Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Historic Enterprise

It was March of the year 2000 and the quickly expanding city of Deltona was considering annexing the tiny town of Enterprise into their city limits. Deltona was a relatively recent invention, founded by the Mackie Brothers as a retirement community called Deltona Lakes in 1962. By the end of the 20th century it had eclipsed Daytona as the most populous city in Volusia County. Concerned citizens of historically rich Enterprise gathered and the result of that meeting was the creation of the Enterprise Preservation Society. Their first act was to survey residents and they learned that folks living in Enterprise had a strong desire to keep the town's history alive. In 2006 Volusia County approved a "historic overlay which designates Enterprise as a historic village" according to wikipedia.

The area was originally settled by indigenous people thousands of years ago, evidence of which was found in large shell middens deposited in the area. An image of the "Enterprise Mound" was reproduced in a 1875 book by Jeffries Wyman. During the Seminole Wars of the 1800s, a defensive encampment known as Ft. Kingsbury was erected in Enterprise to protect the area from attacking Seminoles. Even though large plantations existed up and down the St. Johns River since the 1700s, a group of settlers led by Cornelius Taylor homesteaded in the area in the 1840s, establishing the foundation for the future town. Taylor built one of the earliest hotels for guests to take the waters near Green Springs on the north bank of Lake Monroe.

Enterprise became the county seat of the enormous Mosquito County in 1843 (the state originally had only two counties: Escambia to the west and Mosquito to the east.) Mosquito County included the present Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Osceola, Orange Polk, Seminole, Lake and Palm Beach Counties. For a brief time Enterprise was also the county seat of Volusia County as well.

The Brock House was host to famous folks like Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. grant, General William Sherman and a host of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. State Archives of Florida.

Advertisement for the Brock House, State Archives of Florida
Engraving showing visitors to the Brock House, State Archives of Florida.

In 1856, steamboat captain Jacob Brock built a 100-room wooden hotel in Enterprise, known as the Brock House. Nearby sulphur springs were offered as an amenity for visitors for those seeking to take the waters for health purposes. The hotel was later renamed the Benson Springs Inn.

Jacob Brock's influence lingers throughout Enterprise, even today.

Board and batten Carpenter Gothic church close to the former location of the Brock House.

The mineral laden waters of nearby Green Springs.

Green Springs is located in a beautiful Volusia County Park.

Historically Green Springs was a location for taking the waters
but more recently it was used a local swimming hole.
Green Springs, circa 1890s, State Archives of Florida

Interpretive signage explains the spring's history.

In 2004 the Enterprise Preservation Society took possession of a 1930s schoolhouse from Volusia County and moved it 500 feet down the road. They have painstakingly restored the two-story building, filling it with displays highlighting Enterprises fascinating history. The grand opening of the Enterprise Heritage Center and Museum this past weekend was marked with speeches, re-enactors, bluegrass, and barbecue. Everyone seemed jovial on this warm autumn day, with good reason. A small group of individuals came together to pull of the Herculean task of moving and restoring a building, preserving a community's history, and keeping their town from being assimilated into one of the fastest growing cities in the state. That's an accomplishment worthy of a celebration!

Moving the schoolhouse. Images courtesy Kevin Finn.
Mark Matzinger dressed as Jacob Brock led the festivities.
Brilliant blue skies graced the grand opening
of the Enterprise Heritage Center and Museum.

Folks really know how to dress for an occasion in Enterprise!

Re-enactor portraying a comical Florida Cracker.

The Preservation Society received several gifts of archival photos
 of notable Enterprise citizens from the past.

Inside the restored schoolhouse

Detail from a desk in the schoolhouse.

