To celebrate the 55th anniversary of the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum, local historian Brenda Rees has issued a book honoring her great uncle.
Rees is a Walton County native but lived much of her adult life away, in places such as Texas and Alaska. She built her South Walton home in 1989. She met her great-uncle a couple of times, but didn't know him well — mostly through family lore.
However, she describes a great and kind man who was generous, loved kids, and was passionate about preserving historic sites and collections.
"He would let you touch things," recalls Rees.
Wentworth moved to Florida in 1821 from Mobile. He only had a fourth-grade education.
His greatness came not from a monetary wealth, but rests with his entrepreneurial nature and passion for preserving historic sites.
Among Wentworth's accolades is the distinction of becoming the youngest county commissioner in Florida in 1920, while he was in his early 20s. He also owned a bicycle repair shop, was a Realtor, politician, tax collector, educator, preservationist, a state board member of the Florida Historic Society — anything he could to make ends meet for his wife, three children, and himself.
In 1906, after a major hurricane, Wentworth found a gold coin on the beach in Pensacola. That one gold coin became the cornerstone for what would become a museum collection of everything from a petrified cat to a cannonball.
The building that housed the bike shop where his early collection was initially displayed in the window still stands in downtown Pensacola. Others donated to his collection and when it grew too large for the shop, it was moved to the historic Dorothy Walton (wife of George Walton) home in the 1930s, which Wentworth owned. George Walton signed the Declaration of Independence.
In 1957 Wentworth moved the collection out to the suburb of Ensley, then donated it to the city in 1983. The city returned it to downtown Pensacola in its present location and re-opened the museum in 1988.
Before his death, her uncle founded the T.T. Wentworth Museum Historical Foundation, which donates scholarships and grants.
When Rees moved back to the area permanently in 1999, she was asked to be on the board of the T.T. Wentworth Museum.
Rees is the primary author of the commemorative book, which she wrote in collaboration with her cousins, Lynn Robertson and Karen Penton.
"Even though I didn't know him well, his daughter, Jane, tells me I am the daughter her father never had, as his children didn't inherit their father's passion for history," said Rees.
Rees began as a history major in college before switching to government.
"I come by it naturally," she said.
After working in the government realm for years, on returning to her Walton County roots, the county's history became her biggest passion.
She penned the book to describe T.T. Wentworth — the man, his family, and his life in the first chapters.
In the second part, she talks about his museum and the collection.
Two years in the making, the book features 150 photos; 100 of which are from the historical collection, as well as some she gathered from her cousins in Pensacola. It was completed last month.
Rees will do a book signing Jan. 17 at Walton County Heritage Museum, and Nov. 16 at the T.T. Wentworth Museum in Pensacola during Gallery Night. She said she plans on during others at bookstores throughout the area at times to be announced.
The book is available at the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum in Pensacola for $10 with all proceeds benefitting the West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. It will also be available at her book signings.
Proceeds from private book events will benefit the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Historical Foundation, Inc.
Already in the works is Rees’s next book: “Anna's Stories.” Anna Smith Hollingsworth Reardon was a writer and historian and was the mother of Sonny Hollingsworth, who married Rees’s mother.