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Graves get new headstones

Confederate veteran Lorenzo Ross and his son Percy, lying in unmarked graves on Weedon Island for 29 years, can now rest with headstones planted firmly on them.

In a Halloween-like setting Monday, workers replaced the markers, stolen in 1965 by Halloween vandals, so the episode has come full circle.

Although the state provided the money for the new markers, the United Daughters of the Confederacy decided they should not be put in place until the Weedon Island preserve was secured, said park manager Keith Thompson. Now the state has leased the park to Pinellas County's Park Department.

"When the county leased the land, Percy and Lorenzo went with it," Thompson said.

One of many improvements made by Pinellas County, the city and Southwest Florida Water Management District is an entrance station, Thompson said. "Florida Power will guard the gate at night, and that will make it secure," Thompson said. "So for the last three or four days, we've been out there locating and re-marking the graves," Thompson said. Florida Power has its Weedon Island plant at the site.

Ross played an important part in local history. Ross Island, the second largest island in the Weedon preserve, and Papy's Bayou were both named for him. (He was called "Papy.")

Ross paid $2 an acre for Ross Island, and he and his wife Inez made their home there. He left to join the 7th Florida Infantry during the Civil War.

"They went up as far as Tennessee," said Thompson. "His knapsack had a bullet hole in it, and his blanket had 27 bullet holes in it at the Battle of Chickamauga. He was one of the few men in the 7th who survived. He was taken prisoner and returned to Fort Brooke."

Ross and his wife returned to the island, where his son Percy was killed in a hunting accident in 1884 at the age of 13. When Ross died in 1888, he was buried alongside his son. His is the only Confederate grave on the island.

The city, county and the water management district will have a Coalition Celebration on the site Nov. 3 to celebrate the completion of Phase One. This includes the security provided by Florida Power and the gate.

Ensuing improvements include installing water and sewer lines, boardwalks and picnic shelters, restoring the fishing pier, new rest rooms and a second observation tower. The county expects 250 to 600 visitors a day at the preserve.