t’s quite an exciting moment when you find
that mysterious, abandoned house you’ve been stalking on the internet
over the years– never quite certain whether it even really, truly
exists– finally appearing on a realtor’s listing, announcing its
officially going up for sale
. The Howey mansion in Florida is a
bit of local legend, built by the 1920s citrus tycoon William Howey who
once hired the entire New York Civic Opera Company to entertain 15,000
guests, who arrived in a parade of 4,000 automobiles at the mansion’s
gates in 1927. For nearly two decades, the 20-room Mediterranean Revival
style mansion has sat empty, deteriorating in central Florida just
outside the town that Howey founded and named after himself.
Before we begin our tour, I thought it might be appropriate to set
the mood with an excerpt from Charles Dicken’s magnificent novel Great
Expectations, describing Pip’s entrance into the mysterious and decaying
home of Miss Havisham…
“We came to Miss Havisham’s house, which was of old
brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the
windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were
rustily barred… we went across the courtyard. It was paved and clean,
but grass was growing in every crevice… We went into the house by a side
door, the great front entrance had two chains across it outside,—and
the first thing I noticed was, that the passages were all dark, and that
she had left a candle burning there… we went through more passages and
up a staircase, and still it was all dark, and only the candle lighted
us…. In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head
leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall
ever see… I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped,
like the watch and the clock, a long time ago.”
William John Howey was the developer of the largest citrus empire in the
world at the time. He started buying land in New Haven. Florida as
early as 1914 and by 1920, had amassed 60,000 acres.
He bought the land for $8 to $10 per acre and sold at $800 to $2000 per
acre. He offered a no-risk guarantee to prospective buyers promising
that he would buy back the land for the original cost plus interest if
their citrus trees did not turn a profit within a set amount of time.
Buyers flocked to the area and Howey built accommodation, hotels and
housing for his new investors, growing a thriving community he called
“the town of Howey”, which later officially became Howey-in-the-Hills in
1925. He even served as Mayor until 1936.
Howey is buried in the mausoleum that can be found at the back of the
house. He died young of a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 62, but
his wife went on to live at the house for another 43 years until her
death in 1981. The town’s most treasured house was placed on the
National Register of Historic Places, but sold soon after to a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Zona,
who purchased the home for $400,000.
The fate of the house would turn when the mistress of the house was
widowed in 2000. To pay for her husband’s failing health, Marvel Zona
had taken out a reverse mortgage to pay her a fixed income for life. As
her own health began to fail, she hoped to leave the property to the
town as a museum, but county officials deemed it not eligible for state
historic preservation grant funds due to the fact that it was privately
In 2005, an ageing Mrs. Zona was approached by some real estate schemers
who convinced her to take a bad loan. Within two years, the Howey
mansion went into foreclosure and Mrs. Zona was living in a nursing
As the house fell into serious disrepair, the scheming parties who
had the house tied up wouldn’t settle for less than $2 million (which
didn’t include the estimated 1 million dollar renovation bill needed to
bring the mansion into the 21st century).
Police were constantly called to the property over reports of
trespassers– mostly curious locals and history buffs hoping to get a
glimpse inside of the legendary Howey Mansion.
The house, now owned by the bank, was opened up in 2010 for an estate
sale where locals could purchase one of Howey’s 1930s chandeliers for
about $20, among other treasures. The Howey Mansion still remains a time
capsule however, even with a vintage intercom system still installed
and most of the home’s original historic features.
Some claim the property is haunted, but that hasn’t stopped a
flurry of interested buyers coming forward since the dilapidated gem hit
the market. After being stuck in financial limbo for the past couple of
years, the Howey Mansion is now officially for sale with an asking
price of $480,000. Let’s not forget about the million dollar renovation
expenses, but could it be worth cutting a few corners on the gardening
bills? You’ve gotta love that haunting Miss Havisham look of the wild,
overgrown grass and the vines crawling over nearly every surface of the
house. Actually, I wouldn’t change a thing.
If you'd enjoy living in this historic mansion, you can find the real estate listing here
... and be sure to invite me to the housewarming! And if you can’t afford a real-life Miss Havisham mansion, stay tuned for next week, you might settle for a miniature one that that we're going to tour some treasures from!
Special thanks to "Abandoned in Florida," Messy Nessa, and Realtor.com
Until then, go make something beautiful!
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
Jon's latest book just arrived! It will be available in bookstores June1!
My kind of house! Maybe someday . . .
What a glorious home!! Too bad it has sat vacant for so long and shame on the historic society for not wanting to register it just because of private ownership!
There are so many times we here of these scoundrels aka PIGS who feed on the sick and elderly and take advantage by offering phony deals. All I can say to them is KARMA is a BITCH honey!
Thanks so much for sharing Tristan!
Hope your weekend has been beautiful and your week ahead filled with sunshine and laughter!
Congrats and best wishes to Jon- where might I find a review on his book?
best, Jackie xo
Check out that doorway mosaic and archway and the staircase! What a treat!
~jeanie from Marmelade Gypsy
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