Of my past I am sure, but my future is uncertain

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This remarkable 2 story home was built in 1887 by the Randall family who were originally from the Carolinas. All stick construction assembled on site, the 2,000 square foot home was warmed by one central chimney with fireboxes to warm both the parlour and dining rooms on the first floor.

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(The Randall Family at home c. 1880’s- Photo courtesy of the Leslie Family)

They were one of the first families to settle this small community that sits just along the Ocklawaha River. After the Civil War, the area began to bustle with new settlers from neighboring states and traffic from steamboats along the river helped to establish numerous citrus farming towns.

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(View of the Ocklawaha River c. 1880- Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory Project)

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(Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory project)

From each of their respective ports, boats would pick up and deliver goods, as well as tourists who began to frequent the line.

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(Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory Project)

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(Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory Project)

The Randall’s built a grand hotel just along the riverbanks as accommodations for traveller’s who arrived by boat.

randall_hotel(Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory project)

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(Original photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida Memory Project)

But a lot of changes were coming quickly for this sleepy river town when the 1890’s dealt the area two freezes that devastated area citrus crops. Then in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a National Forest, the first East of the Mississippi River, which began a transformation in the identity of the communities in the area. All of this coupled with the blow that the railroads dealt to the Riverboat economy spelled the end of tourism and most commerical economy for the town. Locals recall that the last boats came through in 1925 and The Randall Hotel would shut its doors then too.

As their community and livelihoods changed, I can only imagine the struggles they must have faced but members of the original family would call this home until the mid-1940’s. The last Randall’s to live there sold it to Paul and Opal Leslie along with 10 surrounding acres for $850 around 1945. Their grandchildren can remember a time when they had to carry pails of water in to the home from the hand pump in the back yard but by 1952, numerous upgrades like plumbing and electricity had been added. Paul and Opal would remain in this home until her death in 2004. It is still owned by the Leslie family and has been rented at times, but due to severe neglect by the last tenants, the family is not interested in renting it again.

For now, its roof is in good shape and the windows are in tact. It needs a lot of work, but luckily, its current owners are doing as much as they can to prevent further damage to it.

As I walked through this home, I felt so very fortunate to be able to take in such an awesome piece of architecture. The exposed paneling told so much about its original builders. The original wooden staircase and floorboards seemed even more compelling as I considered that they must have been harvested from this very site.

In 147 years, the outside world looks a whole lot different, but from in here, it feels like time is standing still.

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[Ocala National Forest- Marion County, FL c. 1887]

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4 responses to “Of my past I am sure, but my future is uncertain”

  1. Dave Oslin says :

    Is it possible to visit this property? My grandparents settled in St. Francis (no longer in existence, but was just west of Deland on the St. Johns) in 1890 where my grandfather edited a newspaper published by the Pennsylvania developers as a marketing tool to entice unsuspecting Yankees to buy property and relocate to Florida. After the freeze of 1893/4 he moved to Melbourne adhere he founded the Melbourne Times. I’ve only seen pictures of the original homes in the town but would love to see one of that era in what appears to be close to its original setting.

    Like

  2. Terri says :

    What an awesome home. I grew up in the area and I passed by this house nearly every day I so wish it could be restored and saved for future generations.

    Like

  3. mary baxley goodwin says :

    i just have to know something, my aunt married ralph randall and they live in emporia (pierson) and i would love to know if this hotel belonged to uncle ralph’s family?

    Like

    • Kelly says :

      I’m afraid not, Mary. The home and hotel were built by the Thomas W. Randall family, his wife’s name was Victoria. Although they might be of some distant relation?

      Like

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