RIVERVIEW — At Samford Cemetery, moss-draped oak trees shade the headstones. The afternoon sun casts long shadows, and the air is still and quiet.
Yet this spot, the final resting place of some of Riverview's pioneer families, is far from a place of beautiful repose. Broken pieces of headstones and monuments cover the ground. Tall grass obscures some graves, and litter abounds. For years, the elements have been slowly obliterating names from some grave markers.
It wasn't always this way. In the 1850s, members of the Duzenbury family began burying loved ones in their namesake cemetery. It later became the Peru Cemetery, sharing a name with the tiny phosphate mining settlement —Peru — that would one day become Riverview.
Samford Cemetery holds the remains of some of the area's first prominent residents: Samuel B. Mayes, who helped settle Peru; Urban S. Bird, an early minister of Riverview Methodist Church; and Alexander Samford, a well-known 19th century minister for whom the cemetery was ultimately named.
Not all the graves are from the 19th century: Hattie Bailey, died Sept., 27, 1985. Mary Conaty, died Feb. 1, 1997. Betty Fellion, died July 18, 1983.
Valerie Gosa buried her stillborn son at Samford in 2001. Back then, the grass was cut and the trees were trimmed. Now, visits to the cemetery off Cone Grove Road east of U.S. 301 require her to park along the driveway entrance. The grass is so tall that she's afraid of accidentally driving over a grave. Erosion has overwhelmed some graves with soil and caused parts of others to reappear with heavy rain.
"Nobody cares. I've called just about everyone asking for help, even some of the local churches," Gosa said. "We have at least three ministers buried there."
Gosa said she's willing to pick up where Susan Bunting left off. Bunting formed a cemetery association in the early 1990s to keep the place up. For a few years, she got prison inmates to clean the grounds twice a month.
"That was until the governor thought it was a waste of money," Bunting said.
Volunteers from the cemetery association also did upkeep for a few years.
"It's just too much for only a few people," Bunting said.
A perpetual-care fund was never established because the cemetery is so old. Its small size and the fact that it no longer sells plots means Samford is exempt from state oversight, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Gosa is holding a cleanup day at 9 a.m. Saturday and is asking the community to help.
Those who turn out will get to help save a piece of Riverview history. Bunting's great-aunt, who was of Russian nobility, is buried there, though the iron cross that marked her grave is gone.
It's unknown how many burial spots have been compromised from the estimated 300 graves that were added when a local funeral director oversaw the cemetery's upkeep several decades ago.
Information about the history of Samford Cemetery was obtained from Temple Terrace resident Chuck Matson, who is writing a book about Hillsborough County cemeteries, and his Web site, www.hillsborough countycemeteries.com.