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Victorian elegance at Tarpon Springs Safford House Museum


Published:   |   Updated: August 9, 2013 at 09:34 AM

Just a short journey away to Pinellas County lies a jewel of a Victorian house in the heart of the town of Tarpon Springs, called the Safford House Museum.

Greeting visitors to this timeless gem is a wonderful gentleman by the name of Bruce Miller, the museum's docent and tour guide.

Miller is a wealth of knowledge of the history of not only this old and beautiful house and the family who lived there, but of the local area in general.

When you step inside the Safford House, you step back in time to the late 1880s and to the well-to-do society of the time and era of its previous owner, Anson Peasley Killen Safford.

Safford was born in Vermont in 1830, but grew up in Illinois. In 1849 both of Safford's parents passed away.

In 1850, 20-year-old Safford left the family farm to join many adventurous and fortune-seeking Americans in the California Gold Rush.

While in California he became involved in politics.

Safford would later be appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to serve two terms as territorial governor of Arizona from 1869 to 1877.

Driven by his desire to give others the oppottunity for a better education than he had, Safford is credited as the father of the Arizona's public school system.

After serving his second term as territorial governor in Arizona, he moved to Philadelphia and then to New York City for business ventures in real estate and banking.

But by 1883, prompted by health issues, he decided to move to Florida to get away from the bitter winters in the Northeast.

He relocated to Tarpon Springs for the health benefits of the natural spring waters.

Safford bought a small, three-room, four-gabled, one-story "dog-trot" styled home, a typical Florida home of the era.

The house, constructed of pine, had a little less than 1,000 square feet of living space.

He and his family were among the early residents of the remote town. Safford soon started to invite friends and business associates to Tarpon Springs, marketing it as a luxury resort and winter getaway for the Northeast high society.

Over the next few years, Tarpon Springs grew rapidly and was heralded as a well-established town and metropolitan area. The city boasted a thriving grocery and merchant businesses: a sawmill, a blacksmith, livery stable, schoolhouse, churches, a town hall and many handsome looking homes with white fences for the local population.

It was the largest community on the Pinellas peninsula in the late 1880s, with a population of about 300 people.

There were two hotels in town, one of which was the large, first-class Tarpon Springs Hotel.

Built in 1883, the hotel was designed for northern tourists so they could stay in the elegance and comfort to which they were accustomed.

Soon, in 1884, Safford's sister, Dr. Mary Jane Safford, and her two young daughters also moved into her brother's home with his family.

Dr. Mary Jane Safford had been a Civil War nurse and later earned her medical degree in New York.

She was the first female doctor of Tarpon Springs, and one of the first female doctors in all of the state of Florida.

By 1887, Anson Safford decided to expand his home by adding a second story. He also added some modern, state-of-the-art amenities for the time, including an indoor full bathroom, with running water to its pedestal sink, an overhead high-tank flush toilet and a cast iron, clawfoot tub.

"In fact, it was the first indoor flush toilet in town. It was quite the big deal of the day," Miller said.

The Safford House boasts of nine rooms, including four bedrooms, a full bathroom, a very large formal dining room with its wood burning stove, a parlor, a business office for Anson Safford, and a medical office for Dr. Mary Jane Safford.

A separate kitchen for the home is attached through a breezeway. Miller explained that the mindset of the time was that people were ever mindful of a possible kitchen fire, so they kept the kitchen away from the main house for that reason.

The grand old Victorian home has full wrap-around porches on both stories, three fireplaces. One of the bedrooms even has a closet, which was very rare for that time period.

Typically, most people used armoires for storage of their clothes and other personal items in those days.

"A closet was a luxury item in those days, since homes were taxed on the number of rooms it had," explained Miller. "A closet was considered as another room in the house."

In 1891, Anson Safford and Mary Jane Safford both died, just a week apart of each other.

By the early 1910s, the house started to fall into great disrepair as it was being used as a boarding house.

The house endured some very hard years of neglect for many more years after that.

But in 1994, what was left of the home was donated to the city of Tarpon Springs. From 1997 to 2002, with the aid of three grants totaling more than $800,000, a full, painstaking restoration of the old Victorian home was accomplished.

"It went from an eyesore to a showplace," Miller said.

The grand old home is furnished with period-appropriate, antique Victorian furnishings, some of which were donated from local townspeople.

The museum home gives visitors a wonderful glimpse into the lives and architecture of the Victorian era and early Florida life in the 1880-1890s.

The Safford House Museum is open for guided tours on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Admission is just $3 for adults. Children are free when accompanied by an adult.

The museum is located at 23 Parkin Court, in Tarpon Springs' historic district off Grand Boulevard.

Parking is free in the lot next to the house.

During the Christmas hokiday season, the house is fully decorated for a Victorian Christmas open house, where museum volunteers dress in Victorian clothes, sing Christmas carols, with authentic period musical instruments, and serve refreshments to the guests.

"And I give my best 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' performance," Miller said with a chuckle.

For more information call (727) 937-1130 or visit www.tarponarts.org/tarpon-springs-information/our-venues/safford-house-museum.

Hernando Today correpondent Heather Francis can be reached at toheatherfrancis (at) gmail.com.

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