Calling it a reflection of the “larger American experience,” a home that has been witness to slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights era has been opened to the public in Tallahassee.
State officials on Saturday swung open the doors to The Grove, a state-owned mansion that was once the residence to Gov. LeRoy Collins. Secretary of State Ken Detzner was joined at a ribbon-cutting by members of the extended Collins family.
The grand opening, which came after extensive renovations that cost taxpayers nearly $6 million, came one day and 108 years after Collins was born. State officials said more than 2,500 people visited the museum and the grounds on opening day.
Johnathan Grandage, the executive director of the Grove Museum, called the mansion a “window into our historic and collective heritage.” Detzner said the work done on the property would ensure that “The Grove will remain one of Florida’s most treasured historic sites.”
Built by one of Florida’s early territorial governors using slave labor, the Grove would later serve as home to Collins as he tried to shepherd the state through the civil rights era. The museum includes exhibits and artifacts that stretch over its lengthy history, including rarely heard passages from a diary kept by Ellen Call Long during the Civil War.
Long was the daughter of Richard Keith Call, an officer on Gen. Andrew Jackson’s personal staff, who modeled the home after Jackson’s Hermitage in Tennessee and is believed to have finished building it by 1831. The mansion features a wide main hallway found in many Southern homes, pinewood floors and a winding cypress staircase.
Gov. Call was living at The Grove when he reportedly chastised a group when they came to tell him Florida had voted to secede from the United States. Almost a century later, another owner of the Grove would have to confront the turbulence of the civil rights era.
Collins, who married Call’s great-granddaughter Mary, entered office in 1955. He would earn a reputation for trying to chart a moderate course on race relations instead of adopting the confrontational stance of other Southern governors. He blasted state legislators when they passed an “interposition” resolution in 1957 contending the U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of schools to be null and void in Florida. By the time he left office he concluded that segregation was morally wrong.
While working for the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, he was sent to Selma, Alabama. A picture of him walking alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young was used against him by opponents when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1968. Collins lost the election.
The state paid more than $2 million in the ’80s to acquire the 10 acres and the mansion located just a mile north of the state Capitol, but it included a provision that the state would not physically begin work on the property until Mary Collins died. Former Gov. Collins died in the home in 1991; his wife passed away in 2009. Both are buried on the estate.
Initially the mansion was supposed to open to the public in the fall of 2014. But it was delayed amid lawsuits with an adjoining property owner and allegations of wrongdoing among top employees overseeing the project.