Anything this old needs some help — not only to be preserved, but also to persevere.
That’s where the Dade City Historic Cemetery Preservation Committee comes in.
The group, formed five years ago, works to beautify, preserve and maintain the city’s historic cemeteries. It seeks to raise awareness, respect and appreciation for them, as well.
The committee routinely works with city staff and the Dade City Commission to implement projects that include much-needed improvements to the cemeteries. Currently, the committee’s board and volunteers are focused on getting the Dade City Cemetery, at 38151 Martin Luther King Blvd., listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
“It’s a process,” said Joy Lynn, committee board member and founder of Dade City Heritage & Cultural Museum. “I update the commission on that when I can, but then they ask us what they could do for us, and I mentioned we could use seating in the cemetery. It’s difficult for some folks to be on their feet for 90-minute tours.”
The committee provides Monuments By Moonlight Tours, which is a fundraiser that allows the committee to do work and restoration to the cemeteries.
When the committee was formed, most of the city-owned cemeteries were in disarray, so the funds they raised allowed fences and headstones to be mended and cleaned, fallen trees to be cleared, the addition of things like seating and better markers. And, of course, there’s the crusade to get the Dade City Cemetery on the National Registry.
For a property to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it must meet at least one of four criteria — an event of historic importance must have happened there; a person of significant importance must have had an impact on the place; design or construction of the place must have great artistic and/historical importance; or there is potential historical information that can be found at the site.
Each nomination contains a narrative section that provides a detailed physical description of the property and justifies why it is significant historically with regard either to local, state, or national history.
The Dade City Cemetery dates back to the start of the city, with its first burial being in 1884. People laid to rest there include soldiers who fought in the U.S. Civil War and many of Dade City’s founders.
“When we came in five years ago, (the cemetery) was a disaster,” Lynn said. “You couldn’t see (markers and headstones), fences were broken, trees were all on the ground and the company hired to mow it wasn’t mowing like you should in a cemetery. No one was keeping care of the cemeteries, so I can only sing praises for how the city has helped and worked with us to improve them.”
The tours have become quite popular with local residents and out-of-towners alike coming to hear stories about the cemetery’s history, and possible hauntings.
“Normally, entering a cemetery entices individuals to think of death, a topic that is taboo or unpopular in most cases,” Lynn said of the tours. “However there is more than meets the eye in these eerie but intriguing places: Art, architecture, symbolism, science, nature, gardening, remembrance, and of course, a curiosity about whether it’s haunted.
“The purpose of this tour is to raise awareness of Dade City’s historic cemetery landmarks,” Lynn added. “Some people just want the history, a lot of people want the haunted aspect, some want both, and we have had sightings.
“I honestly think, though, if someone were out here and to see something, they’d run right out of the cemetery (laughs).”
Lynn noted that several Dade City Police Officers have claimed to have seen something on the grounds and that some city workers “just refuse to come out here after dark.”
But beyond the intrinsic value of the tours, there’s also a financial benefit.
Lynn — assisted by Museum Director Jayde Archbold and Museum President Charlotte Lewis — provided a tour for 13 people in May, raising nearly $400 to support the committee’s causes.
Lynn also hosted Haunted Happy Hour, which was a paranormal-inspired walking tour that went to Locke Inn. That’s the site of the former 1892 Pasco County jail that was restored into an AirBNB.
Lynn is committed to Dade City history and sharing its stories.
There are reports of paranormal activity all over Dade City, she said, citing locations such as the cemetery, the jail, the former Keefer Building as examples.
“There’s a lot of activity,” she added, “and Dade City always wants to keep it kind of quiet, but anything we can do to preserve and restore our cemeteries, well, it’s helpful.”
Dade City Historic Cemetery Preservation Committee
Details: The Dade City Historic Cemetery Preservation Committee is organized under the nonprofit organization of the Dade City Heritage & Cultural Museum Inc.; the committee of volunteers is dedicated to the beautification, historic preservation, maintenance, education, appreciation, and respect of Dade City Historic cemeteries.
The committee is working with Dade City’s Commission to implement significant projects currently in the historic Dade City Cemetery and to have this cemetery listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
To learn more, visit DadeCityHeritageMuseum.org/cemetery-committee.
Published July 19, 2023