In neighborhoods near Lake Morton, houses with broad front porches, striking columns, latticed crawl spaces and jutting windows have settled into the Earth for more than 100 years, standing despite hurricanes, gnawing termites, technical advances and human desire for change.
Michael Maguire, a South Lake Morton neighborhood resident, wanted to recognize these old homes. He created the Lake Morton Century Homes project to identify these structures and is hosting a picnic celebration for the homeowners and neighborhood residents Thursday on the lawn of the Lakeland Public Library.
“A good way to strengthen everyone’s attachment to the neighborhood would be to celebrate its persistence over the years,” Maguire said.
To find the 56 properties that qualified, Maguire used a list compiled by Jim Edwards. Edwards worked to prepare the 1985 nomination for the South Lake Morton Historic District to be on the National Register of Historic Places and a 1987 city strategy plan for redevelopment of the neighborhood.
To help verify the age of some of the oldest properties in the neighborhood, Edwards used documents called Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The maps recorded properties in the neighborhood in 1917 and again in 1922. The maps do not tell the year the properties were built, but they do show which properties already existed in those years.
Maguire combed the streets to check whether the properties from Edwards’ list were still standing and to take photographs of them for his website.
The homeowners will be presented with a plaque Thursday showing their property’s status as a home that has stood for more than a century. The website and plaques, as well as the picnic celebration, are funded through The Maguires of Lakeland, a business Maguire founded with his late wife, Phyllis.
“It’s something I can do, and I’m happy to be able to do it,” he said.
The list of properties in the application for the National Historic Register records many of the oldest houses as c.1917, meaning around 1917, because of the limited data from the Sanborn maps. However, Mosswood Manor, 121 Mosswood Road, is listed as being built in 1904, which is the oldest specified date for the properties in the South Lake Morton Historic District.
Maguire plans to continue holding celebrations of the neighborhood’s history and plans another round of Century Home inductions in 1922 – the next year for which there are Sanborn maps. He does not plan to expand the project to other areas of Lakeland, but he hopes other neighborhoods might be interested in copying the project. However, he will add South and East Lake Morton properties if the owners have proof of age.
Maguire said he will not accept the year listed on the Polk Property Appraiser’s website as proof of a historic home’s age because he checked their records against the Sanborn maps and found many discrepancies.
“The property appraiser is a good starting place, but further research is needed to accurately document when a building was constructed -– and sometimes you’re not able to,” said Emily Foster, the senior planner of historic preservation for the city of Lakeland.
In these historic home maps created by Maguire, click a red icon to see a photo of the house at that address:
Gregory Fancelli, an historic preservation advocate, is supporting Maguire’s project by offering to help people who want to research the age of their property. He said he wants to help educate others who are interested in determining the age of their house.
A historic home he bought was not listed on the Sanborn maps, so he went through the research process on his own to prove it was built in 1911.
If someone finds themselves in the same situation, Fancelli said, they should try to find multiple sources confirming the date their property was built. He recommends starting with the date listed on the property appraiser’s website and checking the Sanborn maps online or at the Lakeland Public Library. Another source to check is the Lakeland City Directories, also at the library. Those documents record information about property owners, including their addresses, and go back to the early 1900s.
His other suggestions for discovering the age of your house include researching documents such as land sales at the County Clerk’s office (the older records are on microfilm) or by hiring a company to do an abstract title search.
If a person gets stuck during this process, they can email Fancelli at Gregory@LakeMortonCenturyHomes.org.
Fancelli said he wanted to support the Century Homes project because he likes that it will help people tell visually which houses in the neighborhood are oldest.
“The marker will show the structure has withstood hurricanes, land use changes, zoning changes, all of that; and the home is still being used as a residence 100 years later, despite the fact that our society has changed so much in the last 100 years,” Fancelli said. “I think it adds that level of additional prestige and value to the property.”