By Kristy Gustafson
When you first step foot onto the 163 acres of Eden Gardens State Park, you feel as if you’re being transported back in time – back to an era where hoop skirts, oil paintings, and Victorian-style architecture decorated a land rich with opportunity.
Today, that can be felt beneath the surrounding shade of Spanish moss-draped oak trees, the salty air of Choctawhatchee Bay, and the unique history of this Florida Panhandle treasure.
It first began with the Euchee Indians. Led by Sam Story (aka Timpoochee Kinnard), the tribe’s days revolved around fishing, hunting, and learning different ways to properly live off the land. When European settlers arrived, they taught the newcomers the same before being driven out to discover new land.
In the 1890s, a man by the name of William Henry Wesley purchased the land for his family and his wife Katie Strickland. A few years later, they built what would later become known as the Wesley House. The rest of the property would serve as the hub of their lumber company, which operated from 1890 until after World War I. Remnants of the lumber mill can still be seen from the shores of Tucker Bayou. The family lived there until Mrs. Wesley’s passing in 1953. Out of the seven surviving children, none wanted the house, so it was sold, along with 10.5 acres.
Take a stroll with us through the beautiful Eden Gardens State Park! Learn more: 30A.com/eden-gardens-state-park
Posted by 30A on Thursday, June 29, 2017
The large house would remain vacant for ten years, and in that time, came to be thought of as haunted by local children in the area. Yet, it still clung onto the same Southern charm from eras gone by… a charm that would ultimately enchant wealthy New York publisher Lois Maxon, who decided to call it home.
“I have found my Eden,” she said upon purchasing the entire property for $12,500, inspiring the name of the park to come.
After some renovations, such as adding ornamental gardens and building the reflection pool that now centers the large rolling lawns with lily pads and koi fish, Miss Maxon converted the 5,500-square-foot house into the perfect setting for her remarkable antiques and her vast collection of first editions.
When her health began to decline, she donated the property and the fully-furnished Antebellum plantation house to the state of Florida in 1968.
Thanks to her, it is now home to the hidden jewel locals and tourists alike know and love.
Today, Eden Gardens State Park – its tranquil gardens, nature trails, picnic and gathering areas, and most importantly, its history – can be enjoyed 365 days a year until sundown… from sitting on the white rocking chairs that line the mansion’s wraparound porch, to holding hands with loved ones beneath the famous 600-year-old Wedding Tree, to resting on the banks of the bayou with a fishing pole in hand.