It has a small yard begging for some tender loving care. Overgrown bushes, untrimmed trees, brown grass desperate for water.
The house that it surrounds, empty for the past few years, could almost find a place among neighborhood children’s haunted house legends, if it weren’t for the bright yellow paint that still shines through Zephyrhills downtown.
Built in 1912, this is the original home of Capt. Harold B. Jeffries, the Civil War veteran who settled Zephyrhills in the hopes of bringing other war veterans with him. It’s been everything from the home of prominent city residents over the years, to a commercial office in what was once a bustling downtown area.
Today, however, the Jeffries House is spotted with warped wood. The white wraparound porch is sagging in a few places. And the main entrance that once welcomed Capt. Jeffries home each night is now capped with a “No Trespassing” sign.
The home is almost out of place in what would later become the commercial nerve center for Zephyrhills. And as community business leaders work to revitalize the downtown section, questions abound on what to do with the Jeffries House after suffering through a foreclosure two years ago, and been abandoned ever since.
“I think the Main Street Zephyrhills office would look great there,” said Gina King Granger, executive director of the city’s Main Street group. “Our board had actually discussed that at one time, but our funding was so tight, there was no way we could make it work.”
CenterState Bank of Florida owns the house, but is looking to get back the nearly $280,000 it lost when the previous owner defaulted on the mortgage. However, Main Street may get another shot at the building if city officials move forward with plans to buy the house from CenterState, and then possibly leasing it out.
Such a move would make the site much more attractive from a financial standpoint for potential tenants like Main Street.
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” Granger said. “Folks are just shying away from it because they think there is a lot more involved in terms of restoration and what would be needed to get it back into good shape.”
While the house itself would likely not be a strong anchor to help draw other businesses into the downtown district, there are a number of other possibilities for the Jeffries House as well, ranging from bed and breakfasts to restaurants, even to becoming a residence again.
That’s exactly how Jerry Pricher remembers the Jeffries House growing up.
“That house was the only residence on that block for many, many years,” said Pricher, who is vice president of the Zephyrhills Historical Association. “I walked by that house all the time when I was a kid, pretty much whenever we would walk down to the Home Theater to go to the movies.”
The Jeffries House is hardly the only house with local historical significance in Zephyrhills, but it gets the most attention because of its location right in the middle of town, Pricher said. Because of that, and its place in the city’s history, it could be the perfect place for a museum.
The only drawback to that idea is that Zephyrhills already has the Depot Museum on South Avenue.
“The Depot Museum is slap full, so (the Jeffries House) could be nice as a secondary museum,” Pricher said. “We could always use more room to display some of the many historical items we have.”
Vicki Elkins, who runs the Depot Museum, says they do regularly have to switch out exhibits because of space constraints in the old railroad depot. However, she may need some more exhibit donations before they can think of a second location.
“We don’t really have an overflow right now, but certainly at some point we might,” Elkins said. She feels that the Jeffries House could be turned into a nice museum remembering the school history of the city. Or, “it would make a wonderful Main Street office.”
“It’s historic, and it’s what Main Street is all about,” Elkins said.
No matter who might end up in the Jeffries House, chances are it won’t be as expensive to move in as many might think, Main Street’s Granger said. A city inspection of the house showed that despite some exterior issues, the interior is structurally sound.
And outside money might be available to convert the historic house into a new business.
“A lot of work would be needed to bring it up to code, but it could be done,” Granger said. “There are a lot of grants for restoring these old properties at both the state and national levels, but money like that might not be available for a few years.”
And that could be a death knell to the Jeffries House if it remains empty and is not properly maintained. As passers-by have already noticed in recent years, a house like this can deteriorate fast.
“Obviously, to those of us who love the history of Zephyrhills, we would rather not lose it,” Pricher said. “Something needs to be done with that building, and we need to do it right now.”
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