Clearwater is a thriving city. The evidence of progress can be seen on every corner and the roads fill with the congestion of beachgoers and snowbirds who seek out our more moderate winter weather. As you head to work, you may take Belcher Road, or cut over to US 19 and use Harn Boulevard. Newer residents may not remember when McMullen Booth was a two-lane road that ended at Boot Ranch cattle farm but may wonder about the giant boot statue that remains in place. It is hard to imagine Clearwater without thousands of tourists, but there was a time when cattle roamed the land and Native Americans fished the rivers and bay. There are monuments to days gone by scattered throughout the city – you just have to know where to look.
If you’re taking the cut-through road of Northeast Coachman, you may have noticed the well-kept clearing of land dotted with gravestones.
McMullen Cemetery, named after James McMullenwhen he donated the plot of land, bears the namesake of the same family McMullen Booth Road is named after. He was one of the original founders of Clearwater, arriving here when there was nothing but palmetto trees and swamp. Seven McMullen brothers ultimately moved into the area and are credited with establishing what would later be known as the Pinellas County peninsula.
The headstones read like a who’s-who of Clearwater. Familiar- sounding names are scattered across the cemetery and long-time residents of the area will have an Ah-ha! moment as the pieces connect. Tucked next to a row of McMullens is the resting place of Lieutenant Burton Belcher, who died in 1918 onboard the U.S.S. Mercury during World War I. His headstone notes that he died for the freedom of the world. Another row reveals the headstones of Richard Booth’s family and nearby lies the burial plot of Betty Lane.
In one corner of the cemetery, the headstones are worn and almost illegible. A nearby placard lists the names and a note that all the graves were relocated from Georgia in 1999. The five graves contain the remains of James McMullen’s grandmother, parents and two sisters, who died in the late 1800’s.It seems fitting that a family so instrumental in building Clearwater is finally together at rest.
With just under 300 graves, the grounds are peaceful and hauntingly beautiful. A peacock struts by, perching in a nearby tree to keep watch over the silent residents. Newer headstones reveal that the cemetery remains in use;there was a burial in February of 2019, and another in late 2018. The single road through the cemetery takes just a few moments to drive, but the moss-laden trees beckon you to stop and linger, imagining a time when there were less than 200 people living here.
If you go: McMullen Cemetery is located at 2251 N.E. Coachman Road, Clearwater.
Just a few miles down the road, another historic cemetery is tucked in the middle of a road. Participants in the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot have rushed by, eager to finish the walk and make it home to finalize plans for their Thanksgiving dinner. Just south of Druid Road, the cemetery holds the remains of other founding members of the community. A few McMullen graves can be spotted, next to a family plot of the Harn family. The Rousseau family lies next to the Severs, who are near the Blantons. The tiny graves of infant children are nestled next to their parents, who soldiers who died in service to their country are a reminder that brave sons have always defended their families’ freedoms. Branches sweep down from well-established trees, tucking the cemetery into a moss-covered cocoon.
The Rousseau Cemetery is smallwith less than 200 graves and is a doorway to a time nearly forgotten. Old-fashioned names, ornamental headstones and unique burial plots all serve as a tie to the brave families that carved out what would one day become our beloved Clearwater.
If you go: Rousseau Cemetery is located one mile south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard (SR 60) on S. Hercules Avenue.
Next time you’re on McMullen Booth, feel free to give a nod to the McMullens and the Booths for paving the way for us all to be part of the beauty of Clearwater. Maybe it will help you not notice the lines of cars if you imagine the McMullens driving cattle across Sunset Point to their ranch. Probably not, but at least you know there have been traffic jams of all kinds there since the beginning.