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Whitaker Cemetery

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota History Alive

Sarasota History - Whitaker Cemetery photo

When pioneer settlers to this area died, family members typically buried them near their house, in what often became family graveyards. The Whitaker Cemetery is one of those family graveyards.

William Henry Whitaker came to Sarasota Bay in the early 1840s, when it was part of Hillsborough County. (It was part of Manatee County from 1855-1921.) He and his half-brother, Hamilton Valentine Snell, built a log cabin at Yellow Bluffs, a relatively high piece of land overlooking the bay at about the present 12th Street in Sarasota.

In 1851, Whitaker married Mary Jane Wyatt of Manatee and their first two children were born in that cabin.

For several months during the Third Seminole War, the family moved for safety to Branch Fort on the Manatee River. While there, their third child was born and the Yellow Bluffs home was burned. After the war ended, the Whitaker family moved back from the water, to the east of the present North Tamiami Trail at 12th Street.

Through the 1870s the family grew until there were 10 children. Two of the children, Carrie and Grace, died before they reached adulthood, and they were buried to the east of the house. William died in 1888 and was buried near his daughters. By 1895, all the adult children had left home and Mary Jane had moved to Tampa, where she died in 1908.

In "One Man's Family," A.K. Whitaker, grandson of William and Mary Jane, recalled that the eight acres of Whitaker property between Hog Creek and 12th Street, from Tamiaim Trail to Cocoanut Avenue, then stood vacant until his father, Dr. Furman Chairs Whitaker, sold it in 1925. During that period, various family members cared for the cemetery.

Around 1910, Charles C. Whitaker of Tampa had the cemetery enclosed with cement block fence and a vault made to house the graves of William and Mary.

The eight acres around the cemetery remained undeveloped through the 1930s and vandalism marred the graveyard. To provide for long-term care of the cemetery, three lots, including the cemetery, were deeded to the Sara de Soto Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in exchange for the care and upkeep of the graveyard. More than 20 years later, West Coast Lumber Company donated an office building to the chapter and the building was moved to 12th Street southeast of the cemetery.

In the fall of 1959, the Sara de Soto Chapter established a new clubhouse and the Whitaker family worked to repair and restore the damaged cemetery wall and vault. On February 28, 1960, the DAR held a dedication ceremony during which Louise Higel and A.K. Whitaker formally presented the new iron gates and name plate for the cemetery.

Over the years, additional descendents of William and Mary Jane Whitaker have been buried in the Whitaker Cemetery. The Sara de Soto Chapter continues to maintain the cemetery, which remains a physical reminder of the Whitaker's long tenure in Sarasota.

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