Pioneer Day on March 9 will honor early settlers buried at Pinewood Cemetery
“Pioneers! O, Pioneers!” wrote Walt Whitman of the intrepid folks who pushed ever westward when the nation was young. But brave souls ventured far south, too, into a vast, mosquito-infested swampland.
More than 200 of those pioneers are remembered and honored every year at the oldest cemetery south of the Miami River – indeed, one of the oldest historical sites in Coral Gables: Pinewood Cemetery at 7220 SW 47th Court.
The event is Pioneer Day, and this year’s celebration is set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 9, when the public is given a special tour of the cemetery, which dates to 1855. Amid the heavy vegetation, a visitor might think he or she is on a nature trail, save for telltale tiny tombstones marking the many young children lost 100+ years ago.
The first recorded burial was in 1897, when the former Larkins Cemetery (also known at one point as Cocoplum Cemetery) was one acre. Three more acres were added in 1906. The settlers resting there include veterans of the Seminole Wars, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I, as well as victims of the 1926 hurricane.
That more is known today about the cemetery and its inhabitants is thanks to genealogist Harriet Steiger Liles, who with researcher Larry Wiggins wrote the book Pinewood Cemetery, Coral Gables, Florida: A History with Pioneer Biographies in 2008. They have traced the story behind each grave in Pinewood.
And in a major community restoration effort, the Pioneer Cemetery Advisory Board has restored all surviving tombstones and replaced more than 40 others. The new stones include pictures or brief descriptions of the men, women and children buried at the site.
On Pioneer Day, a member of the Pinewood Cemetery Advisory Board tells each pioneer’s story. Member of the Boy Scouts and the Children of the American Revolution also participate, and copies of Ms. Liles’ book will be available for purchase.
The event, sponsored by the city of Coral Gables and the Pinewood Cemetery Advisory Board, is free and open to the public; light refreshments are served. Families are welcome, and wearing closed shoes is encouraged. More information is available at 305-460-5093 or www.coralgables.com.
“Pioneer Day is such a wonderful remembrance of the people who came and started our cities in South Florida, and it wasn’t easy,” said Louan Zagarino, chairwoman of the Pinewood Cemetery Advisory Board. “It makes you thankful that they were willing to do that so we could have the good life we have today.”
Capucine Touton is a senior at the University of Miami studying history and public relations.