Just north of U.S. Highway 98 east is the small community of Point Washington, home to small cottages resting under moss-draped hundred-year-old oaks, alligators, bear, dirt roads, and folks who like it that way.
In some ways, the hamlet has not changed much since the early days when it was settled.
In the late 1800s Point Washington was a bustling lumber town, with a population estimated between 1,0000 and 2,000 people.
William H. Wesley and Simeon Strickland, who later became Wesley's father in law, around 1890 built a sawmill on the edge of Tucker Bayou at Point Washington. The Wesley Lumber Company included a sawmill, planer mill, and dry kiln with a dock for loading barges in Tucker Bayou.
The mill's main product was the prized yellow-heart pine. Yellow heart pine was a prized wood for building because it was a very hard wood.
Wesley operated three sawmills in that location between the 1890s and 1930s where the yellow heart pine was forested locally in at the turn of the century. After the logs were cut they were floated to
Strickland gave land near the thriving sawmill to his daughters for two identical two-story houses between 1895 and 1897.
William and Katie Strickland Wesley (who was born in Point
The Wesleys built their house with the same yellow-heart pine they cut at their sawmill and it has proven its worth as the house has withstood the problems associated with Florida's climate, moisture and insects, unlike other buildings of the era. The doors and doorframes were fashioned out of cypress and juniper.
The family had nine children, so the house was organized more as a dormitory than a fancy showplace.
The house was completed in 1897 and a cupola was added later. The family used the cupola as a spotting tower to keep an eye on the sawmill at the north end of the property along the edge of Tucker Bayou.
The sawmill shut down in the 1930s as all the pine available for logging had been timbered out.
The intracoastal waterway was opened in the late 1930s.
The Wesleys occupied the home until 1953.
The home sat empty between 1953 and 1963 when newspaper-lady Lois Maxon spotted it on a Sunday afternoon drive and fell in love with it. She purchased the house and an accompanying 10.5 acres of land for $12,500.
Maxon then invested $1 million dollars to convert the Victorian-style house into a Classic Revival home, intended to reflect an antebellum image. Her goal was to create a home for her impressive collection of Louis XVI antiques. The turn-of-the-Century mansion now features elegant white columns and a wrap-around porch with high-backed rockers, surrounded by moss-draped live oaks that are several hundred years old.
Maxon also created gardens to surround the house, planting more than 100 different camellias, azaleas, and other ornamental plants, along with a formal rose garden featuring Heritage roses. Bricks that were originally part of the house's chimney formed the pavers for walkways through the rose beds.
A reflection pond was dug at the north side of the house. The pond, surrounded by statues of the four seasons became home to ducks and geese.
Maxon loved to entertain and during her residence there, she allowed members of the local garden club to give tours of the home two days a week.
Unfortunately, due to failing health, Maxon only enjoyed her home for five years. On Christmas Eve, 1968, she gave her home and antique collection to the state.
When the state took possession of the property, they built a concrete-sided reflection pond in place of the hand-dug one and installed water lilies, goldfish and koi. The four-season statues were moved to a fern garden at the back of the house.
The beautifully renovated house is the focal point of the park and inspires visions of hoop skirts and a more genteel time. The collection of Louis XVI furniture is reportedly the second largest in the
The mansion and grounds were the setting for the 1972 horror movie "Frogs" starring Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, and Joan Van Ark. Long-time local Adrianne Walline said local kids were in the film and her dad used the Mosquito Control truck to make the fog you see in the movie.
"Good shots of the local scenery," she said.
Tours of the house are given from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Monday every hour on the hour. There are also nature trails and a picnic area. A camellia fest is held in February and a luminary tour of the decorated home is given at Christmas. The park is rentable for special events such as reunions, photo sessions, and weddings. For reservations call 267-8320.
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