Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Work restores grand appearance to historic Brooksville house

The Tampa couple who bought the Scarborough House a year ago haven't finished the job of restoring one of the oldest, grandest buildings in Brooksville. Not even close.

But Greg and Dorothea Stephens, and many helpful family members and friends, have pulled down the potato vines that had threatened to strangle even the biggest oaks in the house's yard.

They've trimmed the row of ligustrums along E Jefferson Street so it looks less like a displaced strip of wilderness and more like what it's supposed to be — a hedge.

They've patched the leaky roof. They've stopped the house's once seemingly inevitable collapse, replacing the crumbling brick foundation with one made of concrete block.

The bay windows of the house — which the Stephenses call Saxon Manor — are now sealed off with glass rather than plywood.

Inside, the couple have pulled out several trash bins of water-damaged plaster and started refinishing the heart-pine floors.

Outside, they've scraped away the old paint and applied a new coat of white and aqua.

No, they haven't done all they plan to do, but they've done enough to make the property look like a respectable gateway on the eastern edge of downtown.

They've restored an eyesore into a landmark. They've replaced an embarrassment with a source of pride.

"I love what they've done," said Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn.

The house was traditionally known as the home of the family that lived there the longest, the Scarboroughs. The Stephenses renamed it after the man who built it in the mid 1870s, Frank Saxon.

Their work is especially impressive if you consider how long the house had been neglected.

When a previous owner — Rogers' Christmas House Village founder Margaret "Weenie" Ghiotto — bought it in 1992, the hardwood floors were stained with oil because somebody had been repairing motorcycles in the living room.

Rogers, who fixed up more than a dozen old houses in Brooksville, was never able to do much more with this one than have it included on the National Register of Historic Places.

By the time Dorothea Stephens led me on a tour of it last December, it was in such a state of disrepair I doubted that the business she had planned — a wedding and events venue — would ever pay for the restoration.

She still thinks it can, and has booked the first paid events for next month. But she also doesn't consider this just a business.

"I really enjoy coming up here and working," said Stephens, 53, a 29-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service.

Her husband didn't like the idea of buying the house at first, she said, "but now I can't keep him away from it. He's up here at 7 o'clock every Saturday morning."

A cabinetmaker, Greg Stephens has been able to do much of the work himself or enlist the help of friends, including many in the construction business.

That's helped keep the cost of the restoration work to about $35,000, he said. The couple has spent another $40,000 on other projects on the 2.2-acre grounds.

Among them: a garden filled with caladium and azaleas, a freestanding restroom building that is nearly complete and a wedding pavilion for 175 guests that the couple is rushing to finish in time for two weddings planned for Jan. 5. The house will also host a bridal show Jan. 27.

From the back yard, where the restrooms are being built, you can see how much this part of Brooksville needs an example of revitalization.

To the east are the rooftops of the recently abandoned Hillside Estates public housing complex. To the north are the weedy grounds of the shuttered Christmas House.

But not everything is in decline. The owner of another neighboring business, Westover's Flowers and Gifts, recently received a grant from the city to help pay for a new roof and the repaving of a parking lot.

More than a half-dozen other downtown properties have received grants from the same source for similar improvements, said city planner Steve Gouldman.

The city isn't totally revitalized. Not even close. But maybe it's getting to be the kind of place that deserves a respectable gateway.

     
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