Upsala Swedish Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

I’m going to start by saying this land is for sale, which is the one thing guaranteed to make me freak out when it comes to historic cemeteries. It’s not cheap either; the listing price is $225,000 and they say it could potentially hold a 6000 square foot church facility. I’m not so sure about this though. The site is small, and used to be the location for one of the Swedish churches in the area (there is another one just down the road that you can see) but of course it burned down to the ground as these beautiful old buildings are wont to do. The Swedish came here to work on the citrus groves as part of Henry Sanford’s enterprising vision. The church on this site was called the Scandinavian Society Lutheran Church. There was also a meeting house and a small cemetery for what is considered the largest Swedish community in Florida at that time.

Churches in the late 1800’s were built for small communities and the churches were small too, not like the behemoths built for today’s modern congregations. Modern churches seem to need a gigantic place for kids, a teen center, a cafe, and a place for meetings like AA, Al Anon, and, Financial Peace University. I’ll be honest and say that I’m never comfortable going to these gigantic complexes because I feel like I’m headed to a rock concert rather than…church. With that said, this is not a property that could house that kind of facility plus parking. It has beautiful old oak trees and the property is deep but not wide. The cemetery is in the back, and it’s extremely overgrown. Find A Grave says there are 42 burials.

When I first heard about this cemetery I was told that when I got there that I should bend over and look under all of the bushes that I was able to get near. I thought this was really odd, but when I marched in that day in my boots I was determined to do it to see what my informant had been talking about. And she was right. The bushes had at one time been ornamental plantings on the graves- but now they were as tall as I am and huge. I bent over to look at the base of one, pushing a few branches out of the way, and I saw a couple of headstones. The shrubs had grown up around them and then overtaken them. After that I was creeping around bent double like I was having a hard day of cramps, trying to look into all of the shrubbery. There were more obscured headstones everywhere I looked.

This cemetery backs up to a subdivision and someone has made a well used path into the cemetery where they’ve created a sort of outdoor man-cave. There was a little trash, mostly cans and snack wrappers, and a few plastic chairs and a stone bench set up in a kind of circle. Somebody hangs out here a lot. I wonder if they might bring a rake sometime and get to work.

The cemetery also has an area that is full of thick ferns and there is lots of kudzu and vines in the trees. The property itself is magical and I sincerely wish that I could buy it and just restore the cemetery and call it a done deal. And believe me, there was a part of me that reasoned that I don’t have a mortgage payment and why not just buy it, but I know better.

So I’ve decided I’m going to ask Santa for it this year instead.

There is a lot of information about this community online and also a few nice historical markers in the area, so it’s worth a visit. You can’t miss the gigantic for sale sign at the front of the property, just park and then walk straight back. I’d advise boots though and be cautious about bees if you’re going to paw through bushes looking for headstones.

On June 1st I’ll be in St. Augustine for the CRPT conference on cemetery preservation and I am SO excited! The one I went to 2 years ago is what prompted me to start this blog so I hope after this one I’ll be motivated to start a podcast (thanks @collegeparkmom!), buy my own cemetery, write a book, or something else industrious. If you’re local and you want to go I believe there is still space left and it’s a 2 day conference for 60 bucks. You can’t beat it for everything that you’ll learn.

31 thoughts on “Upsala Swedish Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

  1. Thank you for this article on the cemetery. I, too, love them. Our church is looking for property and I’m going to share this article with my pastor. Maybe there is a way to build a small congregation while I preserve that cemetery.

    1. And when you’ve shared the info with your pastor please email me as well! I love the idea of something like that happening to this place.

  2. Are you familiar with the old 1800s graves off Markham Road? In the late 1970s and early 80s, we used to ride our horses ALL over Seminole County and had discovered forgotten graves and headstones randomly in the woods off Markham Road just before it ended at Longwood Markham Rd. I have wondered what happened to it over the years and there is a gated subdivision now directly next to it. Curious if you knew about it. Thank you!

