Bob Worthington kneels at a headstone reading “Miller” at Gulfport’s first cemetery.
The first Gulfportians buried their dead in part of what is now the Highland Oaks neighborhood in south St. Petersburg. According to lifelong resident – and a descendant of the first settlers, the Barnetts – Bob Worthington, the first Gulfportians buried their dead on an old shell mound, the only land considered unsuitable for fruit trees.
When St. Petersburg annexed the land, the graves went with the annexation, although the city does not care for the graves. That responsibility falls with the descendants of Gulfport’s founders and the neighboring church.
Today, the graves remain in the yard of St. Jude Great Commission Church on Auburn Street. Rebecca Barnett and James Barnett’s graves remain, although of the two, only Mr. Bartlett’s stone remains. Other stones have lost their inscriptions; still others remain buried under grass, dirt, or foliage. Some stones lie in pieces on the ground.
Church officials told Gulfport Historical Society members that some graves receive visitors on holidays such as Memorial or Independence Day. Although former cemetery keepers made no provisions for perpetual care, the church says it does its best to keep the cemetery grass cut.
It has no records of who is buried there.