History of the Bee Tree Branch/ Oaks African-

American Cemetery

Section 29 - Township 24 - Range 20

Current location of the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery in Darby
This picture was taken in September of 2005 and shows the current condition of the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery. All but one of the head stones have been removed and the current owner parks farm equipment on it.  One account that I read claims that there were between 40 and 90 graves here.  According to the only remaining head stone the last burial here was in the early 1970's.  This historic cemetery will continue to be desecrated until one day nothing will remain.

This cemetery is located in the Darby area and was once part of the Darby or St. Thomas African-American community, which dated from the late 1880's through to the 1960's.   Like most African American History in Pasco County there is very little known history about the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery. Much of the information contained in this history was taken from a September 2005 interview, with Mrs. Murphy, a life long African- American resident of the area. Mrs. Murphy was born January 1922 just a few miles north of Darby in the small African- American Community of Fort Taylor, her mother was also born there. Mrs. Murphy's family moved to the Darby area proper when she was still a small girl.  

In February of 1894 there was a school for African Americans opened near to this location.  According to school board minutes, Henry Elijah "colored," came before the Board asking that a special school be granted for colored children 'near' St. Thomas. On motion the Board granted the school with Henry Elijah as Supervisor and fixed the salary of the teacher at $20 per month. The school was named St. Thomas School No. 41.  According to the 1886-87 Florida Gazetteer the Darby Community was sometimes called St. Thomas.  

When Mrs. Murphy's family moved here in the early 20's there were several African-American families still living in this area and to the area east of Darby.  Most of the people in this community worked at a nearby turpentine still, which was located about one half mile east of I-75 and sat on the south side of St. Joe Road.  Many of the residents of this community had lived there for many years and there were several who had been slaves in the area prior to the abolishment of slavery.  Some of the families that lived in this community were Les and John Roberts, sons of former slave Mary Roberts who had lived to the very old age of 110 years.  There was also Mabel Jackson's family, Mabel married Mrs. Murphy's brother.  George Washington and his wife lived near where the cemetery was located. George and his wife were also former slaves and had several children, two of which were named John and Rudolph.

Another of the community's residents was Flossie Russell.  Flossie lived a simple life in a small one room log cabin, which was located off of Old Johnston Road.  Flossie's cabin did not have any of the modern accommodations such as indoor plumbing, running water, or electricity.  Flossie used to fill two large buckets with fresh water that flowed down the Bee Tree Branch Creek. Today, thanks to development in the area, parts of the creek are dry and the water is stagnate.  Flossie would carry these two buckets suspended from a large stick, which she rested on the back of her neck, back to her cabin where she used it to cook, clean or whatever else she needed it for.
Former slave Flossie Russell in fron of her cabin in Darby
Flossie Russell ca. 1949 in front of her cabin off of Old Johnston Road in Darby/ St. Thomas.  Take note of the large bucket, on the right, which Flossie used to retrieve fresh water from the nearby Bee Tree Branch Creek.  The location of Flossie's cabin is now an orange grove.   (Photo courtesy of Ted Blommel)

Not far from Flossie Russell's home was that of Sarah Dabro.  Sarah was a nurse and used her skills to assist the community as a mid-wife.  Sarah worked with Dr. Bradshaw from Dade City and is said to have delivered more babies than the doctor himself. Sarah would often assist and aid the families of her community who could not afford medical care.

Many of these residents had loved ones buried in the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery.  It is not certain when and how the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery came into existence but before its desecration it was approximately 1 1/2- 2 acres in size.  The name Bee Tree Branch is taken from the name of the nearby Bee Tree Branch Creek.  This cemetery may have been known as the Clay Sink Colored Cemetery. Coleman and Ferguson Funeral Home records list two burials in the Clay Sink Colored Cemetery in 1887. There was a school located near to this location in 1887 which was known as "Clay Sink" and its possible that this cemetery may have been known by the same name.  Among some of those that were buried in the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery was the entire Washington Family, Jimmy Grant, Mary Roberts and her children, and Sarah Dabro.

On the accounts of the locals the cemetery was kept in good condition.  The property was owned by Ward and Corine Hancock, long time residents of the area, and at that time the property surrounding the cemetery was cow pastures. Regular maintenance was provided to the cemetery back in those days..  According to Pasco County land records, on October 22, 1993, after the death of Corine Hancock, the property was sold to Harold Krig and Behrouz Madani and their wives; each owning half interest in the property.  Since the death of Corine Hancock this cemetery has slowly started to disappear.  The property is still owned by Harold Krig and Behrouz Madani and is currently the location of  "Darby Farms" and, as shown in the picture above, farm equipment is being parked on the cemetery.  I spoke with Harold Krig one day and notified him that there was a cemetery on his property and that there was farm equipment parked on it.  Mr. Krig stated that he knew about the cemetery and that there were only 4 graves there.  After asking a few more questions referred me to his lawyer.  Out of the four graves Mr. Krig spoke about there was only one that could be located.  This property is clearly marked as a cemetery on Pasco County's online maps.  

