NOTE: This is the first of three follow-up posts to my “How is planning a meeting similar to planning a vacation?” blog based on a recent road trip to Florida with my husband (which prompted the original post).
A must visit! $4 per vehicle entrance fee to grounds + $4 per person fee for guided tour of Wesley Mansion. Tours provided on first come, first serve basis with limit of 10 people per tour max.
Located in Port Washington between Panama City Beach and Destin.
Eden Gardens is home to the Wesley Mansion, a 5,500 square-foot two-story Antebellum style mansion built in 1897as the family home of William Henry Wesley, a prosperous lumber baron, and his wife Katie. The property is surrounded by 183 acres of stunning moss-draped live oaks said to be in excess of 100 years old (some of which could be as many as 500 years old) and bordered on the north by Tucker Bayou. (Tucker Bayou is “a shallow body of water that provides connection to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Choctawhatchee Bay.”) On the property, you’ll also find huge magnolias, scrubby flatwoods, flood plain swamp, maritime hammock, and camellias and azaleas and other flowering shrubs blooming from March to October. In February, the Friends of Eden Gardens volunteers host an annual Camelia Festival.
While there are no formal hiking trails at Eden Gardens, I wouldn’t discount this as a negative because of all the beauty and serenity the central grounds provide. In addition to the live oaks you’ll find flowering shrubs and annual plantings, a large reflection pond with koi and lilies, a butterfly garden and a beautiful pine dock that overlooks the Bayou. You’ll also find picnic tables scattered around the grounds and a screened in picnic pavilion with restrooms nearby. A more perfect location for a wedding there couldn’t be with a 600-year old live oak as a backdrop to boot!
Visitors can saltwater fish from the dock -- and you might just be able to see a dolphin or two jumping if you’re watching closely enough. Canoes and kayaks can also be launched from this point.
The Wesley’s and their nine children lived in the home until 1953. Sadly, after Katie Wesley’s passing none of the children for whatever reason wanted to keep the home; consequently, it sat empty for 10 years. In 1963, Lois Genevieve Maxon, a former reporter for the NY World Telegram and heir to the industrial manufacturing fortune of the Maxon Corporation of Muncie, Indiana, purchased the house and 10.5 acres for $12,500 (yes, that dollar amount is right).
Originally built in the Victorian style, Maxon spent $1million over a five year period to completely renovate the property to giving it more of an Antebellum style look with its white columns and wrap-around porch while retaining most of the original glass pocket windows and yellow heart pine siding, floors and interior molding. To further add her special touch, she brought in many family heirlooms and antiques dating back as early as 1790 and up through the late 1800s, all of which remain in the property today in addition to pieces she acquired from her worldly travels.
Unfortunately, Maxon spent little time actually living on the property. She became ill and moved to Pensacola to live out the rest of her life in failing health where she passed away in 1983 at the age of 71.
She donated the mansion and the land on Christmas Eve 1968 to the State of Florida. Local organizations decorate the home for Christmas which has to be a real treat to visitors.
To learn more about Eden Gardens State Park, visit: www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/eden-garden-state-park