A historic local landmark is one step closer to becoming an official part of the City of Oviedo.
The Boston Cemetery is a five-acre plot of land donated by Prince Butler Boston to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in 1927 so the Black community of then-segregated Oviedo had a place to bury their dead. It’s currently an enclave — surrounded by city land but is itself deemed unincorporated Seminole County.
The Oviedo City Council voted unanimously Monday night to move the annexation plan to a March 6 public hearing. Those involved expect its eventual approval to be a formality at this point.
“I think it’s awesome that the church has decided to move forward with annexing it into the city,” Councilmember Natalie Teuchert said. “I think it’s pretty awful that we have the history we do, but we have it and it’s nice to be able to do something to say we’re not like that anymore. We want to welcome everybody into this city, and it’s kind of sad that it’s one of the last little donuts left where it’s not city property.”
The cemetery’s status as an enclave was first discovered when local activists began working toward having the dirt road to the cemetery paved. The road has been called “the worst road there is” by Oviedo Citizens in Action Treasurer Danny McKinney, who has been among those diligently working toward upgrading the road and annexation.
For an enclave to be annexed into city limits, it needs to meet three criteria: It must be contiguous to the city’s boundaries; it must be reasonably compact, meaning the lands are adjacent to the city limit; and it cannot create an additional enclave. Once the enclave was discovered, the church applied for a voluntary annexation.
Boston Cemetery, located at 199 Boston Cemetery Road behind City Hall, clears each of those, and would be annexed as part of Oviedo if it is adopted in the March 6 hearing, after nearly six months of work.
“Historically, no one really thought that the cemetery was outside of the City of Oviedo,” McKinney said. “[Boston’s] only concern was giving a proper resting place for those Black descendants to have a proper grave.”
In addition to the historical significance of the annexation, being part of the city also brings logistical advantages as it would now officially allow the cemetery to be serviced by the Oviedo police and fire departments.
“Even though [the police and fire departments] were doing it anyway, I understand they needed to have that formality,” said Antioch Church administrator Dr. Stanley Stone.
“If somebody went out there and tried to do vandalism or something like that, city police would be able to respond,” Oviedo City Manager Bryan Cobb said. “Especially being [so close to] City Hall. That’s probably the biggest [advantage].”
While the city approved $125,000 from its $21 million in federal COVID relief funding for the Boston Cemetery Road improvement a year ago, those funds are still untouched due to significant logistical issues.
Potential caskets under the road to be relocated
During planning for the paving of the road, it was discovered that there may be gravesites underneath the gravel. At least six potential caskets have been detected by sonar, meaning the city and Antioch Church have hurdles to clear prior to the work being done.
An archeologist is currently being onboarded to determine if the structures underneath the road are in fact graves. If they are, identification will be attempted. Antioch Church has a licensed funeral home director from Gail & Wynn’s Mortuary in Orlando and an undertaker on call to give guidance and oversee proper removal and relocation of the caskets.
“We’re going to go at it at a very pragmatic pace to make sure each step along the way, we’re doing it correctly,” Cobb said. “Obviously, when [you’re] doing something for the first time, you tend to be extra careful.”
There is concern that further delays in the road improvement could put the approved funding at risk.
“[It was suggested] to wait until the area gets developed, and we’ll have a developer do the road,” McKinney said. “But people are dying every day. We have a funeral on Saturday, so to wait more years before it gets done [is a difficult scenario].”
Stone, however, doesn’t believe the funding will be a problem.
“I understand [the] concern; that was my concern as well,” Stone said. “It was also the church’s concern. But because we have done everything we needed to do in terms of finding the graves and those kinds of things, I asked specifically whether or not we were going to lose the funding to pave the road, and I was told no.
“But until it happens, I understand the concern,” he said. “I’m staying on them to make sure that that money is earmarked for that purpose. And I don’t anticipate … that that’s going to be an issue.”
Despite the hurdles they have faced in the annexation and road improvement processes, stakeholders have been pleased with the collaboration between multiple entities, and are excited to see the cemetery be so close to annexation.
“[It] will be a significant accomplishment,” McKinney said, “because it goes to show the unity that exists currently with the City Council, the church and OCIA, that we are trying to right some wrongs from years gone by.”
The March 6 public hearing will take place at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall and is expected to be cause for celebration by those who have been involved in the process.
“The only people animated about it are the people who want it,” Teuchert said. “I think it’s going to be very positive. People are excited to see this become a part of the city.”
Watch the full Feb. 20 meeting
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