern grass parking lot and the Centro Espanol Cemetery was three burial sections owned by JM Tucker, JL Reed and EE Cone in the early 1900s. [ Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network ]

Early 1900s

The property located between the Italian Club’s modern grass parking lot and the Centro Espanol Cemetery is three burial sections owned by JM Tucker, JL Reed and EE Cone, who purchased his land directly neighboring Centro Espanol’s Cemetery from Tucker.

Obituaries mention burials in an Italian Cemetery in College Hill, but do not attribute it to the Italian Club. Nor do the obituaries mention where it was located, but the undertaker was typically Cone. Through 1907, 20 of the 21 burials in Cone’s section were Italians. The exception was Spanish.

This land deed from 1908 shows the Italian Club buying cemetery land from J.L. Reed, not the Armwood family as their social club's history has long said.
This land deed from 1908 shows the Italian Club buying cemetery land from J.L. Reed, not the Armwood family as their social club's history has long said. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts ]

1908

The Italian Club makes their first cemetery land purchase, buying JL Reed’s burial section.

1910

The first newspaper reference to the Italian Club Cemetery that the Tampa Bay Times found.

Mid-1920s

The city of Tampa expands into the College Hill neighborhood and levies improvement taxes on the property owners. Those who could not pay had their land taken and reverted to a previous owner who could.

1926

The Randall family again owns the land where the Cuban and Black sections are located. They then sell it to A.M. Fort, who allows Italian burials on some of that land.

Through this year, land the Italian Club purchased in 1908 was the primary burial spot for Italians - 104 of 111 burials in what today is the Italian Club Cemetery were in that sliver.

By this year, Italian Club also owns the property behind what is now the grass parking lot and mausoleum and used it for burials. The Times could not find the sales record or its previous use, but, in the early 1900s, it was owned by H.H. Lightburn, who was Black.

1927

The Italian Club purchases JL Tucker’s burial section.

The Times could not find a sales deed for the Italian Club’s purchase of Cone’s section.

This is an overlay of a 1931 map onto a modern map.
This is an overlay of a 1931 map onto a modern map. [ Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network ]

1931

A map still includes the Cuban section but does not place the Black section on that property.

1935

The last year of recorded burials in College Hill Cemetery

A 1941 report on Tampa cemeteries put together by the federal Works Progress Administration provides directions to College Hill Cemetery.
A 1941 report on Tampa cemeteries put together by the federal Works Progress Administration provides directions to College Hill Cemetery. [ Florida Public Archaeology Network ]

1941

The federal government released a report on the locations of veterans’ graves throughout the United States and provides directions to each site they visited. The directions to College Hill Cemetery leads to what is today the Italian Club Cemetery’s parking lot.

1944

Nick Nucco and his wife Concetta purchase the lot and sell it to Joseph Puglisi.

1950

The Italian Club purchases the lot from Joseph Puglisi and Paul DiPietra.

1968

The lot is clear of its trees. Aerial photographs show no sign of markers.

1970s

A mausoleum is built on the lot.

2001

By this year, the Italian Club owns the neighboring S.M.S. Italia Cemetery, which was platted in 1925 and originally owned by a Sicilian social club.

2005

The Italian Club pays for its cemetery parking lot to be scanned with ground-penetrating radar in 2005 when considering erecting a second mausoleum on the site. The survey report indicates no graves were found. The second mausoleum is never built.

2019

The Times publishes a report detailing how College Hill Cemetery might be located under the Italian Club Cemetery’s parking lot and a mausoleum. The club does not act.

Facts in this story come from articles and legal advertisements found on newspapers.com, genealogy records available on familysearch.org, maps from the Tampa Bay History Center’s collection, archived Tampa City Council minutes from the early 20th century, the Italian Club Cemetery’s online database, land deeds available through the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court, the University of South Florida’s Special Collections files on Ybor City’s social clubs, and the federal government’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration files.