Steamboats docked in Enterprise - photo in the Enterprise Heritage Center and  Museum.
The Enterprise Heritage Center and Museum is now open Tuesday and Friday 11 am to 3 pm; Saturday 9 am to 1 pm.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Built by pioneers, maintained by faith

My first house was a 1947 wood frame bungalow in Orlando. Despite my best efforts, every year I had to replace pieces of wood siding. My current house, built in 1924, has fared better because its cypress cladding is covered with layer of ugly, yet durable vinyl siding. Yet I still have had to replace my wonderful Old Florida dock, the floor boards on my porch require constant maintenance, and wooden planter boxes seem to melt before my eyes. It's hard to preserve wood structures in the sub tropical climate of Florida.

Many of the grand historical buildings from that era built out of wood have been lost – enormous resort hotels, elegant Victorian mansions, and early commercial buildings have all burned, been torn down, or simply left to rot. The last grand wooden resort hotel of the railroad age, the Belleview Biltmore in Bellaire near Clearwater, seems doomed.

So I am thrilled when I find structures that were built before the Civil War at a time when the state was sparsely populated and only hardy souls could stick it out in this swampy land of mosquitoes and high humidity. Many of these buildings are churches whose congregations lovingly maintained and cared for their houses of worships for decades. Like the lovely St. Mary's in Green Cove Springs, St. Marks Episcopal Church in Palatka has been around since the middle of the 19th century. Also a board and batten Carpenter Gothic design, the church is a few blocks from Judge Isaac Bronson's Sunny Point mansion. Bronson, as well as Judge James Burt and Florida's first Governor William Dunn Mosely, were instrumental in the creation of the church in 1854-55. Before the Civil War, services were only held during the cooler winter months, evidence of Palatka's status a riverside resort destination for Northerners. During the War the church was occupied by Union troops who are said to have damaged the structure. The church received full parish status in 1873 and was added to the National Historic Register in 1973.

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

In addition to St. Mark's and the Bronson-Mulholland House, Palatka's Northern Historic District has other wonderful Victorian-era homes. As the owner of a wood frame house, I understand the commitment it takes to maintain an older home. I am thankful for the loving caretakers of these windows to Florida's past.

Photo by Ebyabe

Photo by Ebyabe

Houses of Palatka's North Historic District

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sunny Point on the St. Johns

One of the statements that makes me bristle is when someone says "Florida doesn't have any history." Florida has a rich, colorful history but often you have to know it's there to find it. Case in point is Sunny Point, now known as the Bronson-Mullholand House in Palatka. From the perspective of this former Gainesville resident, Palatka was the town on the way to something else: our weekend retreat in Welaka, Crescent Beach or even St. Augustine. We would often stop and eat at Holiday House or Sonny's BBQ, but never linger. Only as an adult have I taken the time to take a longer look at this little gem on the St. Johns River and subsequently learn about its fascinating past.

One of the founders of Palatka was Judge Isaac H. Bronson. Bronson was a New York attorney and member of the U.S .Congress who was appointed to be circuit judge of East Florida. When Florida joined the Union as a state in 1845, Bronson was appointed as one of four circuit judges for the state. Bronson purchased a 1,220 acre plot of land in Palatka and later sold part off keeping the portion known as "Sunny Point" where he built his estate.

Infographic © Old Florida- photo by Ebyabe
Sadly the Judge died one year after the completion of the Simplified Greek Revival Style house and his wife Sophronia returned to the North during the Civil War. Before the war, however, Sunny Point was said to be the center of social activities in Palatka. Both Confederate and Union troops used the home as a lookout during the war.

Charlotte Henry White occupied the house after the Bronsons and after the war it was used by the Freedmen's Union Commission as a school for former enslaved people. When Mrs. White's husband fell into ill health, Mrs. White hired Mary Mulholland as a live-in nurse. After years of taking care of the Whites, Ms. Mulholland became heir to Sunny Point after Mrs. White's death in 1904.

Mary Mulholland and her adopted daughter, Edelmira were owners of the mansion until after World War II when it was subdivided into apartments. By 1965 the house had fallen into a sad state and it was sold to the City of Palatka. The heroic restoration efforts by the Putnam County Historical Society allowed the the house to be opened by the public in 1977.

