The beautifully renovated, two-story Wesley house with elegant white columns and wrap-around porch is a focal point of the park. Surrounded by moss-draped live oaks and ornamental gardens that inspires visions of hoop skirts and landed gentry, it was the tranquil home of the William Henry Wesley family and the bustling Wesley Lumber Company which included a sawmill, planer mill and dry kiln with a dock for loading barges in Tucker Bayou. Wesley built his home in 1897 and lived there with his family until 1953 when his wife, Katie Strickland Wesley died and it was sold along with 10.5 acres. In 1963, Lois Maxon fell in love with the house and purchased it, converting it into a showplace for her family antiques and heirlooms. She developed the grounds as ornamental gardens and in 1968 donated Eden Gardens to the state.
The Wesley House was built by William H. and Katie Wesley on property near their thriving sawmill. The house was completed in 1897 and the cupola was added prior to the 1920s. The family used the cupola as a spotting tower, enabling them to keep an eye on the sawmill situated at the north end of the property, along the edge of Tucker Bayou. The Wesley family had nine children, so the house was organized more as a dormitory than fancy showplace. Seven of the eight main rooms served as bedrooms and the kitchen and dining room were located in a separate building off the back of the house. The Wesleys built their home with the same yellow heart pine that they cut at the sawmill; the doors and door frames were fashioned out of cypress and juniper. The house remained in the family until 1953, when Katie Wesley passed away. The house was purchased along with 10 acres of land by a developer who was interested in the business value of the property.
William H. Wesley went into the sawmill business with Simeon Strickland, the man who later became his father-in-law. They built a sawmill on the edge of Tucker Bayou, on the northern edge of the property in Point Washington, Florida. The sawmill pictured in the photo was one of three that Mr. Wesley operated in that location between the 1890s and 1930s. The Wesley sawmill was used to cut yellow heart pine, forested locally in the Panhandle at the turn of the century. After the logs were cut, they were floated to Pensacola on barge-like structures for shipping to locations nationwide. Final destinations for the lumber included Chicago and New York City. The sawmill shut down in the 1930s as all the pine available for logging in north Florida had been timbered out. Yellow heart pine was a prized wood for building because it was a very hard wood and it has proven its worth to this day. The Wesley House has withstood the problems associated with Florida's climate, moisture and insects, unlike other buildings of that era.
The Wesley House sat empty between 1953 and 1963, when Ms. Lois G. Maxon spotted the house on a Sunday afternoon and instantly fell in love with it. She purchased the house and the accompanying 10.5 acres of land for $12,500. She then invested $1 million dollars to convert the Victorian-style house into a Classic Revival home, intended to reflect the romantic image of an antebellum home. To accomplish this, Ms. Maxon changed the columns, flattened the angle of the roof and removed the cupola. Ms. Maxon also created the surrounding gardens from plans created by Emmitt Hill, director of the Florida Park Service between 1953-1960 and M. B. Green, assistant director of the Florida Park Service in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ms. Maxon's goal was to create a home for her impressive collection of Louis XVI antiques. Unfortunately, due to failing health, she only enjoyed her home for five years. On Christmas Eve, 1968, Lois Maxon graciously gave her home and antique collection to the state of Florida.
During Ms. Lois Maxon's residence here, she asked members of the local garden club to give tours of the mansion two days a week. Ms. Maxon, a newspaper woman by profession, would take her typewriter and escape to the landing leading to the old cupola to be out of the way during these tours. Lois Maxon also loved to entertain and decorated her home with that in mind, creating a welcoming feeling for her guests.
Ms. Lois Maxon, in addition to renovating the Wesley House, also created the surrounding gardens and added a small reflection pond at the north side of the house. The pond, surrounded by statues of the Four Seasons, became home to many ducks and geese. Ms. Maxon also planted more than 100 different species of camellias, many different colors and varieties of azaleas and other ornamental plants, including many from the eastern hemisphere. She also added a formal rose garden, featuring Heritage roses. Bricks that were originally part of the house's chimney formed the pavers for walkways through the rose beds. When the state of Florida took possession of the property, they built a concrete-sided reflection pond in place of the hand-dug pond and installed water lilies, goldfish and eventually koi. The Four Seasons statues were moved to a fern garden at the south of the house. Over time, various gardening organizations in the area have helped add additional garden areas including a Hidden Garden with quiet, winding trails.