I work in downtown Tallahassee, in the Nathan Mayo Building to be precise, and on my breaks I often take walks along the streets around my office. This is not a a very pleasant area for walking or for human activity in general. It's noisy with traffic and plagued by a truly amazing overabundance of parking lots. When I'm walking I'm usually a little mad (and busy imagining ripping up the parking lots with a jack hammer), but then I'll come upon an old house or garden--a little oasis--and instantly cheer up. Yes, despite decades of unfortunate city-planning decisions, downtown Tallahassee still boasts some historic treasures, and I thought I'd share a few of them with you in this post.
First up we have the Knott House on Park Avenue, built in 1843 and now restored to its 1930s appearance. The Greek Revival mansion is owned by the state and open to the public for tours. From 1928 to 1965, it was the home of politician William Knott and his wife, Luella, a teacher and poet. William served as Florida's first state auditor and later as state treasurer. He was the longest serving treasurer in Florida history and was known for his excellent organizational skills and impeccable honesty.
I haven't been on a tour of the Knott House, but my mom has, and she said a lot of it focuses on Luella Knott's efforts to fit in with the old-money types she was forced to socialize with as a political wife in Tallahassee in the 1930s. She and William were self-made people and apparently weren't actually all that rich, but Luella had some clever tricks she used in order to keep up appearances on the cheap. To save money, she didn't wallpaper behind the furniture, for example, and she purchased her "family heirlooms" at flea markets.
Next we have the Walker Library, also on Park Avenue, built in 1903. It's named for Florida Governor David S. Walker, who served the state from 1865 to 1868. Until 1976 the building was a functioning library, and I can actually remember being in it as a little girl, happily "scared" by the shadows and creaking stairs and the dark shelves of books. It's still set up as a library today, and it's open for tours, but its main use is as a meeting spot for the board of Springtime Tallahassee, the city's annual spring festival and celebration.
Finally, there's the Riley House on East Jefferson Street, a Queen Anne-style house built in 1890. It was the home of John Gilmore Riley, who was born a slave in 1857 and died a millionaire in 1954. From 1892 to 1926, he served as principal of Lincoln Academy, Tallahassee's first black high school.
The Riley House is now a museum and is open for tours and special events. Its preservation is especially important because it's one of the last vestiges of Smokey Hollow, a thriving African-American neighborhood founded in the 1890s and infamously condemned and razed in the 1960s to make way for new state buildings.