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GAINESVILLE Archer’s Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery (BME) has received funding to improve cemetery grounds. The Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery was established in 1875 as part of the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church, built by freed slaves. According to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, there have been at least 80 known burials, the earliest of which possibly belonged to former slaves of the Cottonwood Plantation in Archer or the Haile Plantation in Gainesville.

The cemetery has been undergoing restoration since 1999, when the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Restoration Organization (BMECRO) held its first cleanup project. Ever since, it has struggled to bring the total restoration to fruition. In 2019, Keep Alachua County Beautiful grant funds went toward further cleanup and restoration, particularly to manage the debris from Hurricane Irma.

The BME Cemetery does not properly honor those who lie there, namely the African American slaves who hold great historical importance in North Central Florida and the United States. Headstones are shattered, worn and weathered, erasing the significance of the inscriptions. From a closer look, headstones show birth dates as early as 1822, about 43 years before slavery was abolished. Dead tree removal is necessary in order to prevent further damage to the headstones and will pave a pathway to further restoration efforts such as the introduction of native plant species.

The Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund awarded Keep Alachua County Beautiful with $2,000 toward the restoration of the historic cemetery. Keep Alachua County Beautiful and this project have a focus on environmental stewardship and restoring significant historical areas in Alachua County. The $2,000 will be directed toward necessary maintenance, specifically dead tree removal in the cemetery.

The BME Cemetery was added to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation 2019 Florida’s “11 to Save” List in May of 2019. The purpose of the list is to increase public awareness and appreciation of endangered historic sites in Florida. The cemetery’s position on the list emphasizes its important cultural and historical value in the state.

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