Old City Graveyard (named Chestnut Cemetery), located along U.S. 98 (Avenue E) in Apalachicola, Florida dates back to the earliest days of the historic port city.
As was the case in all cities of the Old South, death was very much a part of life in
Apalachicola. The surrounding marshes were breeding grounds for mosquitoes,
which meant the city was often plagued by outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever. The
water supply came from shallow wells and often spread cholera to the population.
In addition, there were hurricanes and storms. Ships wrecked on the shoals of the
bay and oyster and fishing boats capsized in rough water. Daily life brought with it risk and that risk is chronicled in the beautiful old gravestones of Old City Graveyard.
The burial ground takes its name from the face that U.S. 98 or Avenue E was originally
known as Chestnut Street. The old name has disappeared from street signs and maps
over the years, but is preserved in the name of the cemetery, which faces the old street.
The oldest tombstone dates from 1831, but it is quite possible that the cemetery was in
use before that date. Wooden markers have disappeared over the years.
A walk through Old City Graveyard is in reality a remarkable walk back through time.
Key figures of Southern history are buried there and the inscriptions on the tombs of
others whose names have been forgotten illuminate the past.
Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapman, for example, rests next to his wife in the cemetery. One of the best known botanists in American history, he discovered an amazing variety of new
plants during his many expeditions through the South and spent the last 50 years of his
life in Apalachicola. His famed book, Flora of the Southern United States, remains a “must have” for those interested in the ecology and plants of the South.
Dr. Chapman was a Unionist and remained at home in Apalachicola through the Civil
War, sometimes hiding from Confederate patrols at nearby Trinity Episcopal Church.
Near him, however, rests Lt. David Raney, who served aboard one of the most famous
Confederate warships, the C.S.S. Tennessee.
Other graves tell of drownings and deaths from cholera accidents. One monument was
placed by a steamboat company in 1860 to memorialize an employee who died in a
tragic accident aboard the paddlewheel boat John C. Calhoun.
The Calhoun exploded on April 29, 1860, while edging out into the Apalachicola River
from what is now Bristol Landing. Nine people were killed, including Captain
Leander M. Crawford, who rests at Old City Graveyard.
Elsewhere in the cemetery rest victims of fevers, including the notorious “Yellow Jack”
or yellow fever that ravaged the Gulf Coast in the 1840s. The fever was so deadly that it
assured the end of the nearby city of St. Joseph, one-time rival to Apalachicola.
The Hull family plot, uniquely, holds two Confederate soldiers who lie next to two
Union soldiers. It is a true example of the brother against brother nature of the Civil
War. R.H. and L.N. Hull served in Company B of the 4th Florida Infantry, while J.H. and P.R. Hull rode with Company I of the 4th Missouri Cavalry (Union).
Old City Graveyard is dotted with the graves of veterans, among them at least seven men who took part in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg as members of the hard-fighting Florida Brigade.
The names on the tombstones also reveal the ethnic diversity of the old port city. There
are people born in the United States, of course, but also many who traced their roots
to Greece, Italy, Ireland and elsewhere. Two beautiful headstones mark the graves of
William and Mary Fuller, free blacks who owned Apalachicola’s finest hotel in the
Old City Graveyard is open to the public during daylight hours. The cemetery is on
Avenue E (U.S. 98). You should park nearby and walk up the sidewalk to the entrance.