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Amelia Islander

Searching for John Barr

Jan 03, 2018 12:18PM

John Barr

Fort Clinch historian Frank Ofeldt has been searching for the grave of John Barr for at least 20 years. Elected mayor of Fernandina in 1888, Barr was the former Ordnance Sergeant at Fort Clinch from 1879 to 1887. He was a well-respected member of the community and St. Michael Catholic Church. He was also a member of the American Legion of Honor.

He and his wife, Margaret, had 13 children together, and they lived in Fernandina until their deaths in the early 1900s.They were buried in Bosque Bello Cemetery, with six of their children, but the location of the graves was lost. Ofeldt recently invited me to join him in Bosque Bello with exciting news. “The grave of John Barr has been found!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been walking this cemetery for years, looking for his family plot. It’s really quite a find.”

John Barr

Olfedt and I met on Rosebud Road, in the older part of the cemetery, and he showed me the wrought iron fence displaying the Barr family name, with seven gravesites that had been covered by palms and earth. He showed me the larger gravesite thought to contain the remains of Barr and his wife, and the smaller graves that likely belong to six of his children.

Each headstone and memorial at Bosque Bello has cultural and historic significance. But many of the early grave markers were carved from wood, and they either rotted or disappeared. Cedars, oaks, and palms have overgrown some of the older graves, as with John Barr’s plot. Last summer, City of Fernandina Beach Parks & Recreation Director Nan Voit was conducting research in the cemetery and spotted the words “Barr Family” on a wrought-iron fence. “This was a complete surprise, as the fence surrounds the Lomm family plot,” says Voit. “We discovered that Matilda Lomm, who is buried there, is John Barr’s daughter. Using a probe, we found seven graves. We assume these are the graves of John and Margaret Barr, with six of their children.”

John Barr’s military service was extensive. During his military career, he was stationed in San Francisco, Washington Territory, Alaska, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Ofeldt intends to apply for a military marker for Barr through the Veterans Administration “It’s a lengthy process,” says Ofeldt. “I’ve applied to the National Personnel Record Center for his military records, and those will be sent to the V.A. When we receive the headstone, we plan to have a special service for Barr at the cemetery.”

A walk through Bosque Bello is a trip through Fernandina history, including 19th-century Spanish residents, victims of yellow and typhoid fever epidemics, veterans of many wars, and answers to long-lost mysteries! The cemetery is located at 1321 North 14th Street.