At the turn of the 20th century, Ocala’s Fort King Road was a prominent thoroughfare lined with homes belonging to lawyers, doctors, generals and city councilmen.
One of the homes is in the process of being restored and turned into a public historic resource center.
The Historic Ocala Preservation Society (HOPS) purchased the house at 712 E. Fort King St. in August 2013 for $54,900, said Suzanne Thomas, the society’s president.
The society’s next goal is to turn the front parlor into a resource center for historic research, Thomas said. They plan to start moving files to the house next week in an effort to open the room by summer.
The home was built over 120 years ago by prosperous land owner and farmer W.R. Bryant.
Bryant’s son, Charles, was Ocala’s first certified public accountant. His grandson, Cecil Farris Bryant, became the 34th governor of Florida, said Julie Felter, Cecil’s daughter.
“I was really delighted (the Bryant House) came back on the market and that HOPS bought it,” Felter said. “HOPS did a fantastic job of renovating it and decorating it for the Christmas tours, just beautiful. So that was very exciting to me.”
Felter can recall memories of visiting her great-aunt at the home on what is now East Fort King Street.
“My (great-) aunt Reba made literally all of my clothes, and so I would be over at the house all the time,” Felter said. “She also babysat for me. I grew up being in that house until she passed in 1974.”
Thomas estimates that the society has already invested about $40,000 into restoring the exterior and first floor of the Bryant House. This number does not include volunteer labor and donations from the community and HOPS members.
The back room on the first floor of the Bryant House is going to be an office for HOPS, Thomas said. The dining room is used for meetings.
Brian Stoothoff, a HOPS board member, is helping to create this resource center by basing it upon centers he visited in historic cities like Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine.
“Ocala is one of the largest historic districts in Florida,” Stoothoff said. “We have such a rich history that is just invaluable, and we really wish to share that with the people of Ocala.”
Initially, the resource center will be available for the public to come in by appointment and look through files and computer databases to find information on individual homes and the different historic districts, Stoothoff said.
Information on the 255 dwellings in the Ocala Historic District is the first priority, Thomas said. After all of that information is compiled, they will start gathering material for the city’s other historic districts: Tuscawilla Park, downtown and West Ocala.
As the resource room grows, Stoothoff said he hopes to have more people dedicated to volunteering their time there so that it will be possible to have scheduled walk-in hours.
Stoothoff said he thinks there will be an interest among local people, especially those living in the historic districts, to learn the history of their homes and other buildings in Ocala.
“What we hope to do is have a resource room that will make us proud to have the material available for both the residents of the historic district and our citizens to appreciate the history of Ocala,” Stoothoff said.