ABOVE: The long swaths of dirt are where some of the historic coping was removed from family gravesites.
It was once touted as one of the nicest places to be laid to rest in the area. Located in the center of town, Mount Dora’s historic Pine Forest Cemetery lived up to its name of a peaceful place where towering pines dotted the lawn among the paths of headstones and monuments. Inside the aging cemetery are the humble gravesites of the city’s founding families, as well as burial sites of recent residents.
Earlier this year some of that peace and beauty changed after City staff were directed to remove some aging landscaping and damaged gravesite coping in order to make maintenance easier and to remove potential tripping hazards at the City-owned cemetery, according to Amy Jewell, Mount Dora’s Director of Leisure Services that oversees the city-owned cemetery.
A 1969 City ordinance prevented more coping from being added to the cemetery. That was the year after the City's cement mason, Carl Risley, passed away.Last September the City Council, as well as the City’s Parks Advisory Committee comprised of residents, voted unanimously to adopt a policy that reaffirmed the prohibition of the coping at Pine Forest, said Jewell in a letter dated February 24.
Staff members were not directed to remove all of the gravesite coping. However, an overzealous supervisor removed excessive amounts of coping, according to Jewell. As a result, swaths of unsightly scarred earth were left behind and those parts of the cemetery appeared desecrated (see video below). Residents began complaining to Jewell and City Manager Robin Hayes. The issue lit up on social media last weekend with dozens of angry residents accusing the City of disrespect and desecration.
One of the vocal residents is John Tremain, whose forebears are among the City’s founding families buried at the Pine Forest. Decades ago, Tremain was in charge of maintenance at the cemetery, and he states that during his tenure the coping never presented a maintenance problem or a tripping hazard for visitors.. At that time, staff regularly used a weed- eater to trim vegetation around the coping and headstones and cleaned the mold from headstones using a bleach and water solution when needed. Today the maintenance of the headstones falls solely on surviving family members. If they are unavailable, the cement headstones become blackened with mold and buried in several inches of soil and overgrowth. Tremain retired from the City several years ago, but has been a vocal critic about what he believes is a lack of proper maintenance, as well as the recent removal of the coping at the Donnelly Street cemetery.
Surviving family members were not notified in advance of the removal of the gravesite coping designating their families’ sites, but Jewell stated that only coping identified as hazardous or buried will be removed in the future and the CIty will now coordinate with family members.
The Pine Forest historic coping elements were made by Carl Risley, the owner of a local cement company that also created the vertical street markers in the historic district and much of the rusticated cement blocks used on the city’s historic buildings.
The recent barrenness of the cemetery will be addressed with a plan to replant after the removal of some landscaping and the 34 trees marked for removal due to disease or risk of falling, according to Jewell.
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