1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

College Hill might be a cemetery lost within another cemetery

Cubans and African-Americans were once buried on land that appears to be a vacant corner of the Italian Club Cemetery.
Vacant land within the Italian Club Cemetery may the site of the lost College Hill Cemetery, listed in some 100 obituaries from 1896 through the 1930s. [Tampa Bay Times]
Vacant land within the Italian Club Cemetery may the site of the lost College Hill Cemetery, listed in some 100 obituaries from 1896 through the 1930s. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 11

A few years back, Angela Alderman was out searching for the lost grave of her uncle Frank Martinez — walking among the headstones at Centro Español Cemetery — when she felt his spiritual presence.

“He wasn’t there,” recalls Alderman, 42, a paranormal investigator and former star of the Ghost Hunters International television show. “But he was nearby.”

She didn’t realize at the time how right she might have been.

Alderman now knows that her uncle was buried at long-lost College Hill Cemetery — a final resting place for Tampa’s Cubans and African-Americans. Historians recently uncovered records showing the cemetery’s location was adjacent to the Centro Español Cemetery, 2504 E 21st Ave.

There’s no sign of College Hill Cemetery there now, just a few acres of vacant land. But the land is part of yet another burial ground, the 5-acre Italian Club Cemetery, 2520 E. 24th Ave.

Was one cemetery lost within another?

“We need answers,” Alderman said. “This is a spiritual journey for me and others like me searching for their family."

Angela Alderman, 42, may be narrowing her search for the lost grave of her uncle Frank Martinez. His death certificate says it's in long-lost College Hill Cemetery. Records recently discovered indicate the burial grounds was on property now occupied by the Italian Club Cemetery. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Angela Alderman has been on a decade long search for her great uncle's grave in the lost College Hill Cemetery. His death certificate says he died in 1917. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]

Survivors of those buried at College Hill have searched through the years for the cemetery.

Their efforts are getting a boost with the renewed interest in lost cemeteries sparked by the discovery of Zion Cemetery, established in 1901 as what is believed to be Tampa’s first African-American burial ground. The graves were left behind, as many as 800 of them or more, as buildings went up atop Zion.

College Hill is No. 4 on a growing list of lost Tampa cemeteries rediscovered this year. First came the 1830s-era Fort Brooke Estuary Cemetery, found during development of Water Street Tampa project. Then in June, the Tampa Bay Times revealed the story of Zion Cemetery. And now, the mid-20th century Ridgewood Cemetery is the subject of research underway on the campus of King High School.

“They have always been lost,” said Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center, who is part of the effort to locate College Hill Cemetery. “Now there is a movement to find them.”

The former College Hill Cemetery plot forms the northeast corner of the modern Italian Club Cemetery. A cemetery mausoleum stretches across the back but the rest of the property is used for parking.

The Italian Club considered building a second mausoleum there 15 years ago. In preparation, the club had the land scanned with ground penetrating radar. A survey report indicates no unmarked graves were found. The mausoleum was never built.

The survey did recommend further research on a section of disturbed soil, but the Italian Club did not follow up. A consulting firm that conducted the survey said in an email to the Italian Club, “We don’t believe that the anomaly represents grave sites.”

Still, Rebecca O’Sullivan, a University of South Florida archaeologist who also is researching College Hill Cemetery, said further investigation is warranted. The radar work only covered a third of the vacant land, the portion where the proposed mausoleum was to be built.

“When this survey was done, the Italian Club had no concrete indication that a cemetery once existed on this property,” O’Sullivan said. “So, it makes sense that at that time they wouldn’t have done a more intensive GPR survey over the entire area.”

A closer look at the disturbed land might also determine whether graves were removed from College Hill Cemetery.

“If parts of a historic cemetery on this piece of property were disinterred and moved in the past, that could account for that large area of disturbance," O’Sullivan said.

It’s also possible that the existing mausoleum is on top of graves, O’Sullivan said.

A walk through the mausoleum shows that the first interments there were in the 1970s. If archaeologists wish to take a second look at the property, they should reach out to the Italian Club Board of Directors, said Vince Pardo, vice president of the organization’s cemetery committee.

Still, Pardo said, "I am not aware of our current property ever being called College Hill Cemetery.”

The Italian Club was founded in Ybor City in 1894 as a mutual aide society for immigrants. It provided health benefits, live entertainment and, as of 1896, a cemetery.

The first Italian Club Cemetery neighbored the College Hill Cemetery. Later, the club purchased the College Hill land for expansion but the club isn’t sure when or from whom.

A map from 1891 shows that the property at the northeast corner of today’s Italian Club Cemetery was labeled, “Colored Peoples’ Cemetery.” On a map from 1931, that property carries the label, “Cuban Cemetery.”

