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Pat Crisp

Pat Crisp

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Coral's Gables, A Marianna House With a Civil War Story

The following is an excerpt from a 1973 article written by the late Retilla Miller Leitch, longtime society editor of The Jackson County Floridan. It describes a home named Coral’s Gables and a Civil War story about “Marianna Day”. – Pat Crisp

The house is said to have been built in the mid 1850’s by the Bullard family and was one of the oldest homes in Marianna. Soon after this article was written, Dr. Gene Pelt and his sons, Drs. Allen and David, purchased the property and the house was moved to Wacissa, Florida, in Jefferson County. Pelt Eye Clinic was built on the home site.

The house was purchased in 1903 by the Massey Burtons. Mrs. Burton’s name was Coral as was her daughter, Coral Davis, wife of Wallace Davis, also longtime residents of Marianna.

The house had nine Doric columns across the front which was common among antebellum homes. There were two gables in the roof, and originally there were 11 rooms with a servants’ house in the rear. Mrs. Davis remembered the cook and the yard man having lived there. At the time of the article being written, the house had only 8 rooms and the house in the rear had been removed. There was a beautiful lead glass door and matching panels on each side, which Mrs. Burton designed. They were removed and used in the Wallace Davis home which was built just off Meadowview Drive north of town.

When the Burtons purchased the house, they were enroute to Jacksonville and had stopped in Marianna to visit friends. They liked what they saw in Marianna and what they saw in the house on Lafayette Street. They purchased the house, moved from Opelika, Alabama, and lived here the rest of their lives, with their daughter living there several years after their death.

Mrs. Burton and her daughter were both named Coral and the house had two gables, thus the name Coral’s Gables, which has another story, as told by Mrs. Burton.

She said that many years ago a friend from South Florida was visiting the Burtons and he told them that he was building a new town there and asked permission to name his town Coral Gables. Thus, the beautiful city in South Florida was named for the lovely old home which sat in Marianna for over one hundred years.

The home was furnished with many beautiful antiques. Some were from grandparents and some from great grandparents. There was an antique mirrored china closet which was used to display antique cut glass and silver family heirlooms. Some of the furniture and other items were shipped in the early 1900’s by ship down the Chattahoochee River to Neal’s Landing and hauled to Marianna by wagon. While doing some remodeling in the attic, they discovered some pewter and silver pieces they believed to have been hidden there during the Civil War.

ELIZABETH LAWRENCE KING’S STORY ABOUT “MARIANNA DAY”

What happened at the home during the years of the 1800’s following the war is not documented here by this family, but there is a very interesting story which reportedly happened during the Battle of Marianna, told by the late Dick Hinson, which his Great-aunt Elizabeth Lawrence Hinson told to him many times as he lived across the street in the home owned by his parents. Miss Elizabeth grew up in the Bullard House, as it was known before “the war.” She related this story which happened when she was about 14 years old, beginning when the Union soldiers marched into Marianna on September 27, 1864.

She said that the women and children were all gathered in the house when the soldiers came into town on Lafayette Street, right in front of the house. She stated that she was very venturesome in nature, and without anyone knowing, she ventured out behind the house, climbed on top of the chicken house and was in a perfect vantage point to see the street and the battle taking place at the churchyard. When she was missed inside, someone came looking for her, and she complained to them that strangely, there were lots of hornets around her. They explained to her that “the hornets” were bullets flying past her from the fight nearby. Family members kept one of the bullets for a keepsake.

Mrs. King lived to be 88 years old. The following is taken from a 1936 Jacksonville newspaper article which quotes her. “You know we all had big families in those days; the one thing which everybody had was plenty of kinfolks. I had three aunts, and ‘that day’ they had gone down to the courthouse because they heard that Uncle Thad--Dr. Thad Hentz--had been captured and was held there, a prisoner.” This proved true; he had been captured, and was later sent to Elmira, New York, where he remained a prisoner of war until May, 1865.

