Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not a vestige of anything left . . .

Those were the words Orlando pioneer Samuel A. Robinson used to describe the city's first graveyard when he was interviewed by the local newspaper back in 1915.

According to Mr. Robinson, it was where "Samuel Russ and many others" were originally buried. But, it may not be their finaly resting place. Or, maybe it is . . .

The roots of the vanished cemetery date way back to 23 November 1857, when my ancestor John Patrick deeded one acre to the local Baptist congregation to build a church. I suspect his generous gift followed the death of his father Wright Patrick, Orlando's first postmaster and quite possibly the first person buried within the bounds of the modern city block bounded by Church Street on the South, Rosalind Avenue on the East, Pine Street on the North, and Magnolia Avenue on the West.

It was certainly being used as a graveyard by 1869. But, it wasn't until 1872 that the locals got around to building an L-shaped log church on the site. (Pictured above.) It was used not only by the Baptists, but also by all the other congregations in the city until they were able to build churches of their own. Thus, it was known as the "Union Free Church." It also did double duty as a public school building.

In 1880, when Greenwood Cemetery was established southeast of downtown, the old graveyard fell into disuse. The union church building was absorbed by the nearby Tremont Hotel, but was ultimately condemned by the city in 1891. Two years later, the Baptists wanted to expand their new church complex. So, they disinterred all the grave sites they could identify and moved the remains to Greenwood. But, as ye rabbits are well aware, sometimes it's hard to spot all the graves in a graveyard. And, they apparently missed more than a few!

Who knows who may yet remain buried under this bustling block in the heart of downtown Orlando: Samuel Russ? Wright Patrick? Their names certainly don't appear in the sexton's records at Greenwood . . .

Think about that the next time ye hop down to one of the hot spots at Church Street Station, and a chill might just run down your spine!

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