Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

A Brooksville landmark slides into neglect

Brooksville banker and political powerhouse Alfred McKethan died in April 2002, and, from the looks of things, his old house hasn't received a lick of paint since.

Trimming the trees is also way overdue. So is the job of replacing, or at least reattaching, the sagging molding on the front columns.

The obvious candidate to pay for this work is McKethan's nephew, Brooksville lawyer Joe Mason, who controls the property.

I bring this up now because Mason has recently shown an interest in reviving downtown Brooksville.

He was one of the members of First United Methodist Church of Brooksville who came up with the idea of the Brooksville Common, a landscaped mini-park that will be built next to the church. He is also listed as one of a handful of major contributors to the $180,000 project.

Though I think the park might be a bit more welcoming to the public without such an in-your-face display of the Ten Commandments, it's a very generous gift to the city.

But the city also benefits when people who own downtown buildings keep them up, and no property deserves this more than McKethan's old house.

It's a real landmark and should look like one.

"I think it's very significant," said Bob Martinez, publisher of Old Brooksville in Photos and Stories. "It's got a deep history of a very prominent family and was one of the finest homes of its time."

The five-bedroom house two blocks east of the old Hernando County courthouse was built in 1882 by Mc­Kethan's grandfather, John J. Hale, according to Richard J. Stanaback's A History of Hernando County, which also says the home was "constructed of special wood shipped to Bayport and hauled by wagon overland to Brooksville."

McKethan wasn't born in the house, but lived there for several decades when he controlled the flow of money in the county as president of what is now SunTrust Bank in downtown Brooksville — and when it was a major coup to receive an invitation to his table.

"For generations, the noontime lunch/dinner was kind of the big event of the day," said Realtor Robert Buckner, Mc­Kethan's grandson, who lived in the house while finishing his degree at what is now Saint Leo University.

Most of McKethan's guests were locals — business people and politicians. But because McKethan, the former chairman of the State Road Board, had statewide pull, so did a lot of his guests.

Doyle Conner Sr., Florida's longtime commissioner of agriculture, sometimes joined McKethan for the famous fried chicken served by his cook, Minnie Stephens. So did citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr. And former Gov. Lawton Chiles once ate so much that he left the table to take a nap in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Mason is prolonging this history, regularly meeting Buckner and McKethan's former son-in-law, Jim Kimbrough, for "Miss Minnie's" lunches.

But that's not the same as preserving the house.

Lots of people have noticed its neglect. Lots of people are puzzled that a presumably well-to-do family has let it slide into this state.

"It amazes me, really," said longtime City Council member Joe Bernardini. "I just hate to see it sit there in the condition it's in."

I can imagine it as a museum, the front den crammed with memorabilia from McKethan's alma mater, the University of Florida, which is how I remember it when I interviewed McKethan for his 90th birthday.

If that's too much to ask, and it probably is, it would be nice to see a plaque or some other mark of the home's significance. At the very least, it should be used and maintained.

It will be, Mason said, though he hasn't decided how or when.

Why not?

He's stubborn, for one thing, or at least that's what people who know him well tell me.

And he loves that lunch tradition, though it's hard to see how a fresh coat of paint would interfere with it.

And judging by the well broken-in blazers he wears and the ancient SUV he drives and the bare plywood awning over the door of his law office, he's never cared much about appearances.

This can be an admirable quality — just not when you control the fate of a landmark.

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