“We children, of course, were left at home. We had been hearing the firing all morning. Every young boy who could carry a gun, and all the old, old men had gone out earlier in the day. After a while an African American soldier came by. Seeing the two of us, little six-year-old Lee and me--swinging on the gate and peering uneasily up and down the road--he said, ‘Your pa has been shot, he’s down there at the blacksmith shop.’”

“I waited to hear no more. I went flying down the road, followed by little Lee, whose short legs could not keep up the pace I set. Some Union soldiers came galloping up on horses and said, ‘Got anything to dig graves with?’ ‘No’, I hollered back at them, hardly pausing in my frenzied haste. ‘No, the soldiers have already come and taken every spade and shovel on the place.’ Around the corner, past little St. Luke’s Church we sped, and there back of the church was the blacksmith shop. I peered fearfully in. Should I see Pa stretched out on the floor, scarcely breathing, with blood all around him? No, there he sat, with his foot in the big round wash tub the smithy had used in cooling some metal parts. There was water in the tub, and he was trying to bathe the wound in his leg. A bullet, whizzing through the window of the little blacksmith shop where he had taken refuge had barely missed him, clipping a hole neatly through the side of the tub. We have that bullet still.”

“A Yankee sergeant came in and said in a deep gruff voice, ‘What’s the trouble here?’ But his eyes were kind as he looked down at us. Lee had started crying and when I saw her crying it made the tears come in my eyes, too.”

"Here, here,’ he said, ‘what are you crying for? I’ll help you get your Pa back home.’ He went out and in no time at all he was back with a dump cart, one of those little carts on two wheels with which Nick, our gardener, used to bring up cantaloupes and watermelons from the melon patch. Somehow we could not get Pa fixed on that cart in a comfortable position, so I walked behind and held up his leg. It must have been a queer procession, the sergeant walking on in front, Miss Sallie and Mrs. Britt (neighbors), with their arms full of bandages, Lee sniffling behind me, and last of all Pa’s squirrel dog, Bunk, with his tail dropping. But we got him home and put him to bed. And then be began shaking. Seemed like we could not get enough covers on him to make him warm.”

"I’ll go over to my house,’ Aunt Hat said, ‘and get some more blankets: I’ll bring him some soup. We killed a big turtle yesterday, and I left a pot of turtle soup cooking on the stove. That will warm him up.’”

“‘Better let me go with you,’ the sergeant said. His name was Fred Fuller, and he was from Portsmouth, Maine. ‘There is still some skirmishing in the streets; it will be safer for you if I go along.’ So, he went with her and helped her get the blankets off the beds. ‘Take all your clothes with you,’ he told her. ‘Take your feather bed, too. The soldiers will pillage this place.’”

“As they lifted the feather bed he caught sight of a big oil painting hidden there for safe keeping, a girl in her twenties, but painted many years ago, as was apparent from the dress; he looked at it with humble admiration.”

“‘It’s Caroline Hentz, the author,’ Aunt Hat said. ‘Caroline Lee Hentz!’ Sergeant Fuller exclaimed. ‘Why, I have read her Earnest Linwood and The Long Moss Spring over two or three times. They are two of my favorite novels. Take this portrait with you.’ He carried it in his arms, and the old horse carried a bundle on either side, clothes and feather beds. When he left to go on with his company, everybody in the family thanked him for all his kindness.”

“‘Goodbye and God bless you,’ Pa said, shaking hands with him. ‘I wish there was something we could do in return for all you have done for us.’”

“‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ the sergeant replied, twisting his cap nervously in his hand. ‘There is one thing I would be glad if you would do for me. I’m having to leave my pal behind. He’s too badly wounded to take with us. He’s over there in the hospital.’ (They were using the school house for a hospital, and it was full of wounded soldiers.) ‘If there’s anything you can do for Pollard I’d thank you kindly.’”

Miss Elizabeth further states, “We did manage to send many a dish of jelly and fruit and chicken broth over to his friend. Oh, my, it seems a long, long time ago, but no matter how many the years, they will never erase one day off the calendar for me, and that day was “Marianna Day.”

