With only 14 burial spaces remaining in the Winter Garden Cemetery, city officials are having to make a decision — proclaim the cemetery full after those spaces are filled or find a way to increase the number of spaces.
The Winter Garden Cemetery has 7,708 spaces — and most of them are either filled or purchased and reserved.
The Winter Garden City Commission will vote this week on an ordinance that would expand the cemetery by 437 spaces. The city would be vacating land previously dedicated to roads and reserved for parks within sections 1 through 3.
Jon C. Williams, Winter Garden’s assistant city manager — public services, said officials are not proposing a rate increase with the expansion. Current rates are $800 per space for city residents and $1,200 for others.
John “Eddie” Crabtree is the full-time cemetery sexton. He has been the caretaker for 21 years, and his role is to sell the cemetery spaces, be present at all burial services and manage the grounds.
It’s a rewarding job, he said, “Knowing that you helped a family at their time of need.”
And having grown up in West Orange County, Crabtree is honored to take care of the area’s ancestors.
“The city has maintained a beautiful cemetery setting for almost 100 years and has been able to keep the small-town charm, even with all the growth around us,” he said. “I think that is very special.”
The city of Winter Garden established its municipal cemetery in 1924 on a three-acre piece of land on County Road 535 adjacent to Lake Roper. The first person buried there is Vivian M. Jacobs, who died April 5, 1925, at the age of 16 months. Beside her lies 23-year-old William G. Jacobs, presumably her father, who died five months later.
This first section had 76 lots; at that time, lots were sold in groups of eight burial spaces.
When subsequent sections were added, most of these lots were sold with four spaces each, although there are some with six and even eight spaces. Section 2 has 131 lots, Section 3 has 152 lots, and 24 and 25 together have 78 lots.
Sections 1 through 3 are located north of Lake Butler Boulevard; sections 24 and 25, as well as the mausoleum, are south of the roadway, near Braddock Park. The mausoleum was finished in 1955 and has 104 crypts.
Columbarium niches are available, too, on the cemetery’s north side.
According to Crabtree, sections 1 and 24 were established at the same time — 1 was for white people, and 24 was for black people. The segregation later was lifted.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.