The Dunedin Historical Society is investigating the origins of a mysterious 1880s tombstone discovered in the back yard of a foreclosed home on the city's south side.
Historical Society director Vinnie Luisi says a utilities worker who was cutting power to the home stumbled upon the headstone a few weeks ago and notified the organization.
The society attempted an archaeological dig near the tombstone but was thwarted by thick tree roots. Now it is searching for a local archaeology group that could bring sonar equipment to detect whether the back yard might also contain graves.
The stone pays homage to Thomas Moore, who died Aug. 11, 1885, at age 30; Harriet Corning, who died Aug. 9, 1886, at age 4; William Moore, who died Sept. 1, 1897, at age 25; and another William Moore, who died April 15, 1898, at 11 months.
But curiously, the marble marker, which weighs several hundred pounds, is of a design more modern than those typical of the 1800s and in remarkably good condition, so Luisi wonders if it might simply be a memorial honoring those whose names are listed on it rather than a stone marking their graves.
However, none of the names match local census data from the late 19th century.
It's possible that the last owner of the home, who hailed from New Jersey, brought the stone with him.
However, officials are also exploring a theory that the individuals named on the marker might have a connection to Dunedin's pioneering Moore family.
The Moores, known as some of Dunedin's first settlers, arrived in the Clearwater-Dunedin area in the mid 1870s and built a home near the foreclosed property where the headstone was discovered. (The Tampa Bay Times agreed not to identify the home's exact location to prevent tampering.)
"We don't know for sure if there's actually something there or nothing there and what is the story behind the headstone," Luisi said. "Is it to honor someone who died in war, is it someone who was previously in slavery and couldn't be buried properly, or was it someone who was on the way to Dunedin and died on the way and this was the way to honor their relatives?"
He added: "The Historical Society is concerned about giving them a proper funeral in the future if there are remains found."
If it turns out that the stone is related to Dunedin's Moores, it would add another chapter to the family's rich history.
Family patriarch George Washington Moore moved in 1875 from Virginia to Pinellas County, where the family worked in citrus groves, according to data from the historical museum.
One of his children, Moffett W. Moore, became renowned as a solid Dunedin businessman who over the years made cement blocks, ran a feed store, delivered ice, made and sold ice cream, operated a cemetery, manufactured cigar boxes and wrote a city history book to hand out to real estate clients.
The Moores married into other pioneering families — Duncan, Douglas and Rousseau — creating deep roots, Luisi said.
Research is still under way, but society officials think the foreclosed home was built around the 1940s. The historical society's attempts to reach the previous homeowner were unsuccessful.
But a real estate agent who is in the process of selling the house to a new family spoke to a relative of the previous homeowner. That relative indicated that he believed the stone might have belonged to the homeowner.
"The odds of it coming from New Jersey with another Moore family — I dunno, it's kinda strange," Luisi said. "At this point, we're not really sure the Moores are of the same family. But we're not giving up hope."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.