If those walls could talk…

by Ursula Radabaugh, 13 November, 2014

I’m trying a new series in the newly restarted neighborhood news and I hope you will all find something here to love. The plan is to select one home from our Lake Morton historic district for each news cycle, collect the stories through U.S. Census records, land records, old newspaper articles and 1st person interviews, if possible. Aren’t we all a little curious about past stewards of our treasured homes?

I’ve always been interested in the people that occupied the spaces around me in time gone by. When I was 4 years old we moved to Turkey and one of our first outings was to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, built in the 10 century B.C. and famed for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I don’t think when I walked the partially uncovered cobblestoned streets I knew any of this, but, I do remember being in awe that people, very far back in time, had walked these same streets and my imagination went wild trying to conjure up their lives.

Fast forward a few years (ahem), and as my husband and I settled into our new, old home in the South Lake Morton Historic District, I found myself wondering about the people that had lived here since it was built. So, the first history in this series will be what I’ve discovered about my own home at 839 Mississippi Ave.

Bungalow 2005839 Miss Ave

It was built in 1922 by Dean U. McGinnes, who moved from Maryland to Hawthorne in Alachua County, Florida with his parents and siblings around 1886. His father was a fruit buyer in the citrus industry and both parents are buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow. Dean married and was found on the 1910 Census to be living in Levon, Marion County, where he was employed as a stenographer. By 1920 he and his family were living at 1011 Tennessee Avenue in our neighborhood, and he was employed as a bookkeeper for the Lakeland Manufacturing Company (a lumber company). On the 1930 census he resided at 839 Mississippi Avenue with his wife Hallie, their sons Williard and Clyde and their daughter Elizabeth. Dean was at this time, a partner in the Sneed-McGinnes Lumber Company, but two years later he was listed as sole proprietor of the McGinnes Lumber Company located on West Main Street at the corner of Ohio. On the 1940 Census, he is still at 839 Mississippi, however in telephone directories he appears to have moved between 1947 and 1950 to 1021 Johnson Avenue, one street over. Dean McGinnes died in 1955 still living in the house on Johnson.

Dean U McGinnes image

Recently, Dean’s daughter, Elizabeth, who was two when she moved into the Mississippi Avenue house, stopped by to reminisce and share her recollections about the house and the area. During her 22 years in the home, it was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath with a living room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast room and a sleeping porch out back. She had the front bedroom, her two brothers had the other bedroom and her parents slept in the sleeping porch which was screened and had canvas roll down “walls”. They slept “outside” all year long with only the fireplace in the dining room as a heat source in the winter. Elizabeth said that it never got that cold back then. She mentioned that the front yard was grass with two orange trees in the front yard and a grapefruit tree where the large tree between us and the house on the corner is. The two car garage was accessed from the front drive through the porte-cochere which had a few twists and turns and which she drove at great speed forward and in reverse, out. Her father used to play cards where our porch swing now is and they had a porch swing between there and the front door. She also said that they screened the front porch in at some time because of the mosquitos. A grove was across the street and Mississippi Avenue was dirt until they bricked it sometime later. Fun for the neighborhood kids was to hop on the garbage truck that passed through the alley collecting trash until it stopped at Riggins road. They also swam in Lake Morton, attended elementary school where the library now is and high school where Lawton Chiles Academy now is. Elizabeth joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel before retiring back to Lakeland. She said she used the Mississippi Ave address all through her military career as her “home” address. I can’t confirm this, but I presume that even though her father moved to Johnson Avenue, her brother lived in the Mississippi house until he sold it to the Flynn’s sometime before 1959. An interesting note about the land boom/bust in Florida from 1920-1940, the Mississippi property was listed on the 1930 Census at $5000 in value, but on the 1940 Census, it was listed at only $3000 in value.

(See related article about Elizabeth Thompson, “Lakeland Woman Left Teaching Career for War”)

Wilmer and Evelyn Flynn lived in the home until 1973 and raised a daughter, Patty. Wilmer was born in Duval County, Florida and moved to Lakeland as a salesman for J.H. Churchwell, a medical uniform and supply company in Jacksonville, Florida. After they sold the home, they moved to Bradenton, Florida, where he died in 1993.

The next owner of the home, Carl H. Matthes, was born in Cuba, and moved to Mulberry, Florida, as a young child. He later graduated from Florida Southern College and became principal of Mulberry High School. He never married and after becoming ill, moved to North Carolina to be near his sister. He purchased the home on Mississippi Avenue in 1973 and lived there until 2004 when he sold it to his neighbors, Mike and Phyllis Maguire. Carl’s family history is personally interesting as he also comes from German stock. His father, Roland Wolfgang Matthes died in Panama, was born in Puerto Rico and was at the time of his death, living with his family in Cuba. Roland’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Freiberg, Saxony, Germany in the late 1800’s, became U.S. citizens then moved from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico and passed through several Central American countries, finally landing in Cuba. Roland, his father and several of his brothers worked and died in service to the U.S. sugar industry as “sugarmakers”.

The Maguires flipped the house to us in 2005 and are still our neighbors. Since purchasing the home, we have removed the aluminum siding and replaced the wood siding, renovated the kitchen and bathrooms and added 300 square feet which includes closet space, a den, and an enlarged master bath/laundry area.   The two-car garage that Elizabeth used to zoom in and out of will be converted to a studio in the next few months.


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