The Strange Story of the Picolata Cemetery

Today, Picolata is little more than the intersection of State Road 208 and State Road 13, but throughout Florida’s history, Picolata has been a strategic military and transportation location. The name is derived from the Spanish terms describing a “broad bluff” that looks out across the St. Johns river. From the early Spanish period, this area was used as both a crossing point and a defensive location. Many military operations took place here, from early raids by the British to later battles with the Seminoles.

It was during the Seminole Wars that yet another fort and military cemetery were established here. At the end of the Second Seminole War, General William J. Worth had the U.S. Army collect all the war’s casualties from throughout the territory and move them to the post cemetery (now national cemetery) in St. Augustine (see The Dade Monument). This included the casualties interred at the post cemetery at Picolata.

Lithograph of Fort Picolata (1837) courtesy of the Florida Archives

Sometime later, a group of people requested and received military markers from the U.S. government, placed them at the old Picolata cemetery and re-dedicated the site as a cemetery. A small piece in the St. Augustine Record, dated May 23, 1937 states:

Most impressive were the services conducted yesterday morning at the Picolata National Cemetery, by the St. Augustine Post No. 2391, Veterans of Foreign Wars, paying tribute to the memory of those who fell in battle at Picolata.

Thanks to events like this, there is confusion regarding the original cemetery and the recreated cemetery. Recent development along the St. Johns River focuses again on the issue. A recent “Homes” feature story on Jacksonville.com states:

Perhaps the most important and touching part of the estate is the Indian War Memorial of Picolata, erected in the early 1900s to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Second Seminole War. Restored by the Taylors, its wrought ironwork surrounds 50 headstones inscribed with the names of those soldiers, although they are buried in the St. Augustine National Cemetery.

Because it is now on private property, there is no longer public access to the cemetery site. Even local historians have been denied access. While it is private property and there are often hard feelings related to development around historic cemeteries, it is regrettable that this historic site is off limits to both historians and the descendants of the people who died there – regardless of where their remains are now located.

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