TARPON SPRINGS – The city of Tarpon Springs already has one cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Soon, it may have two.
Tina Bucuvalas, the city’s curator of arts and historical resources, informed the City Commission on Oct. 2 that Cycadia Cemetery, at 1021 East Tarpon Ave., has been nominated for inclusion in the prestigious register.
The National Register is encouraging the nomination of more traditional cultural properties, which “are important in maintaining the continued cultural identity of the community,” Bucuvalas said. The 130-year-old Cycadia fulfills the TCP requirement goals due to its unique connection to Tarpon’s Greek community, she said.
The most distinctive feature of the city-owned Cycadia Cemetery is its association with Greek-American history and culture in Tarpon Springs, Bucuvalas said. “The city itself has the highest percentage of residents with Greek heritage in the country and is the place most closely associated with the sponge industry in the country.”
While pointing out the distinctive features of many of Cycadia’s grave markers, including depictions of the sponge diving industry, the use of traditional Greek incense burners and the abundant presence of Byzantine crosses, Bucuvalas said, “Every cemetery has its own unique and very interesting history. But what the National Register wants is something that is more outstanding or unique in the nation.”
Following the presentation, Bucuvalas fielded questions from the commission.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos thanked Bucuvalas for working to get the cemetery included in the National Register, adding, “Is that going to give us any opportunities to get grants to help with development?”
Any application grant for the cemetery, if it is on the National Register, would have its credibility improved “tremendously,” Bucuvalas replied.
In response to a question from Commissioner Jacob Karr regarding the exclusion from the National Register application of people buried in the cemetery who aren’t of Greek heritage, Bucuvalas said, “This is in no way to disrespect anyone else who’s in the cemetery.”
The National Register, is selective in its application criteria because it doesn’t want to list every cemetery in the country, Bucuvalas said. “So, what we’re looking for is the most unique aspect to nominate this.”
The commission later unanimously approved a consent agenda item authorizing Alahouzos to send a letter in support of Cycadia’s National Register nomination.
After the meeting, Alahouzos said Cycadia Cemetery and the nearby Rose Cemetery represent important pieces of the city’s history. “That’s the beauty of Tarpon Springs — we’re unique,” he said.
Rose Cemetery, which was listed on the National Register in 2017, was the burial ground for people of color in the North Pinellas-West Pasco area during the days of racial segregation.
Bucuvalas concurred with the mayor.
“I think it’s a great honor to have your history or cultural heritage put on the National Register,” she said. “It’s an honor and recognition of our historical and cultural importance, and it could also bring more tourism to the area, as many people check the Register to determine their travel and vacation plans.”
Bucuvalas said getting the cemetery on the National Register would be a good ending for her 10 years as the city’s arts and history curator. The post will be eliminated in the spring.
The Cycadia Cemetery nomination is scheduled to be reviewed by a state board on Nov. 8 and if approved, would go before the National Register for review sometime next spring.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time everywhere I’ve gone — Greece, Australia, across the United States — observing cemeteries for any continuity with Cycadia, and I’m happy to do this research because it has not been done by others,” she said.
“There are a lot of important figures from Tarpon’s history buried in Cycadia, a lot of relatives of current residents, including the mayor and the City Clerk, and I feel like I’m doing it for them, so these people are not forgotten.”