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Stringer House is a home to history

Published Oct. 8, 2005

The Stringer House, home today to the Heritage Museum, sits on land once part of a 160-acre parcel deeded to Richard Wiggins in 1843 under the Armed Occupation Act.

The act, introduced by Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, offered 160 acres of free land, together with food and munitions. The bill stipulated that in order to take advantage of this offer, settlers had to agree to build a dwelling, cultivate at least 5 acres of the land and remain in the area for at least five years.

After much research of the information available, it is felt that the original four-room structure was built by John May after he purchased the property from Wiggins in 1855. The records, contained in the original courthouse, were lost when the building was destroyed by fire on Sept. 29, 1877.

John L. May was a contractor who built several houses in Brooksville. He lived in a house on the corner of the street that now bears his name _ May Avenue _ with his wife, Marena, and their two daughters: Matildas, who married John Barnes, and Annie, who married C.

P. Rogers. It is believed he moved to the Stringer House sometime between 1855 and 1858, when he died. His wife and children remained in the house.

Eight years later, on Dec. 25, 1866, Marena married Frank Elmore Saxon, whose picture is now hanging next to the fireplace in the living room.

Saxon was a Civil War hero who was a member of the Hernando Wild Cats, a unit of the Florida 3rd Regiment of the Confederate Army. He was the first to be wounded in a battle called Honeymoon, which took place near Jacksonville. After the Civil War, he became a delegate to the Florida Legislature, representing Hernando County, and in his later years became clerk of the Hernando County Circuit Court.

Two children were born to Frank and Marena Saxon _ a son, Frankland Schmidt Saxon in 1867, and a daughter, Jessie May Saxon, in 1869. Their son lived only one month; their daughter died in 1872. Unfortunately, these were not the only tragedies to strike. Marena also died, on Feb. 19, 1869, while giving birth to Jessie May.

After Marena's death, Frank Saxon married Tululu Hope, daughter of William Hope (one of the earliest settlers of Hernando County). Saxon had another house built, south of May Avenue, for Tululu and himself. This house was constructed of cypress and is now known as the Scarborough House.

The May home was sold several times after Frank Saxon left. The records of those transactions, however, were lost in the courthouse fire. The first records after the fire are dated 1883, when J.

H. Reddic sold the May-Saxon house to Jennie Johnson for $600.

The house was then purchased by Dr. Sheldon Stringer Sr., a relative of the Lykes Brothers, in 1903, for $2,600. He bought the house after his home, near the hospital until recently known as Lykes Memorial Hospital, burned down.

Dr. Sheldon Stringer Jr. and his wife had three children: Frederick, Sheldon Jr. and Marguerite. Frederick went to law school in South Carolina and later returned to Brooksville to practice law. Later, he served as an elected judge of the Hernando County Circuit Court. He lived in the house for a while until his death. His sister, Marguerite, also died after her marriage to Dr. Quinn.

Betty Stringer Faircloth, the daughter of Judge Frederick Stringer, was the last of the Stringers to live in the house. Dr. Early Hensley and his wife, Helen, bought the house from Betty in October 1980, and the Hernando Historical Museum Association Inc. leased it with an option to buy from Dr. Hensley.

The house itself has gone through many changes during the years since the first building was constructed in the 1850s. The most extensive remodeling occurred during the time the Stringers lived there.

The structure you see today is a 12-room, seven-gable house with gingerbread trim. It stands four stories tall, has ceilings 10 feet high and has double sliding pocket doors. The original four rooms (consisting of the living room, dining room and two rooms directly above) contain fireplaces connected by a single chimney.

The Hernando Historical Museum Association has been restoring the lovely house since 1980, for the purpose of providing a home for Hernando County history and artifacts. Many hours of work have gone into this task and have been generously donated by many dedicated people.

Eugene Lee, of Clover Leaf Farms, for example, spent many hours scraping, sanding, priming and painting the trim and railings, then re-installing them in their proper place. Many of these items were just lying around in rotted condition and required repair or reproduction.

Other volunteers scraped, repaired or replaced plaster as well as lath in various rooms throughout the house. One room on the second floor has been completely redone from floor to ceiling and now depicts a school room from the early 1900s.

The living room is furnished with turn-of-the-century furnishings that came from families in Hernando County. The mantle in this room is original to the house and required a lot of work to restore it to the condition seen today. An oil painting, also located in this room, is an original painting that hung in this house in the early 1900s.

The kitchen is thought to have been a separate structure. "Summer kitchens," as they were called, were very common in the South. They were built away from the main house, mainly because of the potential hazard of grease fires on wood-burning stoves.

What we now call the kitchen was most probably a breakfast room or informal dining room. It has been restored and furnished with items from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The original spring-fed well is under the kitchen floor. A pie/food safe from the 1880s, displayed in the kitchen, was a very important item in order to protect baked goods from flies, bugs and dust.

It is believed the room beyond the kitchen, currently being used as an office, may have been the servants' quarters at one time.

Much has been accomplished since the house was first opened to the public. As with any house, however, there is always something else to be done.

Virginia Jackson is director of the Hernando Historical Museum Association. The association's Heritage Museum, at May Avenue and Jefferson Street in Brooksville, is open for tours from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $2 for adults and 50 cents for ages 12 and under.