  3. I`m really very sorry to hear about the historical Swedish cemetery . The Stedt headstone is my great grandparents grave, My grandmother , Ebba was their only child. Our entire family was at the historical landmark dedication ceremony but I haven’t visited the site in several years. The Stedt name has endured , my grandson carries it as a middle name as does his father and myself. I hope whoever purchases the property will restore it to something resembling the peacefulness I remember when visiting with “Granny”. Nearly all of her children lived within a mile of each other on W. 1st street (Hwy 46) but progress being what it is, there’s now a tire store on the property she once lived on that was the original General Sanford grant. Thank You for taking an interest in this landmark, alas the only thing constant in this life is change.

  4. I am so sorry that this has become so unkept. In 2009 my husband and l went there to see the condition of the property and it wasn’t like this. He was a Swedish descendant and was very interested in this property being kept up. Douglas Stenstrom….. His brother, Frank , resides in Sanford and you may be able to contact him for more information.. Also, contact the Sanford Historical Society.

    1. We’ve been in touch with the Sanford Historical Society but mainly because of Page Jackson Cemetery. They have a small file on Upsala there.

    1. They will either move them professionally (at great expense), or build on the lot and preserve the cemetery. I’m pretty certain that building over the graves would not be an option and the archaeologists with the Florida Public Archaeology Network are aware of it.

  5. This cemetery actually contains many of my ancestors and I was appalled in 2015 when I was there how it had been neglected. I remember growing up going there two Saturdays a month and cleaning with my grands. I live in NWFL and haven’t been able to get back down there. Did you by chance take a picture of the for sale sign? If so can you please email it to me @ misstory79@gmail.com. We have shared your article with many family members and I’m going to contact the Sanford Historical society this week to see what can be done about the ownership of the property, to get this area cleaned up and back to rights. We did a lot of brush pulling and trash picking up while we were there. It’s heartbreaking to see this. Thank you for your helpful information.

  6. Hmmm…I live down the road from here and aside from walking by it quickly at night for fear of the unknown, I haven’t given it much thought. But I hate to think of it not existing anymore. 🙁 Maybe if enough of us chip in $10 like Mom?

    1. My mom is hilarious and I loved that comment. But it would be worthwhile to see how much interest we could generate. You should go sometime! It’s beautiful.

  7. Back in about 1995, before the subdivision was built I lived in the brick house a couple of lots South of there. I walked down to the cemetery a couple of times wondering about the history and if it would be preserved. Glad to see your interest.

  8. Stedt, Lundquist as well as another is who are part of my ancestors. I also think my mom has a box of photos of the cemetery during one of our bi monthly clean up. I’m going to contact my grandmother after work and let her know what’s going on over there also. All my cousins have now read the article and even though many of us have moved away we want to see what can be done. I’m going to research Florida laws on the sales of cemeteries especially historical ones. This one is marked and on the books as historical so we may be able to stop the sale of it. In one article I read there is actually a task force on the state of Florida for abandoned and neglected cemeteries. I’m going to see if there is a contact number for them as well. Hopefully with the families coming together we can save this jewel in Sanford.

  9. I have lived in Seminole County my entire 38 years of life and this cemetery has always held a place in my heart. I am currently in the process of doing the logistics to rally up some volunteers to clean this forgotten place up. I would love to meet with you and bring you in on the project. Please get back with me. Thank you.

  10. Very interesting! There was also an old cemetery on the corner of Banana Lake Road and 46A, hidden in the woods where the road curved. I grew up in Suburban Estates, which was a dirt road just east of there. I remember being fascinated by the cemetery that was long over grown, tombstones tilted and toppled, wondering what the lives were like of the people laid to rest there.

    1. We have looked and looked for the remains of that cemetery and haven’t been able to find it. It remains a mystery. I heard that the tombstones were moved but that the bodies weren’t- and I can’t find any info to confirm that! If you know anything else please send me an email!

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