“Has anybody asked you about the two mounds of dirt that are at the old cemetery across from Johnny’s filling station? Did they exhume a person(s)?” – Eric Rollings
The Orange Hill Cemetery is located across Michigan Street from popular tater tot restaurant Johnny’s Fillin’ Station [GMap].
The “mounds of dirt” that Rollins is referring to are simply piles of mulch where trees have been ground down to their base. You can see in the following photos that a large stand of trees has been removed.
There are no signs of digging on the site, and Orange County spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet told us the following,”The trees were removed by Orange County Facilities because they were dying and we wanted to ensure the safety of anyone visiting the site. There were about six trees that were removed. No other or further development is planned on this site.”
For added context, Orange Hill Cemetery was once a potter’s field; a burial ground for people who could not be identified, generally because they were indigent or homeless. The term actually has roots in the Bible, referring to a time in Jerusalem when priests purchased area where clay was being dug for pottery for the burial of strangers, criminals, and the poor.
Over 500 people were buried here between 1907 and 1961; mostly infants, transients, and murder victims. It was segregated by race. At 522 plots, the graveyard was full, and at some point the cemetery was forgotten; until the mid-nineties when it was rediscovered during a County-wide property audit.
The property had been purchased in the 1890s by the County to host the Poor House, which was later renamed the County Home. The County used to give individuals experiencing extreme poverty a monthly allowance of $5 to $10, but stopped once the Poor House was constructed.
There is no map of where each person was buried and there are only a dozen cement-brick markers left that show where some of these people were buried. Comprehensive records were not kept.
According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, the first woman to vote in Florida was buried here. Hiram E. Calder by name, she lived her life as a man for most of her life, which is how she was registered to vote. She was later moved to a cemetery in Tampa.
The cemetery sits on the northwestern corner of a larger piece of property that houses the Juvenile Justice Center. The County keeps this section of property mowed but only a simple “No Trespassing” sign is in place to keep people from driving onto the grass. There is even a section of missing curb to allow for easy truck access to the site and no fence to keep out pedestrians.