Now is the time to take the highest-rated tour in town: the historic antebellum residence of Apalachicola’s most important merchant and businessman, Thomas Orman. Even if you’ve taken it before, there is now a dazzling new reason to do it again — a $27,000 historic restoration of the residence kitchen.
Why is this such a big deal?
Previously, only three-fourths of the downstairs were restored. As popular as the tour has been, it skipped what is the warmest room in any house, the kitchen. Now, as you tour the full circle of the downstairs, you stroll through the kitchen, listening to its fascinating story while soaking up the rich decor in its original form.
Even before this latest restoration, the house tour had been extremely popular. It consistently got 4.5 out of 5 stars on tripadvisor.com, with fully one-fourth of the reviewers complimenting their tour guide, park ranger Mike Kinnett — known and well-liked by all as Ranger Mike — for his enthusiasm and knowledge.
Ranger Mike, with his special love of history, Apalachicola and the Orman House has been mainly responsible for the many authentic and period pieces that will fascinate you. Among them are Thomas Orman's original dining room table, his hand-carved cypress wet bar and several other dining room pieces. Ranger Mike's storytelling style brings them alive as you glide through the rooms on the tour.
“I has been my great joy to realize my dream of bringing the kitchen in the Orman House back to its glory days. With the support and generosity of area residents, Orman family descendants, and the Franklin County Citizen Support Group we all take pride in sharing this historic jewel in Apalachicola,” said Kinnett.
The restoration project was initiated in Oct. 2015 when a private donor pledged $5,000 to get it started. However, getting state approval for such projects is not easy. In fact, the first proposal was declined. The final plan required further discussions with state park officials and a detailed PowerPoint presentation with visual as well as written details of the demolition and reconstruction plans
The responsibility of marshalling this adventure through the state’s strenuous hoops fell to Park Manager Josh Hodson, and his persistence finally paid off.
"We are so proud to have a partnership with the Friends of Franklin County State Parks Citizen Support Organization (CSO) that supports these types of efforts. This collaborative project between our CSO and private donations has helped to transform one of the last remaining modern elements of the Orman House from when it had been a bed & breakfast before the state acquired the property in 2001. We are very excited to show off these renovations to the community and our visitors," said Hodson.
A modern kitchen, bathroom and three extra walls, added by a previous owner, were stripped out. Then wall coverings had to be removed and in the process the original brick chimney of the wood stove, hidden for years behind added wall coverings, was exposed. Old floors were torn up and the termite- and water-damaged underflooring had to be repaired.
Then wall coverings were beautifully restored. A reconstruction of the original butler’s closet and partial wall with serving window were added. Finally a new heart pine floor was installed.
An original kitchen floor plan, hand-drawn from memory of times living there by two different Thomas Orman heirs, guided it all.
In the end, the project was completed with private citizen donations of $8,300. The remaining expenses, approximately $18,700, were funded by the Friends of Franklin County State Parks, Inc., a non-profit citizen support organization.
"It was an honor for Friends of Franklin County State Parks to be a able to support this renovation,” said organization president John Hockman.
Hutchinson Design & Construction masterfully completed the work. Owner Joe Hutchinson and his talented crew — Kalo Smith, Michael Fuentes Jr. and Joshua Redick — with their special love of restoration projects, graced the room with historically accuracy and charm.
"It has been really rewarding to be a part of the community and the state's interest in the historical restoration of the Orman House kitchen. Historic restoration is a growing trend that makes my work a joy," said Hutchinson.
Ranger Mike is now on fire with his new 360-degree tour, featuring the newly-restored 19th century kitchen. But he needs some help from citizens and other friends of the house to finish it off with a few authentic period kitchen pieces. First among them is a wood-burning stove (or gas-wood combination), but other items high on list are a kitchen sink with a pump, a pie safe and an ice box.
There has never been a better time to tour the Orman House Historic State Park. But If you, or anyone you know, might have a wood-burning stove or any of these other items to donate, take it one step higher. Give Ranger Mike a call. Your added loving touch to this hard-earned historically-restored kitchen will make the tour a more enriching experience for everyone.
Ranger Mike can be reached at 653-1209.