mad in pursuit journal


Power of history: Barrett Brothers Park

Sometimes the power of family history goes beyond the lineage and personalities. Sometimes it's the geography.

On Thursday I got an email:

Hello my name is Kyria V... I live in St. Louis Missouri and I am doing research on Barrett Brothers Park, I have not been able to find any historical/data in records to the two brothers and their life here in STL. I found your website which offers more info then what is at Parks & Recs here in Stl... what was their life here in st louis? and why did they name that park after them?... I am doing a presentation about the park and would like to have history and events of the barrett family and of course anything related to the park...I hope you can help me...

Barrett brothersBarrett Brothers, sure! Those were my mom's first cousins, 2 of 6 young men in her generation (including her brother) to give up their lives in World War II. They were all great-grandsons of Pat and Mary Barrett, potato famine refugees who settled in Missouri about 1850.

I gave Kyria a quick run-down and brought my mother into the conversation. My mom wrote:

Florence (Florie) and Frank Barrett were my first cousins. Their father Francis was my father's... brother. Robert (Bob) was my brother. They all lived in North St. Louis and played ball and used that particular park on Goodfellow all the time. However, we were in different [political] wards... Matt O'Neill was (I believe Alderman at the time) and in the brothers' ward, and consequently named it after them. My mother was quite upset at that time that Bob was not also named in that park [because he] also used the park and played with the Barrett brothers (especially Florie) there.

I asked Kyria what her project is. She wrote:

3 years ago I started a fitness & nutrition program for youth ages 7-14 in the schools located in that area. We started out with 2-schools and now I have 11 schools and over 100 kids...expanding the program I decided I wanted to add a garden for the children to have a hands-on way of learning, tasting and experimenting with science and the natural way of growing your own. ...Barrett Brothers Park [was] a suggestion from one of our political officials...I investigated the area, draw on paper how it could work.... had a meeting with the Mayor's office... they agreed to something that has never been done (for STL) they have donated 2.4 acres of the park for the new "Hip-Hop Health Garden"... CNN is coming in to do a documentary about the overall fitness program and its concept and to highlight the garden efforts.

After reading through all the Barrett family entries, she also had this to say:

It has been quite moving for me to learn that the Barrett family reigns from Irish Potato Immigrants, and the family business were several stores that sold produce to the community of which I now live.

There it is -- the MOMENT. An energetic young woman trying to teach children about nutrition and where their food comes from suddenly pierces the veil of time. The neighborhood takes on a new depth. The hungriest and poorest people of the 19th century -- Irish famine refugees -- found their way to St. Louis and [fast forward] at least 3 of their offspring got into the grocery business in north St. Louis.

It gives me a buzz too. Hands across the generations. Hands across the artificial divide of race and ethnicity. Those old neighborhoods were always filled with struggling working class people -- and kids who needs parks and playgrounds because their parents had to work long hours.

Kyria is planning to re-dedicate the park when her program starts in the spring. How good to have my family's past touch the future.


Drop me a line!

Newspaper photos...amazingly my mom had these in her archives.

*Barrett Brothers Park is in north St Louis, bounded by Goodfellow on the east and St Louis Avenue to the south, just west of Hamilton.