Lawndale sits regally beside the Indian River, waiting.
She’s occupied this prime spot 1.5 miles south of Cocoa Village for 140 years, but she’s sat empty for the past 33, waiting.
The wait ends Friday, as once again laughter fills the rooms and footsteps echo in the halls. The home completed in 1880 by H.S. Williams, one of Rockledge’s first citizens and a prominent citrus grower, will be open for tours this weekend as part of the Museums of Brevard’s Inaugural Christmas Tour of Historic Homes.
The opening comes 20 years after Carole Pope and a group of volunteers undertook the task of restoring the grand Victorian lady.
“I live close by, and know what a treasure this house is,” said Pope. She and others who live nearby formed the non-profit The Preservation and Education Trust and have worked since 2000 to return the house to its former grandeur, while adding modern necessities such as a wheelchair ramp and air conditioning, with the hope of turning it into a house museum.
Lawndale’s history is older than the town in which it sits.
Hiram Smith Williams arrived in Florida from Alabama in the mid-1870s. In addition to running a prosperous citrus business, he served as county treasurer, a state senator and the first postmaster of Rockledge. A room above the Lawndale kitchen served as one of the area’s first schoolrooms, and in the early 1900s, he established the Brevard Telephone Company.
Hiram Smith Williams’ granddaughter Margaret Williams Rainwater and her family were the last people to live in the house. Rainwater never met her grandfather, though. He died in 1921, and she was born in 1926. Her father Sydney ran the family’s citrus business in Fort Pierce. She moved to Lawndale in 1955 to help care for her Aunt Myra.
“My younger son used to slide down these banisters,” said Rainwater, 94, as she carefully climbed down the home’s main staircase.
“There used to be a hall tree here,” she said, pointing to a corner left of the front door.
Rainwater and her husband moved into a modern house next door in November 1987, she said. It was a cold night, and though they had yet to furnish the new place, they slept on mattresses on the carpeted floor, eager to enjoy the warmth and convenience of central heat.
Brevard County purchased the site for $250,000 in 1989 under its Beach and Riverfront Program and leased it back to the Preservation and Education Trust.
Restoring the home has been tedious and time-consuming. The work has been done by volunteers and paid for by donations. The goal is to recreate what it was like to live on the river in the 1880s.
The volunteers have peeled back paint to find the original colors used in the rooms. They’ve refinished floors and polished the intricate woodwork on the mantels, touches that hint at Williams’ early career as a carriage maker.
Some of the furnishings are original. The trunks, a wardrobe, Myra Williams’ piano, a pier mirror for the front hall. The brass light fixtures are reproductions, but the glass shades are original to the house, gifts from Rainwater.
Furnishings that aren’t original are period appropriate, and were either donated or carefully curated purchases.
Pope found an old stove on Merritt Island and a doorbell on eBay.
A few days before Lawndale was to admit visitors, volunteers were busy arranging furniture and decorating the home for Christmas. Linda Beck and Mary Repass of the Brevard Heritage Council swished through the rooms in 1880s-style dresses, rehearsing their parts as tour guides for the weekend.
Guests will be able to walk through the parlor, dining room and kitchen. They can see the spot on the hallway wall where Myra wrote, “Mr. Williams died this day in 1921.”
On the second floor are three bedrooms, Williams’ library, a bathroom, a large sitting room that also could have been a guest room, and the old schoolroom, complete with the original desks and six hooks for pupils’ coats.
The work isn’t complete, but Pope is excited to share this piece of history with the community. Tours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. In addition to Lawndale, the Rockledge Municipal Building on Orange Avenue and the old St. Mary’s Church on Barton Avenue will be open for tours.
Tickets for the full historic home tour are $35. Cost to visit the Rockledge sites is $10. Call 321-632-5650 for more information.
Pope said the plan is to open the house on weekends, starting the first of the year.
It’s time. Lawndale has waited long enough.
About the tour of homes
Six historic homes that cover the length of Brevard are part of the Museums of Brevard’s Inaugural Christmas Tour of Historic Homes.
Museums of Brevard includes attractions such as the Brevard Zoo, the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, the American Police Hall of Fame and the American Space Museum and the Space Walk of Fame.
The organization also counts among its members six Victorian house museums, said Marion Ambrose, a volunteer at Green Gables in Melbourne.
“A lot of people don’t know we exist,” Ambrose said. “We thought this was a good way to introduce people to the different places that are available in the area.”
Tickets to tour the houses are $35, which will be split among the six museums. Those who visit all six houses will receive a Victorian ornament as a keepsake. The tour isn’t a big moneymaker, she said, but it’s huge for getting the word out.
Turns out, the community seems eager to soak up some historic Christmas cheer. Online ticket sales have sold out, Ambrose said. Guests who haven’t pre-purchased tickets still can get tickets at the individual houses, but they may have to wait a bit before being admitted.
Tours will be kept small to meet COVID-19 guidelines. Masks are required.
Plans are in the works for a spring tour.
Ambrose said people are eager to show off their respective houses.
“It makes our makes our volunteers happy,” she said. “It gives them a little chance to brag.”
Holiday Tour of Historic Homes
Where and when:
• Historic Rossetter House, 1320 Highland Ave., Melbourne: Tours are by appointment at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays in December. Call 321-254-9855.
• Green Gables, 1501 S. Harbor City Blvd., Melbourne: Tours are from 9 a.m. to 2 pm. Dec. 18-20. Call 321-794-8901 or visit greengables.org.
• Field Manor Historic Homestead, 750 Field Manor Drive, Merritt Island: Tours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 10-12 and Dec. 17-19. Call ahead at 321-848-0365.
• Sams House at Pine Island, 6195 N Tropical Trail, Merritt Island: Tours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 12. Call 321-449-4720.
• Historic Pritchard House, 424 S. Washington Ave., Titusville: Tours are available by appointment daily in December from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 321-607-0203 or visit nbbd.com/npr/preservation.
• Lawndale, 1219 Rockledge Drive, Rockledge: Tours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec 11-12, and noon to 3 p.m. Dec 13. Call 321-632-5650.
Tickets: $35 at the individual houses.
Note: Safety protocols are in place at all homes in the tour. Wear masks, please.
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