Note: September 27, 2014 will commemorate 150 years since this event took place. Thank you, Retilla, sweet friend, for sharing such a beautiful story.

What Happened To All The Trees???? Part two

We are remembering again of the beauty of the west entrance to Marianna before the “Man-made Hurricane” hit Lafayette Street.

Since we aren’t sure exactly when the “Man-made Hurricane” came through, we will say early 60’s. Someone may have a memory which will place an exact date on “the happening.”

We took a walk “Down Memory Lane” on the south side of the street last week; now let’s visit the north side of the street.

Across the street from Mrs. Paul Carter’s house was the beautiful home of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Renfroe.

A write-up in a 1930’s Marianna Directory tells about the Renfroe home and the beauty of her flowers. The blooming flowers in the photo are massive plantings of hydrangeas in pink and blue which surrounded the home and bloomed most of the summer. It states that the home was white with green trim. Sam Renfroe would be remembered as one of the two gentlemen who realized that there was a GI bill for WW II young veterans to go to college and that there was an abandoned airbase full of empty buildings north of town which needed to be used. He and Roy Beall “pulled a LOT of strings” in Marianna, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. to allow Chipola College to be organized at the old airbase…later moved to College Street and “the rest of that story is history”.

West of the Renfore home was the large two-story home of the Smith family, torn down to build the present building.

Crossing Wynn Street we are at the beautiful St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and churchyard where we can walk through a cemetery which has graves dating back to 1845 and 1849. There are many people of note buried in the churchyard, but of particular interest is Confederate Governor John Milton, buried in April 1864.

The beautiful church is noted for all the wonderful memorial windows with the “friendship” window high in the west wall, and another spectacular window on the east wall above the altar area. The 27 stained glass memorial windows really are unusual in our part of the world and “spectacular” is the most accurate word to describe them. St. Luke’s windows are just extraordinary and well worth anyone taking time to stop in and visit or to worship with the congregation and savor the beauty of the windows. What you see from the outside is not anything like seeing them from inside with the natural light shining through. The church and the churchyard are such wonderful tributes to God by this congregation and a true treasure for Marianna.

The next home west of the churchyard is the Nonie Dekle Milton home, completed in1927. The home was built by M.L. Dekle for his daughter. (Other homes on Green and Putnam Streets were also built for his daughters and other family members near the present Dekle-Brunner House, which was his home.) This home was built here because there were two very large live oak trees in the front yard of an existing house which was removed, which Nonie favored. Both trees are still standing. Her five children, John Dekle Milton, Robert H. Milton, Ronald A Milton, Stella M. Higdon and, Nell Dekle M. Robb, the mother of the current owners, were raised in this house. Nonie lived here from 1927 until her death in 1969.

The house appears to be of stucco exterior finish, but it is actually a rather unusual finish known as “pebbledash”, which are pebbles mixed into concrete which is thrown onto the exterior of the home.

The beautiful home was restored in 2004-2005 and should serve the Dekle-Milton family members very well for many more years.

Next was the J. C. Smith home which was a large two-story home, built by the Smiths who were merchants in Marianna for many years. One very old photo of the Daffin Building shows that J.C. Smith had a business in the very corner section of the Daffin Building at one time. For many years his store was a beautiful dress shop in the center of the block downtown near where Watson’s Drug Store has been located for many years.

The next home is the 1902 Marmaduke Dickson home which is now owned and recently renovated by Charles and Ora Mock. The home was originally restored by Floye Brewton, where he lived for several years. The Mocks recently added a large family room and a “dream” kitchen on the rear of the house. They have retained the Queen Anne style Victorian home as it was in the original house, but the addition is a modern, comfortable 21st century touch to make the home a perfect place to enjoy family and to live very comfortably for many years. 

The next home was known as Coral’s Gables and was one of the oldest homes in Marianna, reportedly built by the Bullard family. The Burtons purchased the home in 1903. The house had nine Doric columns across the front which was indicative of homes built in the mid 1800’s. Mrs. Burton was named Coral, as was her daughter, Coral Davis. The house had two gables. The Davis family lived there for many years prior to the home being moved from that location to Wacissa, Florida, in Jefferson County. The Pelt Eye Clinic is on the location of Coral’s Gables. For a number of years there was a small white house east of the Pelt’s parking area which was moved from the site prior to the Pelt’s purchase.

Of course, Hinson’s Bed and Breakfast is the next home. The 1920’s house was owned by the J.W. Hinson family and was purchased by Sid and Judy Riley in 1996 and converted into Marianna’s only “Bed and Breakfast”. The home is frequented by families who want to stay together in one location for special events, such as weddings, etc. Also, many professionals who often travel through Marianna prefer the B&B to motel life. Often the traveling public searches for a B&B rather than a traditional travel location. It is a beautiful home reflecting the 1920’s era and is always ready for Christmas. It was built on property which was originally part of the Ely-Criglar estate, which brings us to the next house on the block, the Ely-Criglar Mansion.

Francis Ely built the house about 1840 with brick which were produced on the site. The house originally had an east and a west wing. The east wing was the kitchen and dining area and the west wing was bedrooms. The west wing was moved to the Russ Street location where it may be seen today as the 1840’s House. It originally sat north of and behind the Baltzell Hospital which was on the corner. Both of these houses are on the National Register of Historical Places.

The Ely-Criglar home is one of Marianna’s most spectacular old homes which was restored several years ago by Floye Brewton, and was recently refurbished by the Larry Kinsolvings, both attorneys, who moved to Marianna upon their retirement several years ago. The Kinsolvings have greatly enhanced the beauty and comfort of the home, adding an elevator to facilitate getting from the first to the second floor where they have their personal sitting area and bedrooms. This home deserves to have its own story told, which will be done very soon. Ruth Kinsolving was raised in Marianna and is the daughter of Ben and Elizabeth Barnes. Marianna is certainly fortunate to have them here as a part of our city. They are very generous to host events in the home, opening it often to tours of the city among many other opportunities to share the beautiful ante-bellum home. They are also very generous volunteers with their time and energy. Marianna is indeed fortunate that they chose to share their lives with us here.

The next building that was there, as mentioned, was the Baltzell Hospital, which was the only hospital until Jackson Hospital was built in the early 1940’s. When the Baltzells closed the hospital, it was converted into the Runnymede Hotel (also called the Marianne Hotel for some time) where a number of families lived for many years. As stated, when the entire Lafayette Street was widened, the hospital/apartment building/hotel was torn down in the 70’s to allow the corner of Lafayette Street at Russ Street to be widened and the curve made less severe than it formerly was. Floye Brewton told that if you dug a little in the south yard/parking area of the 1840’s House one would find the remains of the old hospital as they only removed the absolutely necessary portion of the building and much of its foundation is still there. There is a group of Marianna adults who were born in the early 1940’s at the Baltzell Hospital. They meet regularly for lunch, and they call themselves “The Baltzell Babies.”

This concludes our “walk down Silk Stocking Avenue” remembering it as it was when the trees were framing each home on either side of the street. It was, indeed, a beautiful sight to behold and many can use their imaginations to reconstruct “the avenue” with the beautiful homes and trees. It is certainly sad when something so beautiful and so unique changes, but so is life. Progress moves on and our lives and surroundings change. It is still wonderful to experience “small city life”. Many Marianna natives treasure our memories of “Our Wonderful World.”

Note: Special thanks to John Brewer who always so graciously enhances our photos to make old photos look new, and to others who shared special details of facts and memories of old Lafayette Street.

What Happened To The Trees?

Being often asked this question, this writer will attempt to remind us all of the Russ Street to Caledonia Street canopy that existed prior to the early 1950’s when the canopy disappeared and she will reminisce about the beautiful homes which were so famously framed by the wonderful trees. The photo entitled “Man-made Hurricane Hits Marianna” explains exactly what happened to the trees. It states that workers from the Coggon and Deermont Company proceeded rapidly in the work of widening State Road 10 (US 90) from Caledonia to Russ Street, a distance of four-tenths of a mile. The job calls for the street to be widened to a width of 44 feet from the present width of 30 feet.

