Call Box: At 137, the Coleman House is looking good

As published on –

Dear Call Box: Some years ago, I was driving through Baldwin and saw this intriguing old house on Center Street that was being renovated. What can you tell me about it?

G.A., Jacksonville

Dear G.A.: The imposing two-story white frame house with the filigree balustrades is one of the oldest in Baldwin, dating back 137 years. It has become the centerpiece of this town 22 miles west of Jacksonville.

Baldwin was chartered in 1876, and the house was built in 1879 at what is now 150 S. Center St. William Coleman, who ran Baldwin’s general store, purchased it in 1881. Later, it became a boarding house for tourists and railroad employees – the railroad being Baldwin’s lifeblood for many years.

By September 2000, the house was vacant and weathered looking, though an architect had determined it was structurally sound. It had a central hallway system with rooms leading off to the sides upstairs and downstairs and a full attic.

In 2000, the town purchased the property with $145,000 in community development block grant funds and restored it in phases with state historic preservation money. Its restoration finally got underway in 2006 with workers jacking it up to replace the piers. Hygema House Movers replaced deteriorating grout between bricks and the tin roof. Some of the older brick from underneath the house was used to redo the chimney.

The facelift included painting the exterior white, the shutters black, plastering around fireplaces, replacing the porch deck, repairing windows and inside walls, redoing the original tiger oak floors, upgrading the electrical system and adding central heat and air. The front door came from an old Jacksonville shoe store.

The house and grounds occupy an entire block and look like a scene from a small-town Americana movie set, complete with white picket fence. There’s a gazebo on either side, a bird fountain, picnic benches and concrete paths to lend a park-like atmosphere. Icicle lights hang from the top story.

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The renovation began under the former mayor, Marvin Godbold, and continued under Stan Totman, who became mayor nine years ago. The project was even completed under budget with city workers, said Totman, adding that he enlisted the aid of the late Jerry Spinks of the Jacksonville Historical Society in making the restoration as authentic as possible.

In 2009, it was ready to begin life anew.

The house is mostly unfurnished. But descendants of the Coleman family donated period furniture for one room, said town clerk Lula Hill. Another room is dedicated to Abel Seymour Baldwin, the town’s namesake. Baldwin, who was born in 1811 and died in 1898, was a physician, founder of the Florida Medical Association and a former member of the Florida Legislature. He led a successful campaign to construct railroad tracks and became president of the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad. The Duval County Medical Society donated equipment, and a photograph of Baldwin hangs in the room.

The property is rented out for weddings, receptions and the occasional baby shower, said Hill, whose granddaughter was married on the property. There are no kitchen appliances and the rooms are small so the ceremonies usually are held in the gazebos, she said.

Seniors also have their pictures made on the property with the house as a background.

Misty Sloan, assistant town clerk, decorates the property at Easter and Christmas. Santa, with Mrs. Claus, arrives to take gift requests, the churches stage events and there’s a miniature train for kids to ride.

Totman is establishing a room to tell the story of the pivotal role the railroad played in Baldwin and its importance as a rail crossing. CSX has donated some memorabilia, which is on display.

“It has become a nice focal point for the town and for events,” Totman said of the Coleman House.

If you have a question about Jacksonville’s architectural history, call (904) 359-4622 or mail to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. Photos are also welcome.

Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128