In the early 1700’s on Amelia Island, the duty of taking care of a loved one was left to the family and friends. Following the civil war, the reconstruction period began and by 1875 the original location of Fernandina moved from “old town” on the north end of the island to its current location. By then, funeral establishments began to open in nearby Jacksonville. When someone passed away here, one of the Jacksonville firms would be summoned and an undertaker would travel to Fernandina by train to care for the deceased. The undertaker usually stayed at the home of the family until the funeral services were complete. In the fall of 1877, the yellow fever epidemic devastated the town and many of the residents died as a result. Doctors from the surrounding areas came here to assist with the contagious disease, including Dr. John Denham Palmer, a noted civil war surgeon. By the end of 1877, the fever was conquered. Dr. Palmer remained here and built a beautiful home on Atlantic Avenue.
Around 1890, Estelle Sibley Rogers settled in Fernandina and opened the first funeral home. Estelle Rogers Funeral Director was located in a large three story home at #12 North Fifth Street. Mrs. Rogers was one of the first “lady” funeral directors in the state of Florida. She also served as secretary of the Florida Funeral Directors Association. In later years, she was assisted in the business by her grandson Conley S. Boothe.
By 1931, Mrs. Rogers decided to retire after almost 45 years of service to Fernandina and Nassau county. She passed away in 1952. Joseph McCall Oxley came to Fernandina from St. Marys, GA., in 1931 and acquired the funeral home from Mrs. Rogers. He renamed it Oxley Funeral Home. His brother Dean O. Oxley and E.C. “Buddy” Burgess also assisted at the funeral home. Mr. Oxley married the former Margaret Pickett of Callahan, FL. They had two children, Joan Oxley and Joseph McCall “Chip” Oxley, Jr.
In 1947, the historic Dr. John Denham Palmer house at 1305 Atlantic Avenue was purchased by Mr. Oxley and the funeral home was relocated from downtown to its present location. After years of service to our community, Mr. Oxley passed away on August 17, 1957 at the age of 49.
Mrs. Oxley continued to operate the business assisted by her cousin E.C.”Buddy” Burgess. In 1961, Harold R. Brackett, joined the firm. On July 1, 1974 Mrs. Oxley sold the business to John H. Heard of Moultrie, GA. The name later changed to Oxley-Heard Funeral Directors.
In 1991 Phillip T. Byrd came to Oxley-Heard and serves as Vice President of the company.
Buddy Burgess was associated with the funeral home until his death on April 10, 1994. Following his death, the new Oxley-Heard Chapel was renamed the Burgess Chapel in his memory.
Mrs. Oxley retired to her summer home in North Carolina in 1974 and passed away on May 16, 2000.
Harold Bracket remained at Oxley-Heard Funeral Directors for 45 years. He passed away on January 19, 2006.
Today Oxley-Heard Funeral Directors is one of the oldest continuous businesses in Fernandina Beach and Nassau County.
“We have always looked to the past to build our foundation for the future”.