A house made of Heart Pine
It stood for more than 130 years, and then in two days it was gone. The old Cherry/Rogers house on South Morris Avenue in Donalsonville is no more — a victim of old construction and modern times.
As the giant excavator played with the two-story house like it was made of matchsticks, you could see that the beams in the floor and walls were solid and hard. They were made of heart pine and if the entire house had been built like that it would have stood for another hundred years.
The floor beams were 2-by-12 inches. You could easily see the rings in the single tree that the beam was made from. The large beams were then notched with other beams to make a floor solid enough to withstand a move down U.S. 84.
The 2-inch by 12-inch boards ran from the floor to the ceiling. They were never spliced to make use of shorter boards. The clapboard siding on the outside and the tongue and groove on the inside formed an air barrier. It was really the only insulation the house had.
With high ceilings and no insulation, it made it very expensive to heat and cool like we do today. Back when it was first built, it was shaded by trees and a large porch. Nature made its own breeze flowing through the large windows.
No one complained about it being so hot, because they didn’t know any better. Modern air-conditioning, as we know it, was still a quarter century away.
The house was originally built for Donalsonville’s first postmaster. According to the history book of Seminole County, The Cornerstone, Stephen Cherry built the house in 1880. The first post office was located in one of his stores. In fact, being postmaster was something of a family enterprise, with six of the first 10 postmasters in Donalsonville being named Cherry.
Our company bought the Cherry House to locate our very first Hardee’s Restaurant. We sold it to Rodney Rogers and his mother, “Miss Lillian.” The house was moved to South Morris Avenue on the lot where Chief Cannington tilled his garden for many, many years.
From the 1980’s Miss Lillian held court in the house, which was extensively remodeled. In fact, it was the extent of that remodeling that made moving the house again difficult.
Miss Lillian and Rodney both held many social functions with the house beautifully decorated for the different seasons of the year. It shined as brightly as it ever had in its early years.
Following Miss Lillian’s death, the house became vacant and slowly fell into disrepair. Two different architects and two different construction companies came and looked at the old building with thoughts of remodeling to sell or rent. Their conclusions were all the same. While the frame of the old house was solid, the termite and water damage made a good renovation prohibitively expensive.
This is always the hard part about buying and selling old property. It is very easy to let your heart start making the decisions and before you know it you have a money pit on your hands. Many of you have probably been in that position before. I know I certainly have.
So, there is nothing left but good memories for the old house that was built before the town was named or the county was formed.
Ironically, on the same day we were tearing the house down we began laying the brick on the old Burke Furniture Building. It has also been largely vacant for years. In this case, the shell of the building was perfect for remodeling into new offices.
Hopefully, the renovation of these buildings will not only provide jobs downtown, but will enhance the look of the area. From the sidewalk and lighting renovations, to the new facade painting on several store fronts, the downtown area is slowly but surely making a comeback.
Our remaining challenge is the same as all small towns — filling the empty buildings. If you have an idea, talk to the Downtown Development Authority or the Seminole County Development Authority. Perhaps it would be easier than you think to make something like that happen.
These old buildings don’t all have to be torn down. Some are just an idea waiting to blossom. In all of them the solid beams of heart pine remind us of our early heritage. It is up to us to write the next chapter.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org