In 1825, Richard Keith Call, the third (1836-1839) and fifth (1841-1844) governor of the Florida Territory, purchased 640 acres just north of Tallahassee. This property, which now consists of roughly 10 acres, later became known as The Grove. Since its inhabitation by the Calls, the site has been a family home, a gathering place, and an important part of Florida’s long and diverse history.
Miniatures of Richard Keith Call and Mary Letitia Kirkman Call (ca. 1825). Images courtesy of The State Archives of Florida
Gov. 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 Gov. Call, along with other local craftsmen, built the house largely from materials harvested on the property.
Gov. 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, Mrs. Call died. After the passing of his wife and all but two of their children, Gov. 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. Gov. 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, took control of The Grove 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 Gov. 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. During the Depression, Hunt built partition walls inside the house and operated The Grove as a hotel to generate income. She 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 Gov. 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). Gov. 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 Gov. 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. Gov. 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. Pres. Johnson chose Gov. Collins to lead the Community Relations Service, an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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
Mrs. 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. Mrs. Collins received national acclaim for her efforts at The Grove and her dedication to several other preservation organizations. 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, Gov. and Mrs. Collins sold The Grove to the State of Florida. Under the terms of their agreement with the state, the home, upon their deaths, would be rehabilitated and converted into a house museum of history for the educational benefit of Florida residents and visitors. Gov. 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’s Division of Historical Resources has undertaken major rehabilitation efforts at The Grove. Future uses of the site will carry forward the legacies of public service, entrepreneurialism, and historic preservation established by the Call and Collins families and will serve as a fitting tribute to the prominence of this place, and its many residents, in Florida history.