Grave of former Jacksonville mayor finally gets recognized
Early 20th-century city leader was lost in a cemetery for years - but not anymore.
By Jessie-Lynne Kerr
Friday, Nov. 27, 2009
RICK WILSON/The Times-Union
Calvin Hart of Kirby-Smith Camp No. 1209 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a headstone for the grave of Confederate Gen. William Henry Sebring at Evergreen Cemetery, Jacksonville.Related Stories
For 83 years, the remains of William H. Sebring have been in an unmarked grave in the Masonic section of Evergreen Cemetery.
Not a very fitting memorial for a man who served as mayor of Jacksonville from 1907 to 1909.
But thanks to the efforts of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Kirby-Smith Camp No. 1209, which Sebring once commanded, and Solomon Lodge No. 20 of the Free and Accepted Masons, of which he was a member, a headstone honoring his service not only as mayor but as a Confederate soldier will be dedicated in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday.
It all began months ago, when Calvin Hart, commander of the Kirby-Smith Camp, was browsing through Uncle Davey’s Americana, a Civil War memorabilia shop in the Lakewood area of the Southside.
“I found a photo of a gentleman in a Confederate officer’s uniform with his name and 'Mayor of Jacksonville’ written on the back,” Hart said. “I had never heard of him.”
Intrigued, Hart began his research at the old City Cemetery. He and fellow members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have been working the past 18 months refurbishing the cemetery and redoing the Confederate bandstand and the Confederate plot of graves from the Soldiers Home landmark. But he found that Sebring had not been buried there.
Next he went to Evergreen Cemetery, where records showed the former mayor had been buried there Feb. 17, 1926, after dying three days earlier at his daughter’s home in Swannanoa, N.C., at the age of 85. But Sebring’s grave was unmarked.
So members of the Solomon Masonic lodge paid $600 for Sebring’s 300-pound-plus headstone to be made of South Carolina white marble.
Hart, who works for JEA, considers himself an amateur historian but a dedicated Son of Confederate Veterans. He is unrelated to Isaiah Hart, considered one of Jacksonville’s founders. The next stop on his research path was the Jacksonville Public Library, searching through microfilm editions of The Florida Times-Union. He also pored through Confederate veteran histories.
Hart found that Sebring was born Christmas Day 1840 near St. Louis and raised on a farm. He attended an academy in St. Louis but at 14 began working as a clerk in a country store. Soon the lure of the West called and he spent several years working on the railroad. At 18, Sebring went to Memphis, Tenn., to read law under Thomas D. Eldridge.
On April 1, 1861, at age 20, Sebring enlisted in the 2nd Tennessee Regiment.
During his service, he sustained a stomach wound that took some time to mend. In 1863 he was transferred to the Confederate Secret Service, carrying military dispatches from the Confederate War Department in Richmond, Va., to various units.
He was captured July 15 that year, tried as a spy and was condemned to be shot. But he and three fellow prisoners managed to escape on June 18, 1864, and made it back across Federal lines to Richmond.
Sebring moved to Bronson, Fla., from Kentucky in 1871 and served as Levy County judge for four years beginning in 1877. He was commissioned a brigadier general of the Florida Militia in 1884. His highest rank in the Confederate Army had been lieutenant.
Sebring moved to Jacksonville in 1886, continuing to manage his interests in Levy County. He ran for mayor in 1907, besting two candidates in the primary, and then won the general election by garnering 1,627 votes to his opponent’s 89.
While serving as the city’s mayor, Sebring worked to make Jacksonville the park city of the South, extend the lighting service and pave roads.
Sebring also called for the tall buildings under construction — some as high as 10 stories — to include standpipes for fire protection; asked the local operator of the trolley car system to install a number of parlor cars for use during tourist season; urged the operators of the Atlanta, Birmingham and Atlantic Railroad to extend its road from Waycross to Jacksonville; waged a war against unmuzzled dogs; urged the city to hold a prosperity congress for the purpose of advertising Jacksonville and Florida; and served as president of the first Florida Exposition-Fair held here Jan. 20, 1909.
When he ran for re-election that year, Sebring came in second in both the first and second primaries. A comeback attempt in 1911 also failed.