Better Call Behnken: Dover property for sale may contain unmarked graves

DOVER, Fla. (WFLA) — Shelby Bender, of the East Hillsborough Historical Society, is disgusted to see a home for sale in Dover. That’s because it comes with a historic cemetery.

Family graves and those of soldiers for the Confederate Army and World War I and II are covered by overgrown weeds.

“It’s just disrespectful,” Bender said. “And that’s something we’re always taught about cemeteries. When you’re there, show respect for the people who are buried there, to show respect for the families.”

There are 18 marked graves and maybe more.

“Some of the graves weren’t marked with headstones, they were just marked with shells,” Bender said, showing old photos of the land covered in shells.

Bender tells 8 On Your Side that fights over this cemetery date back to at least 1979, when a preservationist fought for a clean up. At the time, a Tampa realtor had bought 18 acres surrounding the cemetery, then he got a court judgement to place the cemetery land on the county tax rolls.

Nothing happened there, according to published reports, until the 1990s when a small subdivision was built.

It is appropriately named Memory Lane. Every lot has a nice home, except this one lot, which includes the cemetery.

Connie Webb grew up nearby and believes there are more graves than the 18 marked ones. She and her father visited the cemetery when she was a child.

“There were Indian mounds that were large that I wanted to climb and he would not let me, and there were shells everywhere that I wanted to pick up and play with and he said, ‘no, these are grave sites.'”

Webb recalls her father stood in front of bulldozers to protect graves when this land was plotted. All these years later, she’s prepared to carry on the fight for a dignified cemetery.

Meanwhile, the man in charge of selling the property, David Preast, said it is the county’s responsibility to maintain the cemetery. Preast is the trustee for the land. County officials contend it is the property owner’s responsibility to clean the cemetery because it is on private land.

Bender and Webb want the cemetery cleaned up and preserved, and they want to know whether there are more graves on the land.

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