Polk County, Florida
History




WILLIAM HENRY HART

AND THE HART CEMETERY


In 1885, the Hart family suffered its first sorrow. After a long illness with fever, James, the second son, died. There were no doctors nearer than Bartow or Lakeland, so they never knew what his ailment was. The nearest cemetery was four miles away and was seldom ever used. The one at New Hope Church was eight miles away. Where the Harts came from, families many times buried their loved ones near their homes, so they decided to do that. Their small son was laid to rest, only a hundred yards or so from the family home. A fence was built around the little grave to keep cattle and hogs from roaming over it, and later a shelter was built over it. A few months later a neighbor, Mrs. James Prescott died and her husband asked permission to bury her near James. It was then Grandfather decided he would be sure that it would be a permanent cemetery. So he deeded, to the dead, five acres of land surrounding the two graves. Knowing that it was to be a permanent cemetery, other families asked permission to bury loved ones there and soon many stones dotted the little cemetery.

Edith, the third daughter in the Hart family, was the first to marry. On December 1, 1886 she and Crawford Crews were married in the Hart home. His family lived near the village of Zolfo, where they had settled soon after moving from central Georgia in 1848. Crawford bought a home near by so they began housekeeping there.

In 1886 - 87, a branch railroad of the Plant system was built from Lakeland south through Bartow, Fort Meade and Zolfo. The terminus was to be Fort Myers, but as was the custom in those days when the rails were laid to Arcadia, the company ran an excursion train from Lakeland to the end of the rails at Arcadia. Many of the people had never ridden a train, so Crawford and Edith, and many of their friends, bought tickets and rode the first passenger train to go down the line.

On March 1, 1868, Florence, the second daughter, was married to Harry Smith, a son of the pioneer Smith family who lived near by. Fourteen days later Alma Florence was born to Crawford and Edith Crews. All the family welcomed the first grandchild.

The next year, 1889, sorrow again came to the Hart family. On May 13th, Florence died in childbirth, and was laid to rest beside her little brother, James.

On July 17, 1890, Cornelia Hart married Stephen Skipper. The Skipper family was another pioneer family and had at one time lived near Fort Meade. The father, J. L. Skipper, was an Indian fighter and was wounded in one battle with them.

Harry Lester Crews was born May 8, 1890 to Crawford and Edith Crews. He was the first grandson. In that year Crawford decided to move farther out so his cattle and sheep would have better range. So they settled a homestead seven miles northwest of the little village of Avon Park. They were about six miles from her parents, and only about three miles from the Stephen Skipper home. In 1893, two more grandchildren came to the Hart family. Blanche came to the Crews family June 16th and Clinton Cecil, the first child, came to the Skippers July 6th. The grandchildren now numbered four.

In December, 1894, a little sister, Ida, came to the Stephen Skippers.

January 20, 1895, Bertha, the youngest daughter of the Hart family and Oscar Skipper, a younger brother of Stephen were married. They went to live 10 or 12 miles to the south near where his parents lived. The year 1896 brought two new grandchildren into the Hart family. In August, a son, Lonnie, was born to the Oscar Skippers, and in September, a girl, Vera, to the Crawford Crews family. Now there were seven.

In October 1897, Walter Hart married Helen Skipper, eldest daughter of David and Florida (Smith) Skipper. She was a niece of the two Skipper brothers-in-law, Stephen and Oscar. Florida was a member of the pioneer Smith family who had settled east of Zolfo Springs.

May of 1899 brought three new granddaughters into the Hart family. Clara to the Steve Skippers - - May 12th. Florrie to the Walter Harts - - May 17th, and Estella "Stella" to the Oscar Skippers on May 19th.

In November 1900 a second son, Herman (and fourth child) to the Stephen Skippers.

The following January 31, 1901, a fifth child and second son, Howe, joined the Crawford Crews family. Now the Hart grandchildren numbered twelve.

The four families lived near enough to the grandparents that perhaps three or four times a year they would all carry lunch and have a family get-together. It was the delight of the little cousins to meet up at grandpa's and explore the many strange things - - the old shop with its anvil and bellows - - where grandpa worked pieces of iron to repair wagons and anything else that was brought in for repair.