The beautiful street had previously appeared as in the following photograph. Yes, the huge trees actually did form a canopy from near Russ Street to Wynn Street. East of Wynn Street there were few trees as service stations and other commercial businesses were located in this area. The fine old homes were lovingly cared for until, in most cases, the cost of the upkeep, taxes and necessary refurbishing took its toll. While we lost so many of the old homes, it is the delight of “old Marianna folks” who love our historical homes, that we have been able to save as many as we have, and that so many are being used so well today.

There were three service stations located in the area between Wynn Street and Caledonia Street for many years. Harrison Chevrolet was located on the south corner of Lafayette Street and Caledonia Street and the Post Office was on the north side of the street at the intersection.

The area from Russ Street to Wynn Street was nicknamed “Silk Stocking Avenue,” as the entire area was filled with lovely homes.

Beginning on the south side of the street, one would see the lovely home of the Baltzell Family. There was a fire in the home at one time and the home was rebuilt as a one-story house. The home was located across the street from the Baltzell Hospital on the corner of Russ Street. This was the only hospital in Marianna. This home was transformed into Protenza Beauty Salon by Dana Torbett several years ago.

Next on the south side was the John Milton, Jr. home. He was the great- grandson of Governor John Milton. The 1898 home was built by W. J. Daniel for his daughter, Floie, when she married John Milton. W. J. Daniel was a banker, establishing, with his partners, the bank which later became First Bank of Marianna. That 1902 bank building is on the west side of Confederate Memorial Park. This is the family of present Marianna residents John Milton V and Creshull Harrison and their families. The home was torn down in 1958 and a service station was erected there. It is currently the site of ERA Chipola Realty.

Next, going east, was the home of the McLane Family who used it as an apartment house in its later years. The home was built by the Singletary Family. The McLane Home can be seen in this photo as it sits across the street from the Baltzell Hospital. Jim’s Buffet and Grill is on this property’s old site.

Next was the home of the R.L. Hinson family. Dick Hinson and Beth Quick were raised in this home, and Alice Dickson’s home was the next home place. This would be the current home of KFC .

The next place was the very large 1912 home of Senator W.H. Milton. Most of the timber for this home was cut from the Milton Plantation near Blue Springs. The large two-story home was known as Miltonia. It had six bedrooms and three baths. There were nine fireplaces in the home, but there was a central hot air furnace in the basement which burned wood and coal. The house was disassembled in 1976, with columns and staircases being used in a house being built in Atlanta, Georgia. The Pizza Hut sits on the site of this home. #6: PHOTO OF MILTONIA

The next house was the Holden Home which was built prior to the Battle of Marianna. Bullets from rifles used at that time were found lodged in the home in several places when it was renovated by Floye Brewton in the late 1980’s. The home has housed several offices there since its renovation.

East of the Holden’s was the James MacKinnon Home which was expanded during WW II while the Army Air Base was here, adding bedrooms to accommodate the overflow of the city as the airmen came with no facilities for housing. A very nice restaurant, named “Magnolia” was in the house at one time. Mrs. MacKinnon was a life-long teacher, serving as Principal of Golson Elementary School for many years. The home was purchased and restored by Floye Brewton, who removed all additions to the original home. The home was later beautifully renovated and updated to accommodate Attorney Shannon Saunders’s law office.

Next was the very large home of the John Carter Family, later the home of Mrs. Lamar Gammon and her family and Miss Roberta Carter, long-time history teacher at Marianna High School.

This home was built by the Wynn Family for whom Wynn Street was named. Most of these homes had deep lots, going to the railroad.

Across Wynn Street is the lovely brick home of the F.C. Daffin family, now owned and beautifully renovated by Harvey and Maxine Wilbanks.

