Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery was recently designated as a Polk County Heritage Site, which aids the county in efforts to preserve and promote the cemetery’s history.
History of Shady Oaks Gardens
Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery is located along Old Homeland Road in Bartow, and it has long served as a peaceful, final resting place for some of Polk County’s indigent population. Shady Oaks Gardens has been known as the county’s primary “pauper” cemetery since 1963, and 862 people are currently buried there. As the name of the 2.8-acre site implies, the graves lie under the shade of oak trees. While there has not been a burial at Shady Oaks Gardens since 2012, there are still hundreds of plots available.
A “pauper’s grave”
Historically, “pauper” refers to a recipient of government relief or public charity, which is why the cemetery fall under the responsibility of the county. Some of the people interred at Shady Oaks Gardens have been identified, likely those that were known but whose families did not have money to pay for a burial. Those who did not have families remained unnamed; older grave markers or records may include where or how they died in place of their name.
Everyone has a story
While it’s impossible to know the story of everyone buried at Shady Oaks Gardens, it’s certain everyone had one. The oldest documented death located at Shady Oaks Gardens dates back to 1918. Rosamond Younger, who was born in 1898 in Georgia, succumbed to bronchial pneumonia on Nov. 8, 1918. Younger’s body was moved from the nearby community of Philippi in 1963. Philippi’s cemetery was relocated to accommodate phosphate mining.
Musician Moses Williams (1919-1988) is also among those buried at Shady Oaks Gardens. Williams moved to Florida from Mississippi when he was 11, and he worked in show business and as an itinerant farm worker. He played a one-string guitar, known as the “didley bow,” using music as a side hustle. Williams was one of many African Americans who moved to Florida between 1910 and 1930 in pursuit of the opportunities a cash economy could provide.
In an effort to properly honor the deceased, Polk County divisions have worked together to find, catalog and compile a database of the people buried at the cemetery. The searchable online database is expected in 2024.
Visitors are welcome at Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery. It is located at 3927 Old Homeland Rd. in Bartow. Also, to learn more about Polk County’s Heritage Sites, contact the History Center at (863) 534-4386.