The windows were designed so that they could function as doorways when the panels beneath them were opened. The house has ten fireplaces.

Many of the furnishings are appropriate to the Victorian period of the house's history.

Followers of this blog will know of my bizarre obsession with taxidermy.
This house is full of wonderfully quirky pieces created by Frank Sands.

The house has lovely details throughout.

While heavily modified during its days as apartments, the Putnam County Historical Society
 has worked diligently to return the house to its former glory.

Some of the home's original furnishing were donated
by Mary Mulholland's adopted daughter Edelmira.

It was a brilliant sunny day when I pulled up to Sunny Point with the fellow members of what I have dubbed the Florida Road Trip. Our guide Phil Eschbach was very familiar with the home and Judge Bronson's place in Florida history. The docent was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and did an excellent job of giving us just the right amount of information in each room. The house is modest in comparison to over-the-top mansions like Stetson House or Henry Flagler's White Hall. But few homes in Florida are this old, with this much history. This is a place where soldiers of both sides in the Civil War once resided. A place constructed from virgin stands of ancient cypress floated up the St. John's River. When it was built, Florida had only been a state for nine years.

If you want history, go to Palatka, they serve it there sunny side up!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Elegance for sale: Ferncourt in San Mateo Florida

I recently read the following passage in "Mr. Flagler's St. Augustine" by Thomas Graham.
Below Palatka, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, a handful of hearty pioneers had established extensive orange groves. They shipped their fruit out by way of steamboats, but they also wanted a link to Flagler's railroad. Back in March a group of San Mateo citizens had called upon Flagler in St. Augustine and invited him to come down to see the extent of their enterprises. Flagler took them up on their offer, and when they petitioned him for a rail extension and offered to give him land for a right-of-way, he agreed to run a four-mile spur to their village. 
Flagler was so enamored with the little settlement of San Mateo that he purchased two orange groves there, and according to Graham, on New Years Eve Flagler brought the entire population of the town to St. Augustine to celebrate at his ornate Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Florida East Coast Railroad engine #10 and crew, State Archives of Florida

Ralph Crosby, Martha Webster Crosby, maid, and dogs, State Archives of Florida

Railroad freight depot, circa 1891, State Archives of Florida

View in grove of San Mateo Fruit Co., State Archives of Florida

Some facts about San Mateo:
• Located 5 miles south of Palatka on the east side of the St. Johns River, it is the highest point on that side of the river at 85 feet above the waterline
• The town was named after the first settler Mateo Simeon Solana, a Minorcan from St. Augustine
• In 1880 San Mateo had 400 acres of citrus groves
• San Mateo's biggest proponent was Henry Flagler, who supposedly started the San Mateo Cigar Company and offered free lots in San Mateo to anyone who purchased 1,000 cigars*

* From “A Historic Tour Guide to Palatka and Putnam County Florida” written and compiled by Susan Clark

There were three hotels in San Mateo, and my trip to this now unincorporated area in Putnam County was to see the one known as Ferncourt. Ferncourt was built in 1889 by Massachusetts residents Henry B. Bailey and Larkin Trull. Bailey, who was involved with the Boston and Lowell Railroad, helped talk railroad magnate Henry Flagler into running the railroad spur into San Mateo. Bailey was a broker for citrus grown in the area and both shipping and packing of citrus occurred in close proximity to Ferncourt.

Ferncourt was the center of social activity in San Mateo with a large third floor ballroom, perfect for formal dances and spectacular parties, plus it had the area's only tennis courts. The elegant mansion even hosted President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
After World War II, Ferncourt was divided into several apartments and later became a retirement home. After more than a decade of sitting vacant the Victorian beauty was restored in 1989 by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Morgan. It was most recently a bed and breakfast, (see photos below), but it is currently for sale. Anyone out there wanting a 7 bedroom, 9 bathroom piece of Old Florida history should jump on this opportunity!

Much thanks to our Florida Road Trip guide Phil Eschbach and Amanda Baird Schmidt for their assistance in creating this post.