By Lynn R. Mitchell
Florida’s historic Eden Gardens State Park, located in Walton County, features the antebellum-inspired Wesley mansion that was built in 1895 by wealthy lumberman William Henry Wesley. Local legend claims that the original design was inspired by an antebellum plantation house where the builder was given shelter on his way home from the War Between the States.
Wesley’s lumber partner and father-in-law, Simeon Strickland, had an identical house nearby, of which a portion still stands. Traces of their mill, where lumber for the two houses was cut, may still be seen on the Eden grounds.
The focal point of this 161-acre park, originally the family’s estate, is the beautifully renovated, two-story Wesley house with its elegant white columns and wrap-around porch. The moss-draped live oaks and ornamental gardens inspire visions to wander the grounds, perhaps imagining an earlier age of genteel life on the Florida Panhandle.
In 1963, Lois Maxon bought and renovated the home, creating a showplace for her family heirlooms and antiques, and donated it to the state of Florida in 1968. The house holds the second largest known collection of Louis XVI furniture in the United States.
The “Friends of Eden Gardens State Park” was founded as a volunteer organization to assist the state park staff to repair, maintain and enhance facilities. The park covers 124 upland acres in the midst of South Walton County in the Florida panhandle, along the shores of Tucker Bayou and the Choctawhatchee Bay.
Of particular note at Eden are the numerous gardens on the 10.5 acre public grounds, the beautiful legacy of the many gardeners and master gardeners who belong to the Friends and give lovingly of their time and labor to create these enjoyable places to relax and behold.
Visitors can stroll along the grounds and pathways, and enjoy the picnic area.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell