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Revival of Historic East Elfers Cemetery

Inaugurated in January 2011, a new committee took stewardship of the historic East Elfers Cemetery, owned by Asbury United Methodist Church.

Today, 127-years after the first burials, the East Elfers Cemetery still serves as an active community burial ground.

Tucked away along a curve on Baillie Road, the cemetery remains an important piece of our community’s history.

Remarkably, since 1885, these hallowed grounds have continued under the ownership of the Methodist Church, which, still today, carries forward the work started so long ago.

The East Elfers Cemetery had its beginnings in 1884 when a few settlers chose the land, situated just south of the Pithlachascotee River, as the place to build a house of divine worship for the Methodist ministry and membership.

Under the direction of Reverend H.S. Miller, here, the group of faithful built the small, one-room, Sapling Woods Methodist church-- once described as an "old block house.”

According to the recollections of former Sapling Woods church member Ella Mae Hay Patterson, the little church had two rows of wooden benches. The women and children sat on the right side and the men on the left. A space at the rear of the church was left for the young children who fell asleep during the minister’s two- or three-hour sermon.

Deep in the woods, shaded beneath the moss draped oaks, touring pines and leaning red cedars, the Sapling Woods church became a beacon to the settlers living around it, even in their times of mourning.

Within a few months the congregation consecrated a portion of the land as a burial ground.

Among the earliest marked is the grave of Civil War veteran James O. Brown, who, at 58-years old, died on Aug. 21, 1884, a result of Rheumatism -- perhaps the cemetery’s first burial.

Fifteen months later on Nov. 17, 1885, the Lake Butler Villa Company deeded the land, consisting of five acres, to the trustees representing the Tampa District of the Florida Methodist Episcopal Conference, South.

As one of the first Methodist churches in western Pasco, for the next 25 years the little Sapling Woods Methodist Church met the spiritual needs of the community.

But, to be closer to the ever growing population, by 1910 the little church was abandoned.

On April 10, 1910, pioneer land owner J. A. Sheffield deeded the church one-square acre of land near the new Elfers post office, situated in the area of today’s Grand Blvd. and Trouble Creek Road. Under Rev. A. M. Mann, pastor, plans for a new church building were implemented.

Reverend Jesse M. Mitchell furnished lumber from his saw mill and the men of the church contributed the labor. The new, larger, Elfers Methodist Episcopal church progressed rapidly with Sam Baker as head carpenter.

According to Methodism: Growth and Glory, eventually the old Sapling Woods “block house” was sold to Henry Witt, who used the materials to build a house east of today’s Seven Springs Golf Course.

Retaining the original five-acre site, records show, even after the church moved the congregation didn’t abandon their little cemetery.

Instead, the sacred grounds were maintained by the families and people in the church through planned cemetery work days, in many instances, an all day affair with dinner served on the grounds.

By 1940, with a dwindling congregation, the tough decision was made to consolidate the Elfers church with the New Port Richey congregation. On June 3, 1940, the Florida Conference announced the Elfers Methodist Church would be discontinued, due to lack of support.

But, this didn’t dampen the spirits of the Elfers congregation who were graciously welcomed into the New Port Richey church.

In the absence of a home church, in the early 1950s the families of both East Elfers and  cemeteries, the latter the historic Baptist cemetery, united to form the Elfers Cemetery Association. And, for more than 20 years, they diligently worked to upkeep the records and maintenance of these hallowed grounds.

Correspondents of the Elfers Cemetery Association reveal, for a time, the Florida Methodist Conference contemplated deeding the five acre East Elfers Cemetery to the association. However, these plans never materialized.

By 1965, with early services held at Colonial Hills Civic Club, a new Methodist church was organized in Elfers -- the Asbury United Methodist Church. For the first time since 1940 Elfers had a home church.

On July 5, 1973, the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church deeded the five acre East Elfers Cemetery to the newly organized Asbury Methodist Church -- the closest to the cemetery.

Working with the already established Elfers Cemetery Association, Asbury immediate implemented a plan to care for the cemetery. This plan included a committee to oversee the cemetery.

Mostly comprised of members of the Elfers Cemetery Association, by 1977 the committee had organized enough to have the cemetery platted, plots available for sale, and a perpetual care fund created.

Fast forward to today -- the East Elfers Cemetery is now a non-denominational community burial ground and the site of more than 700 burials, still operated by the East Elfers Cemetery Committee.

In January 2011, still under ownership of Asbury United Methodist Church, a new cemetery committee took charge of the responsibilities of the historic cemetery, a duty wrought in honor and reverence.

Since January, the new committee has worked to revive the traditional cemetery work days, involving the families, church members, and the community at-large.

Concentrating on the overgrown areas, the clean-ups held in the last few months have significantly improved the overall appearance of the cemetery.

The next cemetery clean-up is planned for July 30, 2011, beginning around 8 a.m., so mark your calendars for the time honored tradition.

Membership to the new East Elfers Cemetery Committee is open to all Asbury church members, cemetery lot owners, or descendents of those at rest in the cemetery. Currently, the committee holds regular meetings once a month at .

kathy murphy July 20, 2011 at 12:18 PM
Good article. Thank you for writing it.
Jeff Cannon July 20, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Kathy, your welcome and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

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