Welcome the Holidays Through Times Past
Our neighboring county, Walton, will celebrate its bicentennial in 2024. Commemorations like this call to mind history and tradition. Both the stately Wesley House, located at Eden Gardens State Park in Walton County, and the Christmas celebration that has become a welcome herald of the holiday season are reminders of both of those things.
While the end of the year with all that leads up to it are a hectic time for many, the efforts to create a charming recollection of holidays in times past gives us an opportunity to pause and join in a treasured part of the calendar of our very special community.
If you are unfamiliar with the Wesley House, this very brief account will give you some idea of its history. It was built in 1897, in a Victorian style, now converted to Antebellum. It was the home of the Wesley Family, including nine children, and their business was lumber which operated from 1890 until after World War I. There were three mills located in the Tucker Bayou which adjoins the park where a remnant of one of the mills can still be seen today. Mrs. Wesley was the last of the family to occupy the house, dying in 1953. The next 10 years saw the house fall into ruin, with neighborhood children playing in the rooms, and even goats taking up residence!
In 1963, Ms. Lois Maxon bought the house having “found her Eden.” She paid $12,500 for 10.5 acres, then proceeded to change the house to an antebellum style, and furnish the rooms with valuable antiques, spending over a million dollars in the restoration we now enjoy. With great care and love for amazing natural beauty, Miss Maxon added ornamental gardens and a reflection pool. It’s been said that at times, locals would come by with flowers to sell and they would plant them on the grounds; just one reason why the garden truly blossomed and is bountiful today.
Ms. Maxon did not get to live in her Eden for long due to ill health, but was generous enough to leave the house and grounds to the State of Florida. That transfer took place on Christmas Eve, 1968. We hope she would approve of the Friends of Eden State Gardens’ efforts to commemorate this most extraordinary gift by coming together as a community each year around the holiday to celebrate.
If you have not taken the opportunity to enjoy this tradition, please consider attending this amazing experience of times past this year. The Wesley House will be decorated and ready for guided tours by November 16th available Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on an hourly basis. This year’s theme is “A Victorian Christmas,” and you’ll certainly feel as if you’ve been transported back in time to an era where hoop skirts and Victorian-style architecture dominated the time-period. The public is invited to enjoy the themed rooms throughout the house.
The Friends of Eden begin the process of planning the festivities for the holiday months prior to the event. None of this would be possible without the dedication of many talented people from throughout the area volunteering to decorate the house, including Coastal Seniors of South Walton, Daughters of the American Revolution West Florida Chapter, Green Thumb Garden Club, Historic Point Washington Association, Ladies of Impact 100, RMA Consulting and Design, Seaside Kids, Seaside, The Garden Club, South Walton High School, and The Friends of Eden Gardens.
Once you step foot onto the 163 acres of Eden Gardens State Park, the Victorian wonderland holiday begins under the shade of Spanish moss-draped oak trees, the salty air of Choctawhatchee Bay and gorgeous florals of all kinds.
The House will remain decorated until January 9th, 2024. All visitors are invited to vote on which room in the House is their favorite. The competition among the decorators is quite real. Of course, the month would be incomplete without the evening of Luminaries, December 9th, 5-8 p.m., with a rain date for the same time period for December 16th.
The Park area will be illuminated with candles, the House will be open and the decorated trees will be lit for the event. The Friends of Eden will provide light refreshments in the Pavilion, and all are invited to attend. A shuttle will be offered for transportation into the Park on that evening, and there is no entrance fee. Please plan to join us for the Night of the Luminaries and consider making this a part of your holiday tradition, whether you are a resident or a visitor. It will be memorable.