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The Jefferson County Historical Association (JCHA) is dedicated to the preservation and practical use of the county's historical treasures. The Association believes its largest undertaking to date, the preservation of one of Monticello's oldest homes, the Wirick-Simmons House was a benefit to the entire community. The home serves dual functions as both the Historical Association headquarters and as a museum exhibiting records and items of historic interest and value. Its restoration by the Association added beauty and a sense of historic pride to Monticello. The architectural and historical significance of this undertaking brought widespread approval and served as a motivating force to make the county a "Preservation Area" conscious of its valuable heritage. Jefferson County boasts over 600 structures constructed prior to 1930, a remarkable feat given the county's population of just over 13,000. A detailed history of the Wirick-Simmons House preservation efforts is given below.
History of the Wirick-Simmons House
The Wirick-Simmons House had been owned, with the exception of a few years, by two families, the Wiricks and the Simmons. The house was built in 1831 by Adam Wirick, a Methodist Circuit Rider Preacher who had come to Florida from Charleston, South Carolina and married a wealthy widow. After purchasing the land in 1831, he utilized local labor to construct the two story and attic frame dwelling in the Greek Revival Style.
The beams of the structure are hand hewn. Lapped siding was used on the exterior of the home except under the north, south, and west porches where it was flush, construction typical of houses of this style and period. The wide floor boards are heart pine, an indigenous wood used throughout the building. Chimneys and piers were constructed of brick baked in a local kiln. The mantel in the northwest room shows a design copied from one of the books of the American architect, Asher Benjamin whose "Country Builder's Assistant" and "The Practical House Carpenter" were used as guides by carpenters of that era. It is believed that the design of the home itself may have been copied from one of his books.
Relatively few changes have been made to the original home, the main one being the addition of the large north porch sometime after 1885. A lithograph of Monticello made in that year shows only a small north portico. Evidence of the addition was discovered when flooring was removed and two small supporting piers were discovered under the large porch.
The home was sold to W.A.W. Simmons in 1872. Miss Katie Simmons saw soldiers from three different wars march by her house - The Civil War, The Spanish-American War, and the First World War. She sold coffins in a structure which in present day houses Monticello Florist and Gifts. Over time the condition of the home deteriorated, and it was sold by Ms. Simmons' great-niece to the Jefferson County Historical Association (JCHA) in 1964. The JCHA purchased the home to save a piece of local history and have it lovingly restored.
A staff member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Dr. William Murtagh, was consulted to provide guidelines for restoration of the Wirick-Simmons House. He stressed the importance of securing a "restoration-oriented architect." The JCHA decided the restoration should be authentic and secured Edward Vason Jones, A.I.A. of Albany, Georgia. He loved Monticello and donated his services to the JCHA. It was a remarkable gift. He was a renowned architect in the area of historic preservation.
Jones was working concurrently overseeing the renovation and decoration of the White House state rooms and the diplomatic reception rooms in the State Department. His exceptional career also included designing and decorating the period rooms in the nineteenth century American Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York along with many other notable and prestigious restorations.
Restoration of the home was started in 1965. Mr. Jones planned and supervised the work securing tradesman trained in historical restoration and repair. He often brought visitors from around the world to savor its charm. From the Fall of 1966 to the Fall of 1967, restoration was at a standstill while funds were being raised to continue the project. The funds needed for the restoration were secured by many means. Generous donations were made by individuals and organizations alike. No financial aid was received from the local, state, or federal government to this end. Restoration efforts resumed in September of 1967 and have continued into the present day.
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