The oldest cemetery in Florida is located on Cordova Street in Saint Augustine, it’s a picturesque place where large oak trees dripping in Spanish Moss stand guard over the graves and monuments. Burials first began in the cemetery in the 18th century and continued until 1884. http://tolomatocemetery.com
And what does this have to do with a plastering company, you may very well be asking yourself… I know we did when the Tolomato Board first reached out to us to help them with some of the vaults. They had been given our name by FAIA Emeritus Architect Herschel Shepard, he said we could help them and if Mr. Shepard, a well-respected leader in historic preservation said we could help, well then…
We would go to the cemetery several times over the course of months, looking at the different materials that were used in the construction of the vaults and thinking of the ways that we could help preserve the final resting places of some of the founding families of Saint Augustine. One of the problems unique to this cemetery is that it will flood; just as it had with Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. We chose to work on this vaults using tabby construction techniques; we would use natural limes and coquina which was as close to the materials that would have been available to the people of Saint Augustine at the time of these burials. The imported lime we chose would allow the water to be absorbed within and pass through the plaster and would afterward be released naturally as the waters recede thereby not trapping the waters within the vaults.
The first vault we were asked to repair was that of a young girl who died at the age of 16 in 1798. Her name was Elizabeth Forrester and the marble ledger over her vault is the oldest marker that could be identified in the cemetery. The mortar between the bricks was crumbling and the parge coat of protective stucco someone had applied over the bricks many years ago was coming off, we would remove the mortar from between the bricks as needed, then we would re-point them and finally apply a new protective tabby construction plaster coat to return Miss Forrester’s vault to condition that it would have been when it was first erected for her.
The next vault that we were asked to repair was that of Father Michael O’Reilly or as he was often called Father Miguel O’Reilly; he had died in 1812. His importance to the community of Saint Augustine can not be overstated.
His vault, like so many others within the cemetery walls, was also deteriorating. The decorative coquina band was fragile and would have to be removed along with a sizable portion of a crumbling corner. We would undergo the same processes that we had used for Miss Forrester’s vault but this time we would be -re-pointing coquina blocks instead of bricks. We would also reform the coquina band and re-plaster the vault walls.
Father O’Reilly’s house on Aviles Street is now a museum and you can see within the house the types of early construction materials used such as tabby and coquina; there are actually five architectural phases that can be seen at the museum! Forgive us, we tend to geek out over stuff like that! The website is http://fatheroreilly.house
The Cathedral Basilica Saint Augustine, the oldest Catholic Church in America.
And we were asked to fix the crumbling coquina base of the Benet family’s obelisk.
The touching inscription at the base of the obelisk.
We did a tremendous amount of research not only regarding Tolomato but cemeteries in general and the steps that people are taking to preserve them, as well they should be preserved. We have been contacted by others who are wanting to save their history as only their cemeteries can tell it, it is an exciting and rewarding new chapter for us.