Storied past, Uncertain future

Randall-Leslie Home | MARION COUNTY, FL | C. 1887

This remarkable 2 story home was built in 1867 by the Randall family who was originally from the Carolinas. All stick construction assembled on site, the 2,000 square foot home was warmed by one central chimney with fireboxes to warm both the parlor and dining rooms on the first floor. 

They were one of the first families to settle this small community that sits just along the Ocklawaha River. After the Civil War, the area began to bustle with new settlers from neighboring states and traffic from steamboats along the river helped to establish numerous citrus farming towns. From each of their respective ports, boats would pick up and deliver goods, as well as tourists who began to frequent the line. The Randall's built a grand hotel just along the riverbanks as accommodations for traveler's who arrived by boat.

All above photos courtesy of The Florida Memory project and the Randall-Leslie Family. 

 

But a lot of changes were coming quickly for this sleepy river town when the 1890's dealt the area two freezes that devastated area citrus crops. Then in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a National Forest, the first East of the Mississippi River, which began a transformation in the identity of the communities in the area. All of this coupled with the blow that the railroads dealt the Riverboat economy spelled the end of tourism and most commercial economy for the town. Locals recall that the last boats came through in 1925 and The Randall Hotel would shut its doors then too.

As their community and livelihoods changed, I can only imagine the struggles they must have faced but members of the original family would call this home until the mid-1940's. The last Randall's to live there sold it to Paul and Opal Leslie along with 10 surrounding acres for $850 around 1945. Their grandchildren can remember a time when they had to carry pails of water into the home from the hand pump in the backyard but by 1952, numerous upgrades like plumbing and electricity had been added. Paul and Opal would remain in this home until her death in 2004. It is still owned by the Leslie family and has been rented at times, but due to severe neglect by the last tenants, the family is not interested in renting it again.

For now, its roof is in good shape and the windows are intact and while its not abandoned, its been empty for some time as the family decides what to do with it.  It needs a lot of work, but luckily, its current owners are doing as much as they can to prevent further damage to it. 

As I walked through this home, I felt so very fortunate to be able to take in such an awesome piece of architecture. The exposed paneling told so much about its original builders. The original wooden staircase and floorboards seemed even more compelling as I considered that they must have been harvested from this very site.

In 147 years, the outside world looks a whole lot different, but from in here, it feels like time is standing still.

 



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