Most of these get-togethers were on Sundays and grandpa never worked on Sundays. But on a weekday visit we might find the charcoal hot in the forge and be given the rare priviledge of operating the bellows to keep it hot while grandpa reheated the iron he was shaping on the anvil.

The seedling orange trees planted 25 or 30 years before and kept pruned up so they could be plowed under, met between the rows and formed a canopy overhead. It was a nice cool place for us to play, but a disappointment for the climber, for there were but very few limbs left low enough for us to reach; then too the large thorns were a hazard in seedling trees.

Grandfather at one time owned and operated a saw mill, the first one many of us had every seen. Everything about it was interesting, seeing the large logs dragged in behind mules, watching the hugh circular saw whirling around ready to begin cutting the slab, with bark off each side of the log, then the log going through, getting thinner each time as a long board was cut and dropped and carried away on the belt. This was called "rough lumber", but he also had a planing mill, too, where boards could be "dressed" down smoothly for floors and many other purposes.

It was fun to go to the sawmill on Sunday, while our parents were visiting with our grandparents. We would get the flat-topped lumber carrier, which ran on steel rails like trains, started to rolling then jump on. It was dangerous if we stayed on too long, but knowing just where one could be seen from the house, we always jumped off before that part was reached. We would have gotten more than a scolding had they caught us.

When an unusually large tree was brought into the mill, grandpa marked it and when it was cut he had several boards saved out of the center. They were carefully dressed (planed) on both sides and put overhead to cure (dry) for the purpose of making "coffins". In those days, Tampa was possibly the nearest place where a casket could be bought, besides pioneer people did not have that kind of money. Grandpa also knew how to make the coffins. The box was nailed together carefully and with the help of Aunt Ann, covered with black cambric if it was for an adult, white if for a child. It was padded on the inside with cotton and line with cambric. Sometimes lace was sewn around the top inside.

In 1879 soon after the Hart family settled into their new home they helped constitute a new missionary Baptist Church about three miles east of Zolfo. It was known as New Hope. The entire family were members, but later Crawford and Edith Crews were dismissed - - "turned out" for allowing a group of young friends to dance at their home. Crawford said he saw no evil in what they did and refused to say he was sorry. Dancing was against the rules of the missionary Baptist Church - - so he was dismissed and Edith asked to be dismissed too.

Grandmother was a quiet easy-going person, but when grandfather became upset and ready to lose his temper she would say, "Now Henry, just be calm and everything will turn out all right." She seldon called him William. He usually heeded her admonition.

Regardless of how provoked he became, he never used profanity. When provoked beyound endurance he would say, "Oh thunder" or "Thunderation" - - then we knew it was time to leave him alone.

He was a very devout man always said "grace" at meals and always went onto his knees to pray. His prayers were never lengthy, perhaps because he was kneeling on the hard floor. But there was a sincerity in them that impressed even a small child.

In 1897 the Hart family along with other Baptist families to the east and south, including the Stephen Skippers and Walter Harts organized a New Missionary Baptist Church called Shady Grove. Grandfather was elected a deacon and Church clerk. It was his duty as clerk to keep all records of the business meetings, which were held on Saturday before the regular meeting time. He served as clerk until his death in 1821. It was so far for most families to drive that they would always take a basket lunch which was spread on a long table, and everyone was invited to partake of the food regardless of whether they had taken any or not. Many a time underpriviledged families would come and help themselves to the bounteous supply so heartily it was very noticable to we children. One such family over ate and some of them were ill afterwards.

The John Skippers first child, Vasco, was born on July 14, 1912, so now there were four generations of the family. Another son, Winston, arrived at the Walter Hart's in May, 1913. In October of that year the eldest grandson, Harry Crews, and Lenora Lanier were married.

During the years of 1912 and 1913 a branch R. R. was built down the sand hill ridge from Haines City through Lake Wales, Frostproof and Avon Park to points south.

Avon Park, the oldest of these villages, had been settled in 1886 by people from England. Being twenty miles from a R. R. the little village had remained very small, with only two general stores. There were no paved streets and sidewalks were made of boards. With the coming of the R. R. many new people moved in. Among the new residents were the Oscar Skipper and Walter Hart families.

There was no Baptist Church in Avon Park, but they soon found many other Baptist families, so they all became charter members of the First Baptist Church of Avon Park.