This 1891 map overlayed onto a modern map shows that a "colored cemetery" was once located in what today is the northeast corner of the Italian Club Cemetery. That cemetery also buried Cubans. [Florida Public Archaeology Network]
This 1931 map overlayed onto a modern map shows that a "Cuban cemetery" was once located in what today is the northeast corner of the Italian Club Cemetery. That cemetery also buried African Americans. [Florida Public Archaeology Network]

The Times found more than 100 obituaries that carry the name College Hill Cemetery from 1896 through the 1930s. Nearly all are Cubans and African-Americans.

A 1941 report on Tampa cemeteries by the federal Works Progress Administration describes the location of College Hill Cemetery as land that today is the corner of the Italian Club Cemetery property.

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

College Hill was also the name of that community surrounding the cemetery, home mostly to African-Americans in the early 20th century. Both the Italian Club and Centro Español cemeteries are located within the College Hill community.

So it is possible that some obituaries and death certificates listing College Hill were referring to other cemeteries within the community, Kite-Powell said. For example, the death certificate for Levin Armwood lists “College Hill Cemetery” but his grave is in the Italian Club Cemetery.

Perhaps Angela Alderman couldn’t find her uncle’s grave during her search of the Centro Español Cemetery because his headstone there disappeared over time, Kite-Powell said.

“Headstones, sadly, do go missing,” he said. “Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough information to be definitive."

Still, Alderman said, knowing her uncle was buried somewhere in the area provides some closure.

As her family’s genealogist, she is working to tell its story. Some of what she finds has been heartbreaking.

A great-grandfather died of food poisoning while waiting to sail from Tampa to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. Another uncle was murdered in a mob hit.

She has been searching a decade for Frank Martinez.

“I needed this happy ending. It broke my heart that he was lost," she said.

"He is a part of my family’s journey even if I never met him. I believe we found him.”


Read how the story of Zion Cemetery has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

Nearly 400 people buried in Tampa are missing. What happened to Zion Cemetery?

Records show King High gym may have been built atop paupers cemetery

Archaeologists on Water Street project unearth the old so Vinik group can raise up the new


  1. The victim in Friday's shooting at a Tampa police officer's home has been identified as 15-year-old Bradley Hulett of Lithia. Hulett is pictured here on the Facebook page of Operation Lotus, a Hillsborough County non-profit that supports families coping with tragedy and is raising money for Hulett's family. [Facebook]
    Bradley Hulett, 15, was described as sweet, intelligent and charismatic.
  2. Off-duty detention Deputy Leighton Ricketts, 32, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol early Saturday morning. A four-year veteran of the Sheriff’s office, Ricketts was placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office] [ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  HCSO]
    Detention Deputy Leighton Ricketts, a four-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation.
  3. Eric Anthony Hall, 42, faces charges of felon in possession of a firearm. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    The man who rented the semi-automatic pistol his companion was shooting faces charges of felon in possession of a firearm.
  4. Joshua Leon Carmona is accused in the 2017 fatal beating of his mother, Tahirih Lua D'Angelo. He faces trial in January 2020. [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
    Joshua Carmona is accused of beating his mother to death in their Riverview home in 2017. New documents shed light on why the crime may have occurred.
  5. Tech Data CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with his predecessor, Bob Dutkowsky, during a send-off celebration for Dutkowsky on June 7, 2018 at the company's 
 headquarters in Largo. At the time, Tech Data had already received the first in what would become a series of purchase offers from New York-based private equity giant Apollo Global Management. Along the way, Dutkowsky would play a key role in negotiations with Apollo. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2018)
    Apollo Global Management has been trying to buy Tech Data for a year and a half. Along the way, four other companies were interested, too. Two made offers.
  6. Roy Dean, 42, of Tampa has been charged in the November shooting death of 47-year-old Alex Stephens. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
    Roy Ennice Dean III told police he was upset after he’d been suckerpunched by Alex Stephens, who became famous for another shooting, this one over Facebook.
  7. Traffic backing up on southbound Interstate 275 on the Howard Frankland Bridge Thursday evening after the Florida Highway Patrol said a fatal crash took place hours earlier. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    The collision of two pickups left traffic snarled for hours.
  8. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has launched a campaign dubbed "Bead Free Bay" in an effort to keep beads out of Tampa Bay during the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates.
    Tampa created a public education campaign to warn revelers —especially boaters — to protect the bay’s ecosystem from toxic beads.
  9. Katie Golden, left, died from a drug overdose in 2017. Titan Goodson, right, is accused of manslaughter in her death. [Family photo | Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    Titan Goodson stands accused in the 2017 heroin overdose death of Plant High senior Katie Golden. In an unusual trial, a jury will decide if he is responsible.
  10. Pinellas County Commission chairwoman Karen Seel said a Tampa economic development group's recent decision to put "Tampa Bay" into its name "does great harm to the progress we have made on regional collaboration."
    But in Tampa, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit, government-supported economic development group is giving no sign of backing off the new name.