WTXL Road Trip: Exploring "the Grove" in Leon County

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 06, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -  At the heart of Leon County lies the state's Capital City.

Rich in political history, 2.35 million people from 47 different states and 36 countries visited Tallahassee last year, according to Visit Tallahassee.

But for those who've done the circuit and are searching for something new, look no further than The Grove next to the Governor's Mansion.

Undergoing extensive renovation for the past seven years, The Grove served as the home of two Florida governors and opened a few months ago as a museum.

This 10 acre plantation contains a 10,000 square foot mansion, a private cemetery, and a beautiful park full of old oak and magnolia trees. The site served as a family home, a hotel, and now a museum.

"The Grove Museum tells the story of the Call and Collins families in context of American history," says Jonathan Grandage, the Executive Director of The Grove. "It was important for us to show how this family, this place and it's people impacted the history of Tallahassee, the history of the region, and also the state of Florida, and the history of the United States."

According to Grandage, Governor Richard Keith Call, the third and fifth governor of the Florida Territory, purchased the 640 acres just north of Tallahassee and built the Greek revival style home as a tribute to his wife in the 1830s.

Ellen Call Long, the oldest child of Mary and Richard Keith Call, took control of The Grove in 1851 and lived in the house until her death in 1905. During that time, The Grove evolved into the social center of Tallahassee.

"They would have May Day parties, like what we do now Springtime Tallahassee, so often would have parties, parties for kids," explains Grandage.

Ellen's granddaughter took control of the estate in 1904 until her death in 1940. During the Great Depression, she turned it into a hotel to earn income and provide lodging for people, many of them while in town for the legislative session.

"We have sources tell us it was a very lively atmosphere, that Reinette was very keyed into issues of the day and people would come here to meet and discuss those issues," says Grandage. "We know that Reinette was a Bohemian type woman, smoked cigars and had a pet parrot, and more of a different atmosphere than the more Victorian woman in her family that lived here before that."

The final private owner of the home was the great-granddaughter of Governor Call, Mary Call Darby Collins, and her husband Thomas "LeRoy" Collins. They purchased The Grove from her aunt in 1942. While he lived at The Grove, LeRoy Collins served as Florida's 33rd Governor from 1955 to 1961. During the years of 1955 and 57 when the new Governor's Mansion was being built, The Grove functioned as the Governor's Mansion.

Grandage explains,"This is a pen given to LeRoy Collins by President Lyndon Johnson upon the signing of the civil rights legislation in the middle part of the 1960s. He was involved in the Johnson administration during the passage of the 1964 Act, which we call generally the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and also in 1965 what became known as the Voting Rights Act."

This was Governor LeRoy Collins' office, down here in the basement of the house. The State has kept it exactly how it looked when he lived here....with his desk, books, and even his "I love Grandad" picture frame.

"Today we have the room arranged exactly how it was when he passed away in 1991 so visitors can experience his personal book collection, all of the photographs that he chose to put on the walls, the hats that he used, or even the chays lounge that he took a nap on in the afternoon," said Grandage.

The Collins sold the estate to Florida in 1985, with the agreement that upon their death, the state would turn it into a history museum. When Mrs. Collins died in 2009, the state began a complete restoration of the home.

"It involved structural work, upgrading the house for accessibility for all visitors, and then all things to bring the story to the public by fabricating exhibits, staging some rooms, and helping to tell the story of this family through traditional museum means and interactive technology as well," recounted Grandage.

Like any restoration of a historic home, crews discovered some interesting artifacts.

"We took up old flooring tiles and underneath were hand prints from the kids, so children of Governor and Mrs. Collins, while poured concrete slab down in this basement in 1947" stated Grandage.

Whether it's through the hands of those that built it, the feet of those who walked it, or the eyes of those who now visit it, The Grove will forever be in the heart of Leon County.