Pasco History: The Mystery of Stark Cemetery
Once part of a thriving African-American community, today the Stark Cemetery is a piece of the county's almost-forgotten past.
Among one of the most intriguing subjects that I’ve encountered while researching Pasco's history is the Stark Cemetery.
Driving down the nicely paved streets of Embassy Hills in Port Richey and past the homes with their neatly manicured lawns, it’s hard to believe this is where, according to documents and anecdotes, the cemetery stood. The surrounding community was a thriving African-American community that stretched from today’s Pine Hill Road north to around Stone Road.
While parts of the community still survive along Pine Hill Road, few remember the Stark Cemetery—which was apparently destroyed during the west coast housing boom of the early 1970s.
As early as 1920, census records for New Port Richey provide evidence of a small African-American settlement where men were employed as laborers at a local rock crusher.
The earliest written reference to the settlement appears in the New Port Richey Press in October 1923 when it was referred to as “the little negro colony north of Port Richey”.
Existing during the times of segregation, by 1924, historic records show the community had its own school and church—known as the Port Richey Colored School and the Little Home Baptist Church.
In November 1925, the community was officially platted as the Booker T. Washington subdivision, “an exclusive subdivision for colored people”— the only one of its kind in west Pasco.
The Booker T. Washington community was active with social gatherings, church events, and school programs; which were always supported by the white residents of New Port Richey and typically reported in the New Port Richey Press.
And while a wide range of information exist about the early activities of the community, little documentation survives about the Stark Cemetery except for its location on a 1954 United States Geological Survey (USGS) field sketch and within aerial photographs from the time.
Research into Pasco County land records reveals that among the earliest residents in the area on the maps was Robert Stark, who, according to the New Port Richey Press, was a respectable member of the Booker T. Washington community
While not confirmed, it’s believed that Robert Starks was, in some way, connected to the Stark Cemetery and possibly the person for whom the cemetery was named.
Plotted on today’s maps, the cemetery, if it survived, would be located north of Stone Road, along Ledgestone Lane in the Embassy Hills subdivision—an area now built over with homes.
I’ve talked with those who say they’ve heard of the old cemetery but never actually visited it. Some claim the cemetery contained a number of children. Others say that it was relocated.
But no one can seem to offer any substantial information, such as the size of the cemetery, the funeral home involved in moving graves, or names which might be verified through records and in the cemetery where they were reportedly moved.
If relocated, I often wonder how it was that the cemetery’s unmarked burials were moved when there was likely little to no visual evidence of their existence. It’s also unclear what evidence, if any, existed at the time of development.
The loss of Stark Cemetery proves the importance of preserving and protecting our historic sites and knowing more about our past, since it could very well lie beneath the homes that we live in today.
Regardless of race, creed, or color this is our history, cemeteries are the final resting places of our pioneers who worked diligently to establish the community that we know today. For this, they should be respected and preserved for future generations.