Eden Gardens State Park, for the Ages

By: Brooke Morton

ADD TO FAVORITES

Most people don’t buy a home and then immediately invest $1 million toward rebuilding it to look 50 years older. Lois Maxon did precisely this, back in 1963 — but she had good reason.

She wanted a living space that fit her sleek Louis XVI furniture: the Victorian property, ornate with a cupola and gingerbread wainscoting, was revamped into an antebellum showcase with cleaner lines. Her Louis XVI collection, the second-largest in the United States, is one of the biggest draws of what is now the Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. The 161-acre estate makes for an ideal day trip from Pensacola, located just 90 minutes away by car.

Maxon, a publishing magnate, grew inspired to acquire tapestries, gilded statues, a marble French clock, a petticoat table and all manner of items to fill a home. Even those who don’t walk in with an appreciation for antiques will be wowed by the amount of handcrafted detail — no two pieces are alike. Family portraits hang throughout the home, including one of Maxon’s grandfather that hangs in the library. The patriarch encouraged her furniture fixation by gifting family heirlooms. (Back in Germany, the Maxons, a family of aristocrats, thrived in the antiques business.)

The home itself originally belonged to lumberman William Henry Wesley. During his time served in the Civil War, he happened upon a plantation whose owners gave him food and shelter. This kindness stuck with him: That home inspired what Wesley built in 1895. The yellow heart-pine lumber for the property came from Wesley’s sawmill, located a short walk away on Tucker Bayou. Visitors who wander onto the dock and look to the left will see the remaining pilings of the original mill.

Following the inside tour, a stroll of the grounds ought to include the rose and camellia gardens, statuary and reflecting pools. In addition to a secret garden, there’s a separate space planted to attract butterflies. A nature trail winds through the hardwood hammock forest of saw palmettos, Virginia live oak and pine, some of which date back 600 years. Those who slow their pace will notice some of the more unusual species, including a gingko tree with branches that look like feather dusters.

In 1968, Maxon gifted everything to the state, providing it meet three conditions: The property would be maintained, the furniture collection would stay intact and the public would be invited to enjoy it all. Everything remains on site, save for her massive collection of first-edition books, now found at the University of West Florida.

The property, open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset, lies on the shore of Choctawhatchee Bay. It’s a refuge for wildlife ranging from deer to dolphins. Birders will appreciate the raptor population, including ospreys, owls and hawks. No rentals are available, but guests can bring canoes or kayaks to enjoy the pond. Everyone is free to picnic on the grounds, enjoying the view of the magnificent Maxon home.

Eden Gardens State Park, 181 Eden Gardens Road, Santa Rosa Beach, 850-267-8320; floridastateparks.org/edengardens

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Lou Von Esh
Lou Von Esh October 22, 2013 1:10 PM
I cannot understand how I have overlooked this magnificent estate and will plan a visit soon.