By CAROL MAHLER
Arcadian History Editor
On Aug. 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley—a compact, fast-moving storm—walloped Arcadia and wrecked the house at 300 N. Monroe Ave.—now the DeSoto County Historical Society’s John Morgan Ingraham House Museum.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane history, the residence had survived the center of three hurricanes crossing DeSoto County in 1910, 1945 and through Hurricane Donna in 1960. Nor was it damaged in 1926, when a tropical cyclone devastated Miami, shoved the waters of Lake Okeechobee over Moore Haven, drowning hundreds there and mangling structures in Arcadia.
So what happened in 2004?
Two years earlier and in honor of Alison Rosemary Pickard Pipkin, the Pipkin family had donated the residence to the Society, a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization preserving and promoting the history of DeSoto County.
With donations from the community, Society members began the restoration and named the house for longtime owner John Morgan Ingraham. A local entrepreneur who served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1945 to 1948, he had purchased the home in 1919 and lived there until his death in 1980. His granddaughter Kathleen Ingraham Kuhns shared many memories, materials, and historic photographs to assist with the project.
In the late 1890s, cattleman, citrus grower, and businessman Robert Early Whidden had built the house based on the “dog trot” design: two rooms with doors to and separated by a central hallway open to the front and back porches. The central hallway was called the “dog trot” because a dog could walk from porch to porch through the hallway or center of the house.
Whidden enclosed the “dog trot” with doors, but when they were open, a breeze cooled the home as did the cross-ventilation: windows and doors located opposite from each other. The steeply pitched roof and high-ceiling rooms allowed the heat to rise and escape through gable vents. In addition, air circulated beneath the wood-frame structure supported by masonry piers.
Hurricane Charley’s wild winds pushed the structure off those piers, toppled the chimney and ripped the roof. Rain cascaded into the house, causing extensive damage to the interior. At the request of the Society, FEMA inspected and judged the residence ineligible for assistance since it was not occupied nor did it have a certificate of occupancy during the restoration.
On behalf of the Society, Kuhns wrote a series of grant applications for funds to restore her grandfather’s home. From 2007 to 2010, the Society received four grants for restoration totaling $158,000 from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historic Resources. Kuhns administered the grants to ensure work and reports were completed well before the deadlines. In 2012, the Society received a $40,000 grant from the Mosaic Company Foundation for the finishing touches.
Wherever possible original historic materials and furnishings were salvaged. When new materials were needed, they were found or custom-made to match historic specifications. For example, pine-hewn shingles cover the roof. The Society even had to purchase special blades for a sawmill to cut and plane the tongue-and-groove bead boards for the interior.
The John Morgan Ingraham House Museum opened in 2014 as an unaltered-in-design “Florida Cracker” residence and memorial to the county’s pioneer families. It showcases period furniture and furnishings—some of which belonged to the Ingraham family—as well as exhibits featuring some of DeSoto County’s history. Guided tours are 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursdays (except second Thursdays) and on second and fourth Saturdays.
Adjacent to his home, Ingraham built a “Seed House” store to sell seeds, fertilizers, garden tools, and the like. It collapsed in the 1990s during an attempt to relocate it. In 2011, the Society built a replica to maintain the Howard and Velma Melton Historical Research Library, opened to the public in 2012.
The library’s foundation is the extensive collection of Howard Melton, a local historian and author, that the Society purchased from him in 2008. Donations of both original material and digitized copies increase the archives. Research assistance is offered. The Museum and Research Library will be open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday.
At a Glance
John Morgan Ingraham House, 300 N. Monroe Ave., Arcadia