I took especial interest in last week’s Chasing Shadows (See April 5 Times “Old Stearns house destroyed by fire”) account of the fire which destroyed the old Stearns’ home in 1933. In 1903, a few days after Christmas, a daytime fire consumed the John W. Wakefield house on the corner of Fifth Street and Avenue C. My grandfather, John Wakefield, who inherited the home from his father, Dr. Francis B. Wakefield, was at work at the time. Rosalie Wakefield, his wife, was at home overseeing their five children when a chimney fire caught the wood roofing shakes.

Firemen and other volunteers fought to no avail to save the house. The fire spread so swiftly that Grandmother feared she could not get down the stairs from the upstairs nursery, so she reluctantly tossed her infant daughter, my mother Grace, from a second-story window to the firemen on the ground. No one was injured, and many items, furniture included, were removed from the burning residence. Included was a heavy pie safe from the kitchen containing two freshly-baked pies. No one bothered to snitch a fresh pie, though the safe remained in the street for two days. Many years later I sold the old carpenter-made cypress cabinet at my downtown antique shop, The Chesnut Tree.

The new Wakefield house went up in 1905 on the same site, but facing Avenue C. That large Queen Anne-styled structure became one of the fine homes of Apalachicola, but it also succumbed to fire in 1944, when again a roof fire quickly spread. The house was saved, but the roof was gone and the second floor widely damaged. My grandmother was encouraged to raze the house completely or convert it to a one-story structure, as repair building material were almost unavailable, due to wartime restrictions on materials. An aunt of mine, who had been U.S. Senator Spessard Holland’s secretary, sought his help in getting the mostly unobtainable materials. With his help the house was restored but with a lowered roof line. The house has been on the annual Trinity Episcopal Church Tour of Homes several times and is presently owned by Tallahassee and Apalachicola architect, Warren A. Emo.

Needless to say, Wakefield homes on that site had a hard time during the 20th century.


Wesley W. Chesnut