In January of 1914, Edith Hart Crews who had been a widow for three years, married Shade Williams, an old friend.

In the late summer of 1914 typhoid fever, which was a prevalent disease then, struck three members of the Walter Hart family, Walter, Helen and Mattie, the youngest daughter. Walter and Helen became critically ill, and on August 6, Helen passed away while Walter lay at death's door too ill to be told of her death. The sisters, Anne, Edith and Nell all went to help with the nursing there and at the Oscar Skipper home where Bertha was critically ill following surgery. Bertha died on the 8th, two days after Helen. Helen was buried beside her little son and Bertha only a few feet away. Both of the families were now motherless.

In September of 1914, a second great-grandchild was welcomed into the Hart family. Elton, the first son of Harry and Nora Crews. Then in November 1914 another grandchild, Earl, the first child was born to Roy and Bessie Hart.

The Hart grandchildren now numbered twenty-two, nine grandsons and thirteen granddaughters. Counting the two greatgrandsons, the boys were not greatly outnumbered. Two granddaughters married in 1917. Blanche Crews married Joe Scott from Jackson County in March of that year. She was the first one of the family to go to another part of the state to live. Clara Skipper married Mark Smith in September. He was the son of George Smith of the pioneer Smith family.

The war which had been going on in Europe since 1914 drew the U. S. into it in 1917. Only two grandsons and one grandson-in-law were involved. Clinton Skipper and Mark Smith went into the army and Lonnie Skipper into the navy. Harry Crews was a farmer with smalll children so he was exempt. Herman Skipper and Howe Crews were a year too young to be drafted.

While Mark was overseas their baby was born prematurely and died. It was the first member of the fourth generation to be buried in the family cemetery. The young wife waited alone for the return of her husband.

The year 1918 the war was still raging in Europe: American boys were leaving by boatloads for oversea duty, and by train loads for training camps, here at home. In early fall and epidemic of Spanish Influenza struck the camps here in America, as well as the civilian population. Doctors were not familiar with the treatment of the disease so many became seriously ill, and died because they did not know how to take care of themselves after they were stricken.

As the flu raged in America the German militar realized they were fighting a senseless and futile war so Kaiser Wilhelm was forced to abdicate his throne and the military powers of Germany signed an Armistice with the Allied powers. In the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the Armistice was signed and the knowledge that the war had come to an end. This was "the war to end all wars"

The dough boys began to come home. Clinton who had never been sent overseas was home before Christmas, and soon afterwards Lonnie and Mark were back with their loved ones. The whole family rejoiced that no one of the three suffered injuries.

Grandpa had always been proud of his service in the Civil War. All through the years he had kept his discharge paper which was written on a piece of ruled tablet paper. He had proudly shown it to his children and grandchildren, then carefully refolded it and put it back in a very small trunk where he kept his valuable papers and some not so valuable. Only two or three years before his death, Edith and Shade were visiting one day and grandpa decided to clean out his little trunk so he sat down before the fireplace and began to sort and discard, on to the open fire. When he came to the discharge paper he handed it to Shade and asked if he knew what it was. When Shade looked at it he remarked how valuable it was and how wonderful he had been able to keep it through the years. When it was handed back to grandpa, he remarked that he did'nt see the use of keeping it longer, and started to toss it in the fire. When Shad remonstrated grandpa handed it to him and told him he could have it if he wanted it. Shade had it framed, so it would be taken care of.

When grandpa and Massa Lanier had married, she had no home, but did have a few hundred dollars in savings. They agreed that her children should have her money and his children his property. An attorney told them that they could live there and have the money from the oranges. At his death she could continue to live there but his heirs would take possession of the grove at once.

Possibly sometime in 1918 grandfather who was in his late seventies suffered a severe heart attack and the doctor told him he would never be able to work hard again. He had always had good health before, and not to be able to do his own plowing and other work was very frustrating to him, but he reluctantly tried to follow the doctor's instructions. Aunt Massie's past mid-aged daughter had come to live with them, and she took over all the house work and some of the outside chores. But both she and her mother were rather controversial, so he did not have a very tranquil home in which to spend his last years.

Just three quarters of a mile from the Old Hart home was a small place with a small log house and a small grove. It had been the first home of Walter and Helen Hart, but they had moved away and sold the place to Roy Hart, the younger brother. The Roy Harts had never lived there, but he still owned it in 1919.

