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City of Pensacola seeking community input about Miraflores Park property

1884 Miraflores map.jpeg
UWF Historic Trust
A map of Pensacola dating to 1884 depicts a fenced-in “grave yard” in Havana Square. The map was created by the City Surveyor to document trespassers in the area and the map likely correlates to lengthy, historic court cases involving property ownership.

As part of the Miraflores Burial Ground Study launched in January, the City of Pensacola is looking for any and all information local residents may have about the history of the land where the present-day Miraflores Park is located.

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“We are looking to the community to share any insights they have,” said Adrianne Walker, cultural resources coordinator for the city.

To assist with the collection of information about the site, the Miraflores web page now includes a Citizen Input Form.

“We basically, just have a nice big open-ended area where people can provide information about the park, things they may (have) heard growing up or were passed down generations, or even if somebody just wants to go on and say, ‘Hey, I think what the city is doing is great,’ or ‘I’m really happy that this is happening in my city,’” Walker explained.

Walker said one specific question on the form pertains to individuals’ relationship to the park,

“You know, did they live nearby? Did they grow up nearby or they lived somewhere completely different and are just interested in this study.”

At the bottom of the Citizen Input Form, there are options for uploading historic photos or documents related to the study. Additionally, the Miraflores web page now includes a dedicated phone line for people to call to share stories or comment on the burial ground study. That number is 850-435-1836.

According to Walker, public information is beginning to trickle in about Miraflores Park, where in June 2021, the human remains of two individuals were found in the crawl space of the Boy Scout Building at the site.

RELATED: Task force may study unmarked Pensacola graveyard

In conjunction with the Miraflores Burial Ground Study, Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves selected 10 individuals to serve as the Community Advisory Group of individuals who have related expertise and good reach in the community.

“We’re really looking to the Community Advisory Group to help gather community input and then also assess the park and help with the interpretation and what we will do in the future with it,” Walker said.

At their inaugural meeting, Feb. 27, it was evident that members already had begun to collect stories about the location.

Advisory Group Chairperson Lusharon Wiley shared a fascinating, previously unknown story she heard from a colleague about duels that were held in Miraflores. She said it might be just a story, “But, it has been passed down through her family history and she actually grew up right there in that community and she said the duels were part of that background.”

Jennie McKeon
The discovery of human remains at this historic Pensacola building at Miraflores Park has prompted new interest in a possible unmarked burial ground there.

Group member Barbara Albrecht intrigued the group with a tidbit that lent a bit more credibility to that notion.

“So, right across the street from Miraflores Park is a subdivision called Dueling Oaks,” she added amid a chorus of sounds from fellow panel members, indicating their surprise.

In reference to the historical research that’s been done to this point, Walker shared city records and maps from the 1880s that indicate a Negro burial ground at the site, which was then referred to as Havana Square.

But, it’s an 1884 survey, marked with ownership disputes and trespassing claims, that is yielding some interesting details that might be helpful in the burial ground study. For example, they’re looking more closely at a church that’s located on the map.

“It was Ephraim Pleasure’s Freewill Baptist Church, and he actually lived just adjacent to that area on a pretty sizeable lot,” she stated. “So, with a church being there, maybe there’s a connection to the burial ground, which you can see on the far left of the map.”

The church may be completely unrelated, but was identified as avenue to explore. It also sparked great discussion among advisory members about where to look for records pertaining to that church and to the religious practices, such as “foot washing,” in Pensacola during the period after the Civil War.

RELATED: Escambia County’s old Muscogee Cemetery among dozens added to the Florida historic cemetery inventory

For now, it’s all about fact-finding, with the study to focus on researching the records of early African American churches in Pensacola and reviewing city, court and construction records related to Miraflores Park.

Walker says everyone involved is excited to move the study forward, but she reminds that there’s no need to rush.

“We don’t have a development pressure; this was not recovered because a parking lot was torn up,” she noted in reference to what has happened in other communities across the state. “So, we want to make sure we take our time to do this right and we look to the community to help us and kind of, side-by-side, go through this process together.”

The Miraflores Burial Ground Study Advisory Group will convene their second meeting on May 19. Meantime, staff will work on details of a public ground penetrating radar survey aimed at providing concrete evidence of the existence and extent of burials there.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.