Ken Watson has spent 27 years restoring Mosswood Manor, reputedly Lakeland’s oldest home, so he admits he’s apprehensive about opening it to the public for the first time on Saturday. But at the end of the day, he said, he’s doing it for a good cause.

The 111-year-old Queen Ann-style house at 121 Mosswood Road will be the site of a $50-a-ticket fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday for “At the End of the Day,” a dramatic comedy by Lakeland filmmaker Kevin O’Brien.

Mosswood, which gets a star turn as one of the sets for the movie, is decked out in holiday finery with four large trees for Saturday’s event, dubbed “A Victorian Christmas.”

Photos by David Dickey Jr.

Those who attend will get tours of the home, hear live piano music and sample coffee and cocoa drinks, and desserts from Sugar Buzz. Holiday sangria from Red Door Wine Market will be available for purchase. Valet parking is provided. (Ticket information)

Watson said the decision to open the home came after he saw a trailer for the film: “Something in my heart was telling me we need to help.”

Filming for “At the End of the Day” is set to begin next month. It tells the story of a homophobic professor at a Christian college who poses as a gay man to infiltrate a group and learns, according to a synopsis, “that life and love are not as black and white as he first thought.”

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The film trailer also resonated with Natalie Oldenkamp, a local Realtor who readily agreed to Watson’s request that she lead some of the home tours. “It’s such a great message,” she said, “and the home is so beautiful.”

Oldenkamp said even before she visited Mosswood as a friend of Watson, she became acquainted with it when her  brother’s friends lived there while the home was divided into apartments.

After Watson and Ray Oliver bought the house in 1988, they spent several years converting it back from four apartments into a single-family home, performing all repairs except installing the metal roof.

Their effort to restore the original floorplan was aided by research done by Margaret Pinkston, a granddaughter of the original owner, for her 1995 book, “Mosswood Remembered.”

The 12-room house was built overlooking Lake Morton in 1904  by Norman A. Riggins, a businessman, farmer and civic leader. It was named Mosswood for the Spanish-moss-draped trees surrounding the house, according to city records. (See an early photo.)

Originally built across Tennessee Avenue on the current site of the Lake Morton Community Church, the Riggins family moved the house to its current address in 1955.

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“The house is haunted,” Watson said matter-of-factly during a tour this morning. He’s heard the sounds of jacks being thrown on an upstairs floor and heavy footsteps, he said. While he hasn’t seen ghosts, several people have told him independently that they saw a young girl on the third floor waving at them.

The house represents a lot of personal history for Watson, who was 28 when he purchased it. “I raised my son here. He loved it, and my grandchildren love it,” said Watson, a mortgage officer with Landmark Mortgage and Associates, Inc. 

Watson said he and Oliver are six payments away from paying off the Mosswood mortgage. After that, he plans to stay in the home a few more years payment-free and then sell it to downsize.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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1 Comment

  1. I appreciate what has been done with this fine old family home; out thanks to the men who have taken time and money to bring it back to its … period glory. My grandparents lived in a Greene&Greene arts and crafts house they built, about l910 out on the Bartow Road : the I Dale Williams and Pauline Williams family. My mother grew up there: Polly Anne and her brother I Dale, Jr (that part of the family still lives … on property and near the orange groves that our grandparents had originally as an estate).
    You have my gratitude for bringing Lakeland’s treasures ‘ back to life’ — In friendship, Ron Watson

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