There is very little that remains of the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery and the graves that once stood among the tall oak trees are now lying unmarked beneath the farm equipment that is parked atop of them.  Over the last 10 years or so there have been recorded accounts of people digging in this cemetery and whether to hide its existence or for morbid fascination they are destroying our local history forever.  According to the September 11, 1980 Pasco News "A $1000 in damages was caused when vandals broke into the vault and casket of a World War II Army private, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Department said.  The vault, located in a cemetery on the Hancock property on St. Joe Road, was for Johnnie Jackson, private first class.  The incident reportedly occurred sometime between Nov. 23, 1961 and Sept. 7, 1980, when it was discovered by Truman Campbell.  Deputies are trying to reach Jackson's relatives to have his body removed or the grave restored."  This article gives proof to there being individuals digging in the cemetery.  There is no doubt that this article is referring to the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery.  Johnnie Jackson was one of the children of Mabel Jackson, mention above.  It is not known what the outcome of the investigation into the vandalism was or if Johnnie Jackson was re-interred.  

headstone of Rudoph Washington son of George Washington
Headstone of Rudolph Washington (May 8, 1900- July 22, 1971).  Rudolph's headstone states he was a World War I veteran.  According to the locals this was the Washington Family's  plot. Today Rudolph's headstone is the only marker that remains in the cemetery.  Just beyond this marker through the trees you can see the farm equipment  parked atop the (now) unmarked graves.  (click here for larger image)

unknown broken vault located by Ted Blommel
This photo taken in June of 2007 shows a broken vault which appears to have been desecrated, it is not known who was buried here.  (Photo courtesy of Ted Blommel)  (click here for larger image)

Cedar tree that once stood as a focal point in the cemetery
This large cedar tree once stood as a focal point in the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery and shaded the final resting place of several of Pasco's Pioneer African American Families.  Today this tree has fallen in the cemetery that lies in disarray.  (Photo courtesy of Ted Blommel)

I recently contacted both the Pasco County Attorney's office and Pasco County Sheriff's office.  After several weeks Elizabeth Blair, with the county attorney's office, replied to my several phone calls.  She stated that a formal complaint would need to be filed with the county after which they would investigate.  Elizabeth  also stated that if there were laws being broken concerning the cemetery to contact Pasco County Sheriff's office.  I contacted and met with someone from the Sheriff's office and showed them the pictures of the farm equipment parked on the cemetery.  Their reply was that without any evidence that the cemetery was being destroyed that they could take no action. I suppose the pictures were not enough!  Almost every Florida Statute involving cemeteries is being broken at this site. As it is written under chapter 872.02 of FL statutes: Anyone who knowingly or willfully destroys, mutilates, defaces, injures, or removes any tomb, monument, etc. containing human skeletal remains commits a felony.  Under chapter 704.08 of FL statutes: The relatives and descendants of any person buried in a cemetery shall have an easement for ingress and egress for the purpose of visiting the cemetery at reasonable times.  Rudolph Washington's wife Rachael can not access the cemetery due to the large gates, which are locked and surround the Darby Farms property making this cemetery unaccessible.  It is also stated under chapter 704.08 of FL statutes that if the owner of the land fails to maintain the cemetery the relatives have that right. There is no maintenance being done at this site by the owner and since there is no access that can be made it is impossible for family members to maintain it. Take into consideration the many loved ones who have family buried in the neglected cemeteries of Pasco County. Perhaps someday this will be their family, especially if they are buried in Pasco County.

On June 21, 2007 Pasco County Development Review Committee met to discuss the proposed development of Pine Ridge Estates by developer ETR Pasco.  This development consist of the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery property.  Upon learning of this proposed development I immediately notified Pasco County of the existence of the Bee Tree Branch Cemetery, it was apparent that Pasco County already knew of this cemetery since it appears on G.I.S. Department maps.  Development plans were not finalized during the June 21, 2007 D.R.C. and the agenda item was continued to the next meeting to be held July 26, 2007.  This page will be updated as further details become available regarding the proposed development of Pine Ridge Estates.  

I would like to thank Mrs. Murphy and Ted Blommel for all their wonderful infomration.  Anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact the page designer Jeff Cannon

This page was last revised on June 21, 2007