Today, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announced the 2020 Florida’s 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic properties in the state, at the Preservation on Main Street Annual Conference in collaboration with Florida Main Street.
This year’s list represents endangered historic resources in Florida’s Duval, Escambia, Lake, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, and Sarasota counties, covering hundreds of years of history and a variety of cultural resources.
Each year, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announces its 11 to Save program as part of its conference. The program is designed to increase the public’s awareness of the urgent need to save Florida’s historic resources, and to empower local preservationists and preservation groups in their efforts to preserve Florida’s rich history.
“Each year, we receive more and more nominations.ns from people around the state for the 11 to Save program,” said Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Board President Friederike Mittner. “This year’s list does a good job serving our goal to have the list reflect historic places that resonate with the people of Florida, to learn from and share the stories of these special places – and work with communities to make sure they are still here in years to come.”
Inclusion on the Florida’s 11 to Save is a starting point for the Florida Trust’s advocacy and education efforts, and is intended to be part of a collaborative effort to identify custom solutions for each property. Listings are not in any order of importance.
Black Bottom House of Prayer
Orlando (Orange County) Built 1925
Built in 1925, the Black Bottom House of Prayer is a reminder of the once thriving and bustling Parramore community near Downtown Orlando. Located in a low lying section of the African-American neighborhood, the area was called Black Bottom, due to the black mud left from constant flooding. The Spanish Mission style building was originally occupied by the Pleasant Hill Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became the Carter Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. One member recalled the women of the church holding lanterns for the men working on the church construction in the dark after their day’s work on their regular jobs.
One of the oldest African-American churches in Orlando, for nearly a century it has served as a religious entity, community meeting center and a school for the local African-American community. In the spring of 2020, the building was designated as an Orlando Historic Landmark. However, a recent roof collapse is endangering efforts to preserve the structure.
The Orange Preservation Trust and the National ADHD Foundation are in the process to secure resources to restore the historic landmark. The nominator hopes inclusion on this year’s 11 to Save list will help draw attention to on-going fundraising efforts for restoration and preservation.
Community of Cosmo and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor
Jacksonville (Duval County) Established ca. 1870s
The community of Cosmo was established in the late 1870s as a Gullah Geechee freedmen’s settlement community. The Gullah Geechee people are the descendants of West and Central Africans who were enslaved on coastal rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The nature of their enslavement on isolated island and coastal plantations created a unique culture with deep African retentions that are clearly visible in Gullah Geechee people’s distinctive arts, crafts, foodways, music and the Gullah language. An important part of Jacksonville’s Gullah Geechee history, Cosmo is still home to the descendants of the founders and retains historic buildings, burial grounds and fishing grounds on the banks of the St. Johns River.
Development in the area threatens significant historic and cultural resources, some of which lack local, state and federal historic designations that would provide important protection and generate resources for preservation. This is exacerbated by a lack of awareness among public officials and the general public about the historic significance of the community or the Gullah Geechee people.
The nominator seeks to raise awareness among public officials and the general public about the historic significance of Cosmo and other endangered Gullah Geechee settlements throughout Florida to engender support for additional resources for a range of historic and cultural preservation initiatives for these communities.
Downtown Jacksonville Historic District
Jacksonville (Duval County) Designated 2016
In May 2016, 56 blocks of Downtown Jacksonville were listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. This 158-acre historic district contains a contiguous group of resources that relate to the development of Florida’s first big city central business district as a commercial, institutional, and residential hub following the Great Fire of 1901.
Despite inclusion on the National Register, many prominent historic and culturally significant sites including the City Hall Annex, Greyhound Bus Station, First Baptist Church Sunday School Building and the Universal Marion (JEA) Building, have been razed, approved for demolition and/or have a future in doubt today. As a result, various community groups and organizations such as the Mapping Jax Group are rallying public officials to modify local preservation and adaptive reuse policies to encourage rehabilitation and local landmarking of what is left.
Acknowledging local policies and programs aimed at rehabilitating historic buildings have not done enough, the Downtown Investment Authority has proposed a plan to revise historic preservation and revitalization trust fund guidelines, recommend that the city council adopt a new program to incentivize rehabilitation of historic landmarks as well as target code compliance improvements to landmarks and non-landmarked older buildings. In the upcoming months, it will be up to City Council to decide if the proposed program is ultimately adopted.
Eatonville Historic District
Eatonville (Orange County) Established 1887
A Florida Main Street community, Eatonville is historically significant for being one of the first self-governing all-Black municipalities in the United States. The town was named after Josiah C. Eaton, one of a small group of white landowners who were willing to sell sufficient land to African Americans to incorporate as a Black town on August 15, 1887.
Containing 48 historic buildings at the time, the Eatonville Historic District was designated and added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 3, 1998. Many of its properties are related to its most famous former resident, Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was a noted writer, folklorist, and anthropologist associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
Club Eaton, another property, was a popular stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit, hosting performers ranging from Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday to James Brown, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin. The district’s oldest property, the Thomas House, was built in 1881 as the town’s first church, also eventually becoming the town’s first library. Today, many structures within the historic district, including Club Eaton and the Thomas House, are threatened by neglect.
Leesburg (Lake County) Built 1915
Built in 1915, Lee School, later known as the Lee Adult Education Center, is an historic school in Leesburg that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. During World War II, the school served as a community center and daycare center of the children of mothers working during the war effort. As a school, the structure has served as a place of education for approximately seven generations of Leesburg residents.
Currently the rapidly deteriorating property is in danger of being demolished to make room for a senior living development. Original redevelopment plans in 2014 called for the school being restored into a 152-unit assisted living and senior independent living development. Sold again in 2018, the new property owner requested permission to raze the historic structure with the explanation that the building was in worse shape than originally expected.
Local nonprofit art and cultural organization, Leesburg Center for the Arts is working with the City of Leesburg Building and Planning department to save the buildings, renovate and reuse as a studio space and arts education center for artists, and creatives, as well as a children’s and history museum.
MacFarlane Homestead Historic District
Coral Gables (Miami-Dade County) Established 1925
The MacFarlane Homestead Historic District is a Black community nationally designated on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1925, Flora MacFarlane, the area’s first solo female homesteader and schoolteacher, sold the twenty acres that today constitute the historic district to Coral Gables founder George Merrick’s company, which developed the property into a subdivision. Many Bahamian immigrant laborers, particularly Afro-Bahamians, subsequently built residences there. Originally, 32 homes made up the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District when it was designated in 1994 on the National Register with areas of significance including Ethnic Heritage, Community Planning and Development and Architecture between 1925 and 1949.
A rare example of a Black community in Florida to designated as a National Register of Historic Places Historic District, the community is threatened due to on-going redevelopment in the area and homes that have been lost to neglect.