Out and about
Never giving up the ghost
KIM DAMEDriving near the center of town, one can't help but notice the majestic, multi-level house on the corner of Museum Court and Saxon Avenue. The three-colored "Painted Lady" is an impressive pre-Civil War structure with a hauntingly interesting past.
Published: July 6, 2012
Published: July 6, 2012
It is a house of "Seven Gables" and sits on one of Hernando County's seven hills, explained Virginia Rusk, vice president of the Hernando County Historical Society and the coordinator of volunteers.
But its aesthetics are only part of the unique history this house has preserved.
It was obtained by the Hernando County Historical Society in the early 1980s and became the proud home of the Hernando Heritage Museum. Displaying more than 11,000 Civil War artifacts within its three stories of preserved antiquity, the house is a landmark in the county.
It is also the home of the Brooksville Raid, voted as the best and largest Civil War re-enactment in Florida.
One of Brooksville's oldest homesteads, the Hernando Heritage Museum, fondly known as the May-Stringer house, has a history that bonds a community while also providing intriguing entertainment to locals and visitors alike.
"It falls into what they called the Armed Occupations Act," Rusk explained. The act was adopted in 1842 to help bring civilization to Florida by forcing out the Indians.
"The government put up 160 acres to anyone who wanted to purchase land," she explained. "They had to come live on the acreage for five years, had to build a dwelling, had to clear five acres and they had to raise a crop. If they did that, the land was theirs."
A man named Richard Wiggins originally purchased the land. "He was the first owner," Rusk said. He later sold it to John May who built the first four rooms. Dr. Stringer, the next owner, added ten more rooms.
"It is really two houses," Rusk explained. "That is why it's called the May-Stringer house."
The house has a tragic past. The Stringers had two children, the first dying shortly after birth and a second, Jessie May, who died when she was just 3. Sadly, Marena Stringer also died while giving birth to Jessie May.
"Jessie May is the resident ghost," Rusk said.
In her 12 years of doing the tours for the Heritage Museum, Rusk has never actually experienced Jessie May's presence. "But I've had run-ins with the woman," she said. "There's more than one ghost here."
Its tragic past adds to the allure of the entire experience. Nightly ghost tours visit the home, which is considered one of the nation's top haunted places. For $20, anyone over the age of 18 can take the Haunted Tour, which runs through several homes considered haunted in Brooksville.
But for history buffs, the daytime museum tours last about an hour at a cost of $5 for adults and $2 for children under age 6. The museum is open from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is dependent on donations to maintain the home.
The Heritage Quilt Exhibit debuted Saturday and will run through the month of July. "We'll have local quilts displayed throughout the house," Rusk said.
On a recent visit to Florida from Tennessee, the Taurex family took advantage of an individual tour, led by Rusk.
They had read about the Heritage Museum in the newspaper and decided to take the tour. "There were a lot of old things," Morris Taurex said. "We didn't really expect that."
Shelby Taurex, 9, was most intrigued by the old antique typewriters.
The Hernando Heritage Museum is located at 601 Museum Court in downtown Brooksville. For more information, visit www.hernandohistorialmuseumassoc.com.
Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.