Next, where the Mexican restaurant sits today, was the home of the Paul Carters, an attorney. Mrs. Carter taught piano in the parlor of the beautiful two-story home to hundreds of Marianna children in her lifetime. 

School Board Building Is Gone!

It was 1:30 on March 26, 1968, a typical Marianna spring afternoon when there was a most unexpected event in downtown Marianna.

While working on a bus in the bus barn area of the Jackson County Board of Public Instruction Building on Clinton Street, as the bus mechanics were using a cutting torch on a car spring, suddenly the bus’s gas tank exploded! Since several windows and a door were open leading to the main building, the fire spread quickly.

The 1906 building had been used for grammar and high school classes until 1927 when the Marianna High School on Daniel Street was completed. At that time the School Board made the building their home. It had been used very effectively as the Marianna High School, grades one through twelve, for about forty years, and prior to that, a wooden structure served grades one through twelve from about 1880 for the next twenty five years, when the building was torn down for the new, very large brick two-story school building.

The word was, that at one point that afternoon, the Marianna Fire Department, located just across the street, felt they had the fire under control, but it is said to have reignited and when it did, the bell tower acted as a chimney and the building was soon burning totally out of control.

Very few records were rescued as the building began to burn. A few files and records were thrown from the windows on both the first and second floors by the employees before they had to evacuate the building. Some of those files were in Superintendent John Dekle Milton’s office, which included a couple of books of School Board minutes, some teacher records and personal items of Superintendent Milton.

Among the records which were reported totally destroyed included all student grading and attendance records, all transportation records, School Board bonding and funding records throughout the years, employee records, federal program records, all lunchroom records, including records concerning federal feeding programs, student attendance records, all records concerning school board properties and school plants, the adult education records and all School Board meeting minutes except those which were in the Superintendent’s office. It was reported that none of the records were backed up by any retrieval system, and all were lost forever, no matter how important they were.

Over the years there have been numerous times when individuals have needed certain school records for employment, government service, job placement, and varieties of other reasons, only to be told “those records all burned in the fire on March 26th, 1968.”

Fortunately, the fire department was able to quickly extinguish the fire which spread to the roof of a nearby house, causing very little damage. While the building was a total loss, the Marianna Fire Department was highly commended for containing the huge fire to the area of the School Board Building and no damage was incurred to any other buildings in the area, and there was no loss of life.

Roy Beall’s two-story native stone building on the corner of Madison and Lafayette Streets was rented as the main School Board Office. Other nearby buildings was also rented for auxiliary buildings for storage.

The building was used for the next thirteen years until the new building was constructed at the site of the original brick building and the preceding wooden building built in late 1880. The large one-story stucco building we see today on the corner of Jefferson and Clinton Streets was built in 1981.

Strangely, after the School Board vacated the lime rock structure on the Lafayette Street corner of the present Madison Street Park, that building also burned one extremely cold January night when it is believed a vagrant was trying to keep warm with a bucket of coals in an open stairway leading to the second floor. It appeared that the hot coals set the stairway and the building on fire. The temperature was said to be so low that the firemen could not fight the blaze because the water was freezing as it left the fire hose. Many locals recall that night as one of the coldest nights in Marianna history.

The 1981 building has served very well for the past thirty plus years, but plans have been underway for several years to find a way to renovate the 1927 Marianna High School and make it a very useable office building with space to house the Jackson County Board of Public Education offices for many years to come. The beautiful old building would certainly provide space and character for such a use.

Recently, a $6,000,000 grant request for funds for the renovation was placed in the State budget which was submitted to Governor Scott for his signature a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the Governor did not give the request his blessing, and by refusing to sign that portion of next year’s budget, it appears that the plans to restore and use the Marianna High School building will have to be put on hold for the time being.

The photos and some portions of the story with this article are taken from the March 27, 1968 issue of the Jackson County Floridan, which was loaned to the writer by Daun Crews who had saved the issue for the past 45 years. Thank you for sharing with us, Daun.

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