The three daughters in the family had felt concern about grandfather's welfare. Chaffing under the inactivity, he began to take long walks. When told, the doctor said let him take the walks, but another attack could come on any time, and he would fall and never get up.

Edith and shade suddenly realized there was something they could do. They contacted Roy and arranged to trade him her undivided interest in the family estate for the place near by, so Edith could be near enough to check on her father almost every day. They had lived since their marriage at the Crews' home, which belonged to the Crawford Crews heirs. So it was sold and they moved into a four roomed log house in the summer of 1919, less than a mile from Edith's father. She spent many afternoons with him, sometimes taking the walks with him. When he would stroll off without telling her he was going, she respected his privacy and would wait for several minutes, then go in a different direction, always looking until she would see his snow white hair above the palmettos and gall berry bushes. Sometimes she would stop and be picking up ripe guavas that fell from the trees which grew along the fence jams. She never let him know that she had gone out to look for him. In the late summer of 1921 he began to grow more feeble and she spent more and more time with him. The doctor told her it would be impossible for his heart to hold out much longer. The last of September she went over to stay day and night "to see that he took his medicine regularly", was the excuse she gave her step-mother. She knew that neither the step-mother nor her daughter wanted her there, but she stayed.

On October 18, 1921, Edith and her youngest son, Howe, were doing the family laundry there when called in to lunch. At the table grandfather told a very funny story about Molly Wingate's getting choked trying to swallow the tip end of a dried hog tongue. As he told it: in the early day, he was sitting on the front porch one very warm night and he saw a moving light coming on the road from the nearest neighbors, the Wingates. Now in those days it was very unusual to see lights bobbing in the dead of night, so he hastened out to meet them. Buck was carrying a lighted in one hand, their only child on the other arm, with Molly hanging on his arm grasping for breath. When Molly went to get bacon for supper she had cut off the tip end of a dried hog tongue and started chewing on it. When she tried to swallow it, it was not soft enough to go down and stuck in her throat so low down it could not be reached. They had tried everything to no avail and had come for help. Grandfather suggested different things which had already been tried, so he remembered he had unchoked a horse one time by jumping it over a log. So they hunted a log, but finally laid a board across two saw horses and jumped her over that. The jolt as she hit the ground on the other side dislodged the hard piece of tongue and she could breathe freely again. Everyone laughed hilariously at the story, especially Howe who could always see the funny side of things. The story ended as did the lunch and grandfather went on the side porch, to sit in his favorite rocking chair.

Edith carried him his medicine which he refused to take so soon after eating lunch. She laid it on a table and went to join Howe in finishing the family laundry. Aunt Massie and her daughter were doing the dishes when they heard a slight commotion on the porch and rushed out to find grandfather slumped in his chair. They called Edith and Howe, but he was gone when they reached him. The next afternoon all of his five living children, in-laws, all the grandchildren who could be there and his many friends gathered at Hart Cemetery and saw his body laid to rest beside his Mary Jane who died 12 years before.

That, dear reader, is the story of the "Hart Cemetery" and of why it came to be, and of the brave family who left the security of home, family and friends and who came to the wilds of south Florida, where they established a home and reared a family amidst the hardships of pioneer living.

The three daughters, and two sons who lived to rear families contributed to the life of the community, as they lived there for many years. In later life the two sons, Walter and Roy, both moved to other parts of the country.

Walter moved to Orlando, Florida to be near some of his children. He married Matilda Griffin, and survived her a few years. He died in May, 1957, and was buried beside her in Drawdy Cemetery, east of Orlando.

Roy and Bessie too moved away. First to Tampa where they were living in 1921 when grandfather died. From there they moved near Zephyrhills, where they were living in 1924 when their ten year old son Earl died from mastoid infection following measles. He was buried in Dade City Cemetery. He was the first grandchild to be buried away from Hart Cemetery.

In March of 1925, another son William McRae was born to Roy and Bessie. Then theie daughter Helen Lucille came in July, 1926. When Bill and Lucille were in their early teens the family moved to Belleview near Ocala.

