In 1825, Richard Keith Call, the third (1836-1839) and fifth (1841-1844) governor of the Florida Territory, purchased 640 acres of land just north of Tallahassee. This property, which now consists of roughly 10 1/2 acres, later became known as The Grove. Since its occupation by the Calls, the site has been a family home, a gathering place, and an important part of Florida’s long and diverse history.
Miniature portraits of Richard Keith Call and Mary Letitia Kirkman Call (ca. 1825). Images courtesy of The State Archives of Florida
Call designed his home at The Grove in the Greek revival style, with a Georgian floor plan inspired by The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, Tennessee. Slaves owned by Call built the house, largely from materials harvested on the property.
Call built the home as a tribute to his wife, Mary Letitia Kirkman. Sadly, the family suffered a series of tragedies in the 1830s. Between 1832 and 1834, four young Call children succumbed to disease and, in 1836, Mary Kirkman Call passed away.
After the passing of his wife and all but two of their children, Richard Keith Call devoted his life to politics and business. By the early 1850s, he had left The Grove and moved to another property near Lake Jackson in northern Leon County, known as Orchard Pond Plantation. Call returned to The Grove for his final days and died at the estate in 1862.
Ellen greets a guest on horseback (ca. 1890s). Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
Ellen Call Long, the oldest child of Mary and Richard Keith Call, was deeded the property by her father in 1851 and lived at the house until her death in 1905. Under Long’s ownership, The Grove evolved into the social center of Tallahassee. She hosted parties and held community events, and opened her home to travelers to help make ends meet.
Long also raised silkworms and grew vegetables for sale on the property. She published on several topics, including Florida history and silk culture, and was well regarded for her literary contributions. Despite her vigorous efforts, financial stress forced Long to sell much of the original property purchased by her father. By 1887, The Grove contained only 13 of its original 640 acres.
Mena E. Williams Hirshberg holds a flag made by Ellen Call Long from silk produced at The Grove. The flag was presented to Governor E.A. Perry at his inauguration in 1885. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
Reinette Long Hunt, Ellen Call Long’s granddaughter, owned the property from 1904 until her death in 1940. Like her grandmother, she worked tirelessly to retain family ownership of the property. During the Great Depression, Hunt built partition walls inside the house and operated The Grove as a hotel to generate income.
Hunt also engaged in several entrepreneurial efforts, including marketing Grove-themed products such as bottled tomato sauce. Hunt shared her grandmothers’ interest in the arts and taught china painting, held poetry readings, and opened her home for a variety of cultural events and performances.
Reinette Long Hunt operated The Grove Hotel in the 1930s. The small, white building on the right side of this photograph contained bathrooms used during the hotel era. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress
Thomas “LeRoy” Collins and Mary Call Darby Collins, the latter a great-granddaughter of Richard Keith Call, purchased The Grove after Reinette Long Hunt’s death in 1940. First elected to public office in 1934, Collins served in the Florida House and Senate before becoming Florida’s 33rd Governor (1955-1961). Governor Collins’ vision for his native state helped modernize Florida, especially in the areas of education, economic development, and constitutional reform.
The struggle for civil rights was paramount during Governor Collins’ time in office and his response to the movement defined his political legacy. He was one of the first of a very small number of white Southern politicians who spoke out against segregation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Collins became a champion for civil rights and was present at the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.
President Johnson chose Collins to lead the Community Relations Service, an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Collins went on to play a major role as a federal mediator during the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act that same year.
Gov. Collins with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
The Collins family, left to right: Jane, LeRoy Jr., Mary Call Darby, LeRoy, Mary Call, and Sarah (circa 1955). Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
Mary Call Collins devoted her life to preserving The Grove. She also played an instrumental role in the construction and furnishing of the Florida Governor’s Mansion, which was rebuilt in the mid-1950s. Mary Call Collins received national acclaim for her efforts at The Grove and her dedication to several other preservation organizations, including as Florida's Vice Reagent to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for over two decades.
Each year during Florida Heritage Month, the Secretary of State presents the Mary Call Darby Collins Award to the Floridian who most closely evokes the legacy of historic preservation established by Mrs. Collins.
Mary Call Darby Collins on the front porch of The Grove (1956). Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
In 1985, the Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida. Under the terms of their agreement with the state, the home, upon their deaths, would be converted into a museum for the educational benefit of Florida residents and visitors.
Governor Collins died in 1991, and Mrs. Collins passed away in 2009.
South elevation of the Call/Collins House (2011). Photograph by Roy Lett, Division of Historical Resources
Since 2009, the Florida Department of State has undertaken major rehabilitation efforts at The Grove. The museum opened to the public on March 11, 2017.