A group of residents watched attentively as workers from a utility surveying company sent probes underground outside a house on South L Street Wednesday, searching for the graves of Lake Worth’s first settlers, Fannie and Samuel James.
The former slaves homesteaded land in what is now Lake Worth in the 1880s, a place they named Jewell.
Fannie James became the area’s first postmistress in 1889 when she established a post office in the couple’s cottage near what is now the south end of Bryant Park, said Ted Brownstein, a Lake Worth historian and author of a soon-to-be-published book about the Jameses, Pioneers of Jewell.
Ground-penetrating radar and vacuum probes used to check below the surface of the lawn in front of the house at 315 S. L St. revealed no definitive proof that the Jameses are buried there — though that land in front of the house was the plot the Jameses set aside for their graves when they sold their land to the Palm Beach Farms Co., according to county records.
“There were anomalies in the soil, but there was nothing in the way of a tombstone,” City Manager Michael Bornstein said. “That is a grave disappointment.”
Former Mayor Tom Ramiccio led an effort to preserve the James grave site by having the city buy the South L Street house and make it into a historic site in 1999, but city commissioners didn’t approve the purchase.
The current owners of the home, Robyn Ruelle and Michael DeCosimo, said they would like to see the grave site marked and protected as a historic site after its location is confirmed.
“Just to think that former slaves owned 187 acres of Lake Worth that was called Jewell is awesome,” DeCosimo said. “She was ahead of her time in so many ways.”
Ramiccio, a history buff, said he hopes the search for the Jameses’ graves will continue.
“I hope they won’t give up,” Ramiccio said. “The early settlers of our city are buried there somewhere.”