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No graves found beneath Hillsborough Tax Collector’s Office building

A tip from the man who pointed to the cemetery beneath King High School didn’t pan out this time.

TAMPA — Death and taxes, they say, are the two things no one can escape.

But at least they didn’t merge during a weekend search to determine whether a forgotten cemetery lies beneath the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office at 2814 E Hillsborough Ave.

A tip from cemetery researcher Ray Reed prompted the search. No sign of a grave was found, Tax Collector Doug Belden said Tuesday.

A survey using ground-penetrating radar was conducted by GeoView, the geophysical services company that discovered 145 graves from forgotten Ridgewood Cemetery on the grounds of King High School last month.

Reed had predicted Ridgewood would be found at the site, and late last year, he provided the tip led the Tampa Bay Times to discover the location of Zion Cemetery on North Florida Avenue, believed to be Tampa’s first African-American burial ground.

ORIGINAL STORY: Nearly 400 people buried in Tampa are missing. What happened to Zion Cemetery?

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Read how the story of Zion Cemetery has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa cemetery historian Ray Reed told county commissioners there might be graves beneath the tax collector's office.
Tampa cemetery historian Ray Reed told county commissioners there might be graves beneath the tax collector's office. [ "BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES" ]

Reed’s tip about the Tax Collector’s Office was based on a 1930′s photograph that appeared to show a cross-shaped grave marker. At a Hillsborough County Commission meeting Wednesday, Reed pleaded for action as he recited the names of some of the African-Americans he believed were buried there.

“Please do the right thing by them in 2020,” he told commissioners. "This is an abomination committed deliberately upon them.”

But when librarians at the John F. Germany Public Library downtown allowed the Times to view the original negative of the photo, the shape more resembled a wooden post for a wire fence than a grave marker.

The survey bore that out. The only underground object detected by the radar was utility equipment, Belden said. The scan went to an estimated depth of 7 to 8 feet.

Doug Belden, Hillsborough County tax collector, holds a news conference Tuesday to announce that no graves were found beneath hos office's building on East Hillsborough Avenue.
Doug Belden, Hillsborough County tax collector, holds a news conference Tuesday to announce that no graves were found beneath hos office's building on East Hillsborough Avenue. [ CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL | Times ]

“I’m glad we provided closure,” Belden said. “I think it’s sad. I would be devastated if I didn’t know where one of my loved ones was buried."

The survey cost about $14,200, Belden said. The building is owned by the state and he plans to ask the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which shares the site, to pay half of the cost.

Reed did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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