Developer Donates Neglected Galveston Cemetery

Neglected for years and now flanked by chain motels, Galveston Island's first African American cemetery has a new owner. Last month local developers John and Judy Saracco donated a one-acre parcel of the originally eight-acre cemetery to the Galveston Historical Society.

The society plans to restore and allow visitors into Rosewood Cemetery, which African Americans founded in 1911. City records show that 411 people were buried there, the last in 1944, but only 20 markers remain.

"We're out there cleaning it now," says Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Society. "There's been a lack of attention to it for probably 50 years."

John Saracco says he had the land surveyed before it was developed, fencing off the areas with graves. A Comfort Inn, Super 8 Motel, Waffle House, and Beachcomber Inn were built on his property.

Saracco bought the property in the 1980s. "The title company was very part to not issue a title where there were gravesites," he says.

The Dec. 27 donation is worth $319,000. "It's a very generous donation," Jones says. "It's been a long struggle in the community with the developer. He didn't have to donate it, and he has."

The cemetery has been protected since January 2004, when the Texas Historical Commission designated Rosewood an official Historic Texas Cemetery. The state program provides "some protection" for its 890 cemeteries because the designation is noted in the deed, says Gerron Hite, the Texas Historical Commission's cemetery preservation coordinator.

"It's an important cemetery," Hite says. "I've seen it in deplorable condition." 

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