The Paola Historical Cemetery, also known as the Banana Lake Cemetery or Paola Church Yard Cemetery, is an unassuming lot recently cleared of underbrush in hopes of being finally developed. It is estimated that around 60 graves were once buried here, although only the remains of 10 markers can be found today.
The remaining 10 headstones were relocated to the southeast corner of the property in the 1990s by James Froelich when he previously attempted to spur development. The bodies were not moved, so they still are in the original locations on the lot and disgracefully displaced from their grave markers.
During the 1990s, a white picket fence was put around the relocated markers, but that fence is now gone. Many of the original graves were wooden cross markers that have since vanished. Other stone markers have been stolen or vandalized over the years.
Local legend states that several graves were paved over when the H.E. Thomas Parkway was widened decades ago. Old residents recalled seeing grave markers laying on the side of the road at that time.
The oldest known burial at the location was in 1855, though local legend says it was used earlier. The newest marked grave is from 1922, but it was likely used for at least two decades more. Newspaper reports announce burials there into the 1940s. It is estimated to be one of the earliest non-aboriginal burial grounds in Central Florida.
Paola Presbyterian Church once existed on the front of this 2-acre parcel. It was conditionally deeded by the Wieser family for use as a church and burial ground for the predominantly Swedish community of Paola.
The church building was erected there in 1879. It was a nondescript rectangular wooden building painted white with a small steeple. The church’s first pastor was Rev. Keigwin, who served from 1879-1884. Its last was Rev. J.S. Clark, who served from 1919 until 1927, when the church was disbanded. The building was destroyed by fire in 1929, with it all church records, except the Bible on the altar, saved by some hero.
The legible markers include the Buchanan, Doggart, Dorigo, Gullen, Munson, Patton, and Tenney families. The gravestones have death dates from 1877 to 1922.
The property appraiser’s website shows that the majority of the old churchyard is owned by Robert Horian. It was previously owned by James Froelich. There have been attempts to develop it dating back to the 1990s but were always met with resident protests or otherwise failed.
For a time, Froelich attempted to get the county to buy it from him to make it into a park, but that hasn’t happened. There is a section on the east side that is identified as being owned by the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners, but it doesn’t appear this includes where the extant gravestones are located.
This is a valuable piece of property on the southeast corner of 46A (HE Thomas Parkway) and Banana Lake Road. The threat of developing this historic site will not likely stop.