Circle of Life by Lois Bolin PhD. Old Naples Historian

The Circle of Life Conceived by the love of two, died with the love of many

While home to a little over 22,000 people, the City of Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with the sixth highest per capita income and the second highest number of millionaires per capita in America; but it wasn’t always this popular or populated.

Early Days
By the time the Naples Depot (1927) and Tamiami Trail (1928) were seeing regular usage, the ‘Town’ of Naples’ population had grown to almost 3000 residents. The wealthy vacationed in the winter, and a few brave souls stayed year round, bearing out the summers of hurricanes, mosquitoes and blistering sun. They
worked as fishermen, farmers and ship builders and the few black people living here probably worked as laborers: laying the railroad, logging, farming and doing domestic work.

End of the Line
In the last days of the circle of life, the early dead of Collier’s founding families created pockets of burial areas, such as Kirkland Cemetery, located around Rookery Bay. Most people think there are only two cemeteries in Collier County-the Naples Memorial Gardens (525 111th Ave. N.) and Palm Royale (96780 Vanderbilt Beach Road). Yet the City of Naples has an historic graveyard one can visit while visiting the pharmacy at one of the City’s busiest intersections, Tamiami Trail North (U.S. 41) and Pine Ridge Road, catty-corner from Waterside Shops called Rosemary’s Cemetery.

Once upon a time this cemetery, which took its name from the pungent rosemary bushes that once grew there, was considered “out in the boonies”. The first settlers were buried at the corner of 3rd Street South and 10th
Avenue South, near St. Ann’s Church. As Naples’ population boomed in the 1930s, businessmen were looking to develop that land so the Rosemary Cemetery Corp. was formed and Edward W. Crayton, president of the Naples Improvement Company, donated a 20-acre plot of land on the outskirts of town.

In her book “Naples Past and Naples Present,” the late folklorist Maria Stone wrote that the new cemetery was so far out in the “country” that Mr. Crayton and other authorities were sure the area’s earliest settlers would forever rest there in peace. Pioneering families buried in this fenced-in cemetery include homesteader Madison Weeks, who settled at Gordon Pass. The remains of Bonnie Kirkland, Leonora and Hart Lowe, Ellen
Phillips, Mr. H. Youngman and John and Nancy Weeks, along with roughly 20 people whose headstones are no longer legible, according to the 1944 notes of Naples city engineer William Cambier (namesake for Cambier Park).

Historical records showed that families of the dead placed coquina shell or wrought iron markers at the gravesites. Like many old cemeteries, when the rainy season brought on high waters, the caskets often had to be weighed down to keep them from popping back up, which ultimately led to its current wrought iron enclosure. Because of its remoteness, the 20-acre tract was used for dumping trash and hunting. Numerous grave markers were destroyed before a restoration effort began in the 1970s, spearheaded by the North Naples Civic Association. (According to museum files, there were 109 gravesites platted and registered with the county in 1934. Today we can see only 45 or so head markers.)

There is another burial site few know of yet drive by it every day. Near the southwest corner of Pine Ridge and Goodlette-Frank roads is the location of eight black men who died while building the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, between 1931 and 1947. They are marked by 4 simple pillars. The last interment was in 1947. Unfortunately, any death or burial records were destroyed by Hurricane Donna in 1960.

In the early 1990s, there was talk of moving the graves again-so that the desirable piece of land could be auctioned off to the highest bidder for development. Fortunately, County Commissioner Bettye Matthews said it would be better to clean up the area and declare it a historic site.

Wreaths Across Collier
The weekend of December 19, community members assembled for Wreaths Across America at Collier’s local gravesites and this year Rosemary’s Cemetery was not left out. Local, Lili Montes, COO of Aielli Group, premier Lifestyle Photographer and Naples Hidden Gems Creator, Vicki Baker, and Wayne Smith, USAF
Veteran, Vietnam POW and retired executive, cleaned the area, laid wreaths to honor all who were conceived by the love of two, died with the love of many.

If you have ideas or questions about coverage for local history or veterans, Pony Express text 239.777.2281!
Photography by Vicki Baker

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