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Looking back, and to the future, at Brooksville Cemetery

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Published:   |   Updated: October 4, 2013 at 11:54 AM

Most think of cemeteries as a place to reflect on the past. But, at the Brooksville Cemetery, visitors can also get a glimpse of the city's future, if they know where to look.

Walking through the historic rows on Wednesday morning, cemetery caretaker Richard Johnson points out the final resting places of Brooksville families anyone who has driven downtown Brooksville's streets would recognize - Varn, McKethan, Saxon, Bell.

The first known grave belongs to Charlotte Crum, who was killed by Seminole Indians in 1842 after the end of the Second Seminole War. The oldest tombstone still standing marks the grave of Jane Hope, from 1845.

"You hear the numbers but you don't realize how old it is," Johnson said.

The first event scheduled for the City of Brooksville's 2013 Founder's Week is a free cemetery walking tour, set to begin 10 a.m. Saturday at 1275 Olmes Road.

Johnson said the property, which measures about 51 acres, has gradually expanded over the years, starting off with a two-acre donation.

Since the city of Brooksville was established in 1856, the cemetery is older than the city itself.

"I call the graves near the main entrance 'retailers row,'" Johnson said, referencing the old and familiar names.

Johnson, who has worked at the cemetery for the past few years, makes up half the full-time staff responsible for maintaining the 51-acre property. With the help of invaluable volunteers, Sexton Rich Howard, also a master gardener, started a nursery that propagates plants for the cemetery and the city.

Volunteer Jamie Miller said the cemetery turns leaves and other yard material into soil and grows new plants from cuttings taken from already-established plants. Walmart donates less-desirable plants the gardeners bring back to life, as well as broken bags of soil and mulch.

Miller said the nursery has sent out about $30,000 worth of plants this year alone. Workers have replanted oak trees across the city, including in front of the Jerome Brown Center, that will form a canopy in about 50 years.

"Somebody had to plant the trees; that didn't just happen, it's for a reason," Miller said.

Johnson said the cemetery sees plenty of visitors just interesting in soaking in some of the "individuality" and "Southern charm" of the cemetery, as well as bird watchers and walkers.

"People come in working on ancestry and family trees," Johnson said. "And we learn from some of them, because there's a lot of history we don't know."

"I lived here 30 years, didn't know it was here," Johnson added. "Some people have lived their whole lives here and don't know about the cemetery."

A full schedule of the 2013 Founders' Week events are available on the city's website at http://cityofbrooksville.us/. Call Lindsay Morgan at (352) 540-3810 for more information.

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