A tiny Sumter County cemetery in the shadow of the giant Florida National Cemetery has achieved national historic status.
Once suggested for removal, Wild Cow Prairie Cemetery was named Feb. 2 by the National Park Service to the National Register of Historic Places.
On the edge of the Croom Wildlife Management Area, the one-acre cemetery at the southeast corner of Interstate 75 and County Road 673 has the graves of veterans, county commissioners and possibly former slaves.
The historic designation was revealed in a letter to County Chairman Garry Breeden from Ruben Acosta, survey and registration supervisor of the Florida Department of State’s Bureau of Historic Preservation.
“I congratulate you on achieving the formal recognition of the historic significance of this property,” Acosta wrote. “We appreciate your interest in preserving this important element of Florida’s cultural resources.”
The neglected cemetery came to the attention of county commissioners a year ago after moving it had been considered to make way for a gas station or convenience store.
Della Daughtry, a member of the Sumter County Historical Society, told commissioners at that time she was working with Beverly Steele of the Royal area of Wildwood to rehabilitate the cemetery.
County Administrator Bradley Arnold was asked to help create an inventory of the graves. Karen Taylor of Webster offered an $800 donation to help catalog the burial sites.
Using ground-penetrating radar, 16 marked and 28 unmarked graves were found. Four graves were found outside the cemetery’s boundaries. Since they were on public property, the boundaries were extended to include them.
Steele, who supervises a Royal area group called Young Performing Artists, became interested in the cemetery because a black community of former slaves known as the Croom Settlement was nearby.
Among those buried at Wild Cow Prairie Cemetery are at least eight veterans and 19th Century county commissioners James Weeks and Charles Littleberry Branch.
Residents of Pemberton Ferry along the Withalachochee River also were buried there. Pemberton Ferry now is a ghost town that disappeared in the 1930s.
The area was on a well-traveled 19th Century stagecoach route, linking Adamsville with Brooksville in Citrus County.