A Brief History of the Site
Set atop a commanding hill, surrounded by towering magnolias and sprawling live oaks, stands the Call-Collins House at The Grove—the gem of Tallahassee's antebellum homes. The Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, is in the final stages of a complete restoration and historic rehabilitation of the property.
Once finished and open to the public in the fall of 2014, the site will feature immersive educational exhibits on all three floors of the home and throughout the expansive 10-acre grounds. The house and grounds will also provide ample space for events, weddings, conferences, meetings, and other special occasions that evoke the legacy of dedicated public service embodied by the people who worked tirelessly to preserve this place for future generations.
You can join in the effort to preserve this landmark historic site and help continue the legacy of the Call and Collins families. Contact TheGrove@DOS.MyFlorida.com to learn more about how to support and become involved in this important project.
The story of The Grove begins with Richard Keith Call who although born in Virginia in 1792, moved as a toddler to Kentucky and later to Tennessee, where he enrolled as a seventeen year old in Mount Pleasant Academy. Shortly after his enrollment, hostilities with American Indians erupted and Call enlisted in the militia. His service soon attracted the attention of General Andrew Jackson whom he joined on the march to Pensacola, Florida, as an officer on Jackson's personal staff.
Subsequently, Call helped Jackson establish his military headquarters at his home, The Hermitage, outside Nashville, Tennessee and in 1819 he travelled with Jackson to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Call soon returned to Pensacola, following Jackson's appointment as Military Governor of the Territory of Florida, where he helped negotiate the transfer of West Florida from Spain to the United States, served on the Town Council, and accepted Jackson's appointment to the post of Acting Secretary of West Florida.
Following Jackson's return to Tennessee in 1821, Call remained in Pensacola and built a law practice. In 1822 he was appointed to Florida's first Legislative Council, and in 1823 he was appointed Brigadier General of the Militia by President James Monroe and elected the territory's delegate to the United States Congress. Call's own election to Congress coincided with Jackson's election to the United States Senate, further securing an already close relationship between these two men.
In 1824, Call married Nashville native Mary Letitia Kirkman. The ceremony took place at The Hermitage and Jackson gave away the bride, largely because Kirkman's family was opposed to Jackson's politics. After a brief stint living in Washington, DC, Call retired from Congress, accepted an appointment as Receiver of Public Monies for Florida, and moved to Tallahassee in 1825.
Soon after arriving in Tallahassee, and aided by knowledge and status gained through his appointed position, Call purchased 640 acres of land at $1.25 per acre. Inspired by The Hermitage and the architectural excellence he had witnessed in Nashville; Philadelphia; and Washington, DC, Call began designing and building a mansion for his growing family. Call served as his own architect and construction manager and many of the materials used to build the house were harvested or manufactured on the 640 acre site. It is not known when the construction of the house was completed, but it appears that the family moved into the structure in the early 1830s and were inhabiting the house by 1836, the year in which Mary Call died at the age of 34. Following her passing, Mary was buried in the family cemetery on the property.
In 1836, less than a month after his wife's death, as President, Jackson appointed Call to a three-year term as Territorial Governor and by 1839, despite a falling out with Jackson, Call was one of Florida's most formidable political, business and military leaders. In 1841 President William Henry Harrison appointed Call to a second three year term as Territorial Governor, during which time his home, now known as The Grove, became the center of public and social gatherings in Tallahassee.
After Florida became a State in 1845, Call ran unsuccessfully in a state-wide election for Governor and retired from public service. Devoting his energies to agriculture, he deeded The Grove to his daughter, Ellen Call Long, and in 1851 he moved to another plantation he owned at nearby Lake Jackson. Eleven years later, after strongly advocating for his beloved Florida to remain in the Union, and witnessing Florida's ultimate secession and the start of the Civil War, Call returned to The Grove, where he died in 1862. Call, like his wife and children who preceded him in death, was buried in the family cemetery on the property.
Following Call's death, The Grove remained in the family and was subsequently owned by a succession of daughters and cousins. During this period, these individuals, predominantly women, passionately held onto the property by demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness that resulted in some modifications to the house, the sale of some of the original property, and the development of several new businesses, but never the loss of The Grove.
In 1942, following the death of Call's granddaughter Reinette Long Hunt and the inheritance of the property by two cousins living in Ohio, the house and property were put on the open market. Although several wealthy Tallahasseans expressed an interest in the property, they all agreed to wait once it became known that Call's great-granddaughter, Mary Call, and her husband, a young lawyer and aspiring politician LeRoy (Roy) Collins, expressed an interest in purchasing the site. The Collinses were ultimately successful, purchasing the property in November 1942 and subsequently moved in, fulfilling a life-long dream of Mary.
At this point, the house and grounds were in disrepair, but the Collinses diligently began the painstaking process of restoring the home and reacquiring some the property previously sold off, including the parcel containing the family cemetery. Over the course of many years, largely through the leadership of Mary, the house was restored, a project and a process that resulted in Mary becoming one of the leaders of the growing historic preservation movement in both Florida and the United States.
Meanwhile, Roy's career was taking off. Collins had previously been elected, at the age of 25, to the Florida House of Representatives, where he served three terms. In 1942 he was elected to a full term in the Senate, and between 1944 and 1946 he served in the US Navy.
Collins continued his political and legal ascendency following World War II. In 1954 Governor Dan McCarty died after nine months in office, and following a special election, at the age of 46, he was elected Florida's 33rd Governor. When first elected, Collins and his family moved across the street from The Grove to the then existing Executive Mansion. The house, however, was in poor condition, and while the house was being demolished and a new Executive Mansion built, Collins returned to The Grove and his family home became the Governor's mansion.
Two years later, in 1956, Collins was elected to a full term in the Governor's Office by the greatest margin in State history to that point. Shortly after his election, Governor Collins was featured on the cover of Time magazine, in part because of Florida's booming population growth and increasing political clout. As Governor Collins championed education, tourism, highway construction, environmental conservation, and industrial development. He also served as Chairman of the Southern Governor's Conference and the National Governor's Conference, during which time he led the first ever excursion of American Governors to the Soviet Union.
Additionally, as his term as Governor concluded, Collins chaired the 1960 Democratic National Convention that resulted in the nomination of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as President and Vice President respectively. This time period was characterized by tension and emotion and Collins was credited with leading and administering a successful convention and with skillfully managing a number of potentially explosive events and volatile personalities.
Finally, civil rights and, in particular, segregation were particularly important issues during Collins' time in the Governor's Office, and in many ways this topic became the defining issue of his tenure. Collins approached these issues head-on and was one of the first, and one of a very small number of southern governors who opposed segregation. As such, Governor Collins became a champion for civil rights and ultimately participated in and was present at the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson in 1964.
After his term as Governor, Collins directed the Community Relations Service, briefly served as Under Secretary of Commerce, and unsuccessfully ran for US Senate in 1967. He passed away in 1991 at The Grove and is buried on the property.