Henry Spellman's grave is one of five known WWI veteran graves that dot the cemetery. A sixth veteran is believed to be there also, but in an unmarked grave. Most of the graves in the cemetery are unmarked.

by Linda Charlton

As of last week, there’s new light on some old souls in Groveland.

In late May the city of Groveland got word that it had been awarded a $499,000 reimbursement grant to restore the city’s old black cemetery. The cemetery is located a little way north of downtown Groveland (just north of Brighton subdivision on Hwy 19). For years it was privately owned. Now it is owned by the city.

On Friday (July 22) a team from the city, led by fire chief Kevin Carroll, did the first of what will become many work days on site. Carroll’s short-term objective is to prepare the ground for scanning by ground penetrating radar.

Dillon Chapman pauses his work with chain saw, Friday at the long abandoned cemetery. The purpose of the workday was to start clearing the ground in preparation for ground penetrating radar.

In a reference to one of the veteran burial sites in the cemetery, Carroll quipped that “This is the first sunlight Joe Green has seen in near 80 years.” WWl veteran Joe Green died in 1938.

The cemetery has an official name: Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville. On Friday the clean-up crew uncovered something unexpected. They uncovered the Oak Tree.

“It was covered up by vines,” Carroll said. “It’s almost like it’s petrified.”

Carroll is expecting a wood-chipper Tuesday, on loan from the City of Minneola. But the wood from the Oak Tree is not slated to be chipped. It is to be re-purposed into something for the restored cemetery. What that will be is still up in the air.

A decades old hammer, apparently lost in the cemetery, here resting on some of the logs cut Friday

In old census and burial records, the cemetery is referred to as Groveland-colored cemetery, but the Oak Tree moniker is rooted in the site’s history. Historically the old cemetery was run by a church committee, just like the cemetery that came after it (Edgewood Cemetery). The oldest dated tombstone on site is that of Baby Blain, who was born and died in 1908. The oldest historically black church in Groveland for which there are any records (a 1912 deed) was the Oak Hill Union Colored Church of Taylorville.

Taylorville is the prior name of Groveland. ‘Union’ in this context means that Baptists and Methodists worshiped together. Long-time Groveland resident Olea Mitchell (now deceased) remembered that the two denominations initially worshiped together. She also remembered that before the town’s black community had their own church building, they held services out “in the country.” Mitchell could not say exactly where the worship site was, but the cemetery site is certainly a viable possibility.  There’s not much of a hill there, but until about 20 years ago, the site was dominated by a huge oak tree, which would have provided welcome shelter to worshipers and folks just there to visit their loved ones. In addition, after the site became landlocked, the tree was the landmark by which passers-by could identify the cemetery from the road.
The crew of firefighters at the cemetery’s oak tree namesake on Friday. Groveland fire chief Kevin Carroll is to the right, in white. His working plan is to re-purpose some of the long dead tree’s wood into something that will be a part of the cemetery restoration

Preliminary work on the cemetery, including some heavy-duty genealogical research, suggests there could easily be 200 or more persons buried there. Carroll has been gathering names of the dead, many of them from volunteer researchers, but there are holes in the data. With the exception of 14 persons, all of the approximately 200 people on the preliminary list of the dead died in the years 1920 to 1939. So …

Chief Carroll asks if anybody out there has information that may be useful — perhaps from an old family Bible — would they please share it with the city. The preferred means of contract would be to email Carroll at kevin.carroll@groveland-fl.gov or to email his second in command on the cemetery project, Deo Persaud: deo.persaud@groveland-fl.gov.


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