This last week I went in search of a cemetery that was actually my first foray into off road exploration when I bought my DR650 last year. I knew of the dirt road that it was supposed to be on and went down it soon after my purchase. What I quickly found though was a redneck garbage dump. I thought for sure that I had the wrong place or perhaps the cemetery was on adjacent fenced private property. Being new to riding the heavy off road bike, I concentrated more on staying upright and not hitting anything than looking around. I left empty handed a year ago. I had the opportunity to speak to someone recently about that cemetery that I thought was there. She told me I just hadn’t looked hard enough. A year later, I went back more skillful at riding and able to look around. What I also discovered is that part of the reason that I had missed seeing it the first time was that the grave markers are hidden by mountains of trash. While I was excited at the discovery, I was also extremely angry about the desecration I was witnessing.
Years ago my boy scout troop cleaned up the Spring Hill Cemetery which is directly across the street from this one. The Spring Hill Cemetery an historic black cemetery. We hauled out over 100 cubic yards of trash, built a fence around the perimeter, and did some landscaping. Less than a year later the local rednecks had destroyed all that hard work.
The oldest marker I found here was dated from 1852. It was protected by a wrought iron fence. Two small trees were growing inside. From the right angle I was able to take some photos hiding the trash. You cannot be there in person though without being visually inundated by the refuse. I had to ride over a mattress and rolled up carpet just to get the following photos.
Another marker identifies a husband and wife with the last name Ayers. On the south side of the county is Ayers Road, likely named in honor of their son.. Google is a really neat thing. I was able to locate their great, great, grand daughter in California. I sent her a message and hopefully she can shed a little more light on their history. The only thing I know about them from an internet search is that they were married in 1852, were born and lived in South Carolina until in their late 40’s, and that they drove cattle from Colquitt County, GA to Hernando. David Ayers had one brother. His father, Ishmael, remarried and had four more children. David’s uncle was killed in the battle of Gettysburg. They had three children as of the 1860 and 1870 census. In looking at geneologies, it appears that the surname was originally Sawyers and then the “S” and “W” got dropped somewhere along the line. Their son, David Ayers, Jr. served as a Hernando County commissioner in 1893. He was shot and killed by a farmer upset that David Ayers Jr’s pigs were rooting in his grapefruit tree grove.
Supposedly 26 people are buried in this small abandoned cemetery known as Ayers Cemetery. It has alternately been called Confederate Cemetery as there are at least six confederate soldiers buried here. None of the stones I found bore the typical “CSA” designation I usually find. That piece of information comes from the Pasco Preservation Society. I was only able to find a few proper headstones. A few broken markers are hidden under palmetto and scrub. There are also many depressions in the ground and judging by the pink flag markers that also accompany the stones, I assume there are people buried under those shallow holes.
After spending time looking around, I came out of the woods, crossed the road, and entered the Spring Hill Cemetery. This cemetery has a long and troubled history. It is significantly newer than the Ayers Cemetery by about 50 years. Local lore has it that blacks were hung there and then for the sake of convenience, buried there as well. I don’t know the validity of that other than I have heard it several times from different sources. It has also been a party hang out for teenagers, a dump for those too lazy to go to the county waste center, and a place for drug use. Lastly, it is also listed as one of America’s 10 most haunted places. Vaults have been broken into with skulls stolen. Head stones have been ripped off their foundations by vandals with trucks and chains. Ghost hunters regularly flock to the cemetery at night. It also has some features that are used by locals with trucks running from the cops. Squad cars can’t make it through the sugar sand and out the back with the deep ditches. The locals know it and use the cemetery as a way to escape in their jacked up trucks.
Troop 71 made an effort to block the exits and fence the entire perimeter as an Eagle project. Frustratingly, it was to no avail. We also found that it was not owned by anyone. When my scout attempted to get permission for the project we found the county didn’t even have it listed on the property records. He helped the families to form a trust, then had the county create a deed for the property, after that he could actually start the work.
I wandered around inspecting head stones. I even found my wife’s mother’s nanny. I had heard the name Pinkie Roberts many times. I also made my way to the woods behind the cemetery where I enjoyed some Florida sour oranges. Vestiges of an orange grove from long ago.
The next series of photos is from an abandoned barn. I had thought that it had been demolished, but a closer look behind the trees showed that it still stands many years later.
The last photos are from a bell in front of a rural Baptist church out on Citrus Way. There is a plaque next to it which indicates that the bell is well over 100 years old. In 2008 it was dedicated to a member of the congregation who was 92 years old. This bell hung in her school house when she was in second grade in Indiana.
The whole trip was actually a round about way to get some parts from the motorcycle shop. What should have taken forty five minutes tops took me the better part of three hours with all my stops to explore.
Until next time, keep the rubber side down. It works better that way!