PALM HARBOR — The house lies half-hidden by oaks and moss, between sparse grass and half-dead shrubs by the windows. Remnants of pine needles and Spanish moss coat the second-story metal roof. An archway in the vegetation leads visitors to the front door.
James Jenkins was born in this house in 1919, five years after a relative built it. Apart from a few years in the 1940s, he never left.
He wanted to die there.
"He always said, 'As long as I'm alive, I don't want to live anywhere else,' " said Don Scofield, a friend of more than 50 years.
James Merril Jenkins was born June 15, 1919, in a house shrouded in sadness. His father had died there three months earlier in the flu epidemic that killed millions. Within days of Mr. Jenkins' birth, an aunt giving birth in another room also died of the flu, and her baby died.
Mr. Jenkins sailed through public schools, his teachers skipping him three grades by the time he graduated from Tarpon Springs High at age 14. Older classmates picked on him, something he did not forget after he began work in the orange groves.
"My dad was 5-4 when he graduated from high school," said Janet O'Harrow, his daughter. "By the time he was 18 he was 6-4 and weighed 190 pounds." He hated bullies, she said, and got in his share of fights.
Mr. Jenkins as a young man also pursued baseball, his first love. He got a pitching tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers but chipped an elbow around the same time, his family said. Torn cartilage from a touch football game kept him out of the military during World War II. For a few years, he built amphibious tanks at a factory in Lakeland and played semi-professional baseball — the only period of time when he did not live in his boyhood home at 1003 Virginia Ave. in Palm Harbor.
He married Gaynelle Harris in 1946 and bought the house from his uncle. He created the house's first bathroom. Later he put down asbestos shingles, added a carport and utility room on one side of the house and a family room on the other side.
He worked for private contractors and Tarpon Springs, then passed a civil engineering test and went on to the Florida Department of Transportation. At home, he kept to routines.
He taught Sunday school at First Baptist Church of Ozona-Palm Harbor for most of his adult life. He kept the same mailbox — No. 113 — through multiple moves of the Post Office.
He and his wife enjoyed a vacation home in the Georgia mountains — but only for a week or two. After that, Mr. Jenkins began to get homesick.
"It wasn't home, and he wanted to be home," said Rozanne Scott, another daughter.
He cared for Gaynelle in the house after she suffered a stroke in 1994. She died in 2004.
Mr. Jenkins had suffered a variety of health ailments in recent years. On June 15 — his 93rd birthday — he was discovered on the floor of his home after a fall. He died Saturday in a rehabilitation center, missing his goal of dying in the house where he was born.
"He almost made it," Scott said.