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Gordon Baker| 1934-2008

Gordon Baker, passionate preserver of Baker House, dies at 73

Gordon Baker, 73, would give tours of the historic Baker House.

Gordon Baker, 73, would give tours of the historic Baker House.

HOLIDAY — Gordon Baker was the son of an Elfers citrus worker, a high school football player who married his sweetheart and worked as a shrimper.

Samuel Baker was the great-grandfather he never met, a 19th-century Key West seaman who sailed to Pasco's coastal wilderness, ran a sponge business and built a Cracker house of pine and cypress.

The two men might have been lost to one another by time — except for that house.

Gordon Baker, who died Tuesday (March 25, 2008) at the age of 73, was one of the driving forces behind preserving the spare and rustic home that his great-grandfather built in 1882 and that is now the oldest Cracker house in west Pasco.

"He was very proud of it," said his wife, Clara Baker. "He was a Cracker from the word go."

He became a self-taught expert on the life and times of his great-grandfather, and his insistence on historically accurate details helps make the Baker House such an education, said Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.

"Gordon was 'Mr. Baker Baker House,' " said Hildebrand, who worked with him on the restoration effort in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "What I appreciated and loved about Gordon was his vision."

Mr. Baker was one of a handful of now elderly docents who open the Baker House for public tours, usually on Saturdays. He wore black pants, a white shirt and a black string tie.

The No. 1 question he got from children, according to his wife: Have you seen any ghosts? The answer was no, she said, but Mr. Baker chuckled every time someone asked.

"He enjoyed going down there and meeting people," she said.

When the home opened to the public in 1993, Mr. Baker was one of the proudest people at the celebration.

"I didn't do this for myself; I did it for the family," he told the Pasco Times then, pointing to a group of children in rocking chairs on the porch.

"Them little kids there are my grandkids, and there's some more running around out here. I did for them."

Mr. Baker spent a good deal of time tending to the county-owned property, which is at the Centennial Park complex, along with the Centennial Park Branch Library.

"I can't envision him not being over there," said acting library branch manager Margaret Griffith. "He knew it all, and he had that great Southern accent."

Even when he wanted to make a small complaint, she said, he was gracious. His complaints, about such things as leaf blowers on the library property, usually started out, "'Now, honey, I know it's not your fault, but. …' "

Growing up, Mr. Baker was unfamiliar with the Baker House, said his wife. At that point, it had been modernized and was rented out to tenants. His grandparents died when his father was a teenager, so they had not passed on much information about the house, she said.

It was not until the late 1980s when Mary Cook Vinson rallied together Mr. Baker and other history buffs to save the empty and dilapidated home and restore it to its original state that Mr. Baker found his passion.

He traveled to Tallahassee to look at land records; he studied genealogy and researched the lifestyle of those times. He suggested to Hildebrand that they build a detached kitchen (that was how it would have been done) and even built an outhouse.

Mr. Baker is the second of the restoration advocates to die recently. Mrs. Vinson died last September. The other docents are getting up in age, which raises the question of how the Baker House, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, will be explained to future generations.

That was something that bothered Mr. Baker, who only a year ago approached Hildebrand to see what the county could do to fill those roles.

"We'll have to figure out how to go from now," she said. "The proud heritage is there, and you just don't keep that under lock and key.

"That was very important to Gordon."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Gordon Baker, passionate preserver of Baker House, dies at 73 03/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 7:53pm]
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