Rest in Peace Indianola’s Pioneer Cemetery

by  Volamae Roberts Brinkley

On north Merritt Island just north of the Barge Canal is a quiet, calm, peaceful place surrounded by a rock wall. There is no sound except the soft rumbling of traffic in the distance and an occasional wail of a siren. Gnarled limbs of ancient salt cedars stretch in every direction. Cedars native to Merritt Island have stood guard in this spot for over a hundred years. Storms have twisted and turned the trunks in grotesque shapes, but they continue to protect those who have gone on before.

Here and there bright swatches of colorful flowers poke through the brown leaves as sunlight filters through a canopy of green foliage. Near the center of the enclosed space, shrubs have eroded the stones often causing them to crack and making the lettering difficult to read. Toward the rear, a large, well-kept plot filled with bright artificial flowers, a comfortable bench across the comer, and the name Kiser prominent on a bevy of stones. R.M. Kiser, well known owner of the Greyhound Bus Station died many years ago. R.M. (as he was known) and his brother Carey were the oldest of twelve children born to Andrew Kiser and his wife. The Kiser plot is like a large family coming together for a reunion. Someone has lovingly cared for the final resting place of these early settlers as evidenced in this secluded place.

Names like Nisbet, Field, Crisafulli, Hill, Sanders, are scattered here and there on weathered stones under the trees. They represent folks who braved the mosquitoes to etch out a living when the only access to Merritt Island was a narrow wooden bridge. The Crisafulli’s, Furnari, Beenson and Pollicchio’s were Italian families who settled on the extreme end of the Island in the 1920′ s setting hundreds of acres of seedlings by hand; then budding each young growth until it became known as the famous Indian River Fruit. The families moved from Ohio and invested their life savings of $3000 in land that was not cleared or properly drained for orange trees. The ever present mosquito and summer heat without electricity or telephone, the stench from the smoke to protect the livestock, made life almost intolerable. They loved the land, the freedom, and became known as some of the finest growers of fruit in the world. Mary Crisafulli is buried beneath the trees, her photo proudly portrayed on the stone. Other members of this family of men and women who pioneered Merritt Island are entombed in the southwest section of this lovely spot where the bright sunlight filters down through the trees.

Nearby an overgrown plot littered with debris from fallen leaves bears the name Nisbet and next to it, Hill. Dave Nisbet grew up on Merritt Island, and married Sarah Curtis, also of Merritt Island. Dave was a County Commissioner and was one of those instrumental in the eradication of the ever-present mosquitoes. In the summer you either stayed in the house, or went to the beach to rid yourself of the pesky critters. Under his direction, low-lying land was drained; hundreds of acres dredged and ditched. Dave hired Lee Wenner to fly a low flying plane to distribute mosquito spray. The name Nisbet is well known as a prominent figure in the development of Central Brevard County.

About half way down the path is a well-worn stone with a baby lamb carved on the front; the name Hardin in bold letters across the top, and underneath, the name Buddy. Over sixty years ago, four year old Buddy wandered away from his home on North Merritt Island, and walked into a retention pond looking for a lost toy. Several hours later, he was found where he had drowned in the pond. His sister Jan, was a best friend of my daughter Sherry.

As I walk the tree lined path it’s like reading a history book of names I remember while living on Merritt Island. In the early 50’s we lived in a “Quarters” house on a large grove north of where the Barge Canal is today. I remember the spray trucks that came about dark each evening putting out a huge cloud of fog that smelled horrible! I also remember driving a tractor from one grove to another to take fertilizer, and the retention pond behind our house where a child almost drowned one dark night. I remember thinking Merritt Island would sink when the Barge Canal was dug, and the long trek to Cocoa before the bridge across the canal was built. I recall the huge alligator behind a high wire fence in Bobby Hill’s yard that was called “Jumbo”. Each time I stopped to examine a name engraved on a granite stone, the name has a face and a story.

A simple pink granite stone is near the front of this tranquil setting. Pink silk roses adorn the sides and a picture· of two intertwined hands and the words, “In the Hands of God”, 1949- 1952, is etched on the surface. A daughter born on Merritt Island, now in heaven, was my reason for visiting the graves of these brave souls. This is the [mal resting place of many early settlers in Merritt Island long before Rockets lit up the night sky, or the Barge Canal split the island in two and spilled out in the ocean.

I invite you to visit in a place called Indianola Cemetery next time you pass by. Written in late April, 2008- when families came together to remember.

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters,  Memory Book, available at the Florida Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village.

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