Bessie died a few months later from a strangulated hernia. She was buried in the McRae plot in McIntosh Cemetery. A few years later Roy married Rachel Everrit from North Carolina. The family went to live in Smithfield, North Carolina where Bill and Lucille finished school. Bill went into the Air Force. Lucille married Clay McCall and went to Charlotte, North Carolina to make her home. Roy was living near her when he was burned to death in a fire which destroyed his living quarters in January, 1956.

But with the five sisters it was different. Florence had been buried in the family cemetery in 1889, so long before Bertha, who died in 1914. The other three lived to ripe old ages in the community where they had grown up and reared their families. Nell Skipper died in 1942, Edith Crews Williams in 1948, and Anne Gandy Lanier in 1949. They were all laid to rest in the family cemetery, near their parents, and only a few steps from each other.

Because of its permanency, Hart Cemetery has become the last resting place of many large families. John Levi Skipper and his wife Jane Hollingsworth are buried there, as are both of their daughters; Mat Roberts and Mary Hart, their husbands, and other members of their families. The "Buck" Wingate family who were the nearest neighbors of the Harts. Dolly Skipper's and Molly Wingate's parents Joseph and Caroline Powell, and only brother John who pointed out the spot where he wanted to be buried, less than a month before he was killed by a limb from a falling tree.

The large family of Mrs. Arkansas Williams, of the eight sons, only one is buried in another cemetery. Two of these sons lost their lives in World War I. Two of her daughters also rest here. The George Smith family, whose small daughter was buried there soon after the cemetery was started. Many, many other families too numerous to be mentioned.

When the heirs to the Hart estate took control of the property, they felt that the five acres grandpa had deeded to the dead would not be adequate for future generations, so they gave another five acres. The attorney who handled it for them, suggested an association be set up and trustees appointed to accept the deed, so the following grandchildren were appointed: Clinton C. Skipper, Raliegh Skipper, Vera Crews and Loca Hart. No one today can recall the name of the fifth trustee, if there was a fifth. In 1965, when only two of the first trustees were still alive, a new group of trustees were appointed as follows: Cecil P. Skipper, Wendell Smith, Elton Crews, Vasco Skipper, Wallace Piety, Waneta Asten, Myrtis Guerndt, Loca Stucky, Vera Bush.

There has never been a lot sold in Hart cemetery, but since 1965, all spaces near the family graves have been reserved for the family. Those wishing to reserve a plot in other parts of the cemetery may do so by contacting Mrs. Margaret Smith Henderson, a great-granddaughter who is secretary and treasurer of the Association. Contributions from those interested are gladly accepted. The second Wednesday P. M. in April and October those interested meet and hear the reports of what has been done and is to be done.

At the time of his death, grandfather had twenty-two grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Earl, Roy's oldest son died three years later, then two others were born to them, so there were only 23 living at one time. Today there are 17 of that 23 still living, and as many as can try to attend the Skipper-Hart family reunion at Zolfo Springs the third Sunday in September. Of the 17, only four live in other states: Winston Hart in New Jersey, Gordon Skipper in Michigan, Lucile Hart McCall in North Carolina and Bill Hart in Colorado. Eight of the others are living in other parts of Florida. Besides the 17 grandchildren there are living descendants of William adn Mary Hart scattered everywhere.

Although the intervening years have scattered the grandchildren and of necessity the great-grandchildren, the families have kept in touch.

William McRae Hart, the youngest grandson who was born after grandfather's death, is a career man in the USAF, with rank of Colonel. He & wife, Gay, have reared a nice family of three children. He brought them from Colorado in 1968 so they could get acquainted with his Hart relatives. Two great-grandsons have had careers in the military service, as well as several great-grandsons-in-law.

The discharge paper which grandfather kept proudly for so long has been placed in the museum at Zolfo Springs. The old Hart homestead has always remained in the hands of some member of the family. A great-grandson owns the groves surrounding the cemetery, and he and his wife have recently deeded a strip of land, including a row of orange trees on the north side, so if a road is ever needed there the land is there, regardless of who might own the grove then.

The old log house with all its haunting memories may one day be part of the museum at Zolfo Springs. When we think back on his love of family togetherness and how he provided for it, we are sure he would say, "Our Father we thank Thee".

NOTE: Dempsey Dubois and Piety (Collier) Crew, parents of Crawford Crews, actually settled in the Zolfo area between 1858 & 1860. Family tradition stated in 1848.

 

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