Something old, Something new
Titusville couple embarks on a journey to restore their historical home
Ever since I was a preteen growing up in South Florida in the 1960s, I have been fascinated by the space program. Aside from wanting to be an astronaut like many kids, I wished I lived close to the space center where I could watch the rocket launches first hand.
So, when I met Connie Maggi at a dance and found out she had lived in Titusville from ‘66 and her father had been an engineer for the NASA program through the Bendix Corp., I instantly connected with her.
That was in Gainesville in 2016. She was in a relationship with someone at the time but three years later, she was available and we started dating. Two years into the relationship I retired from my job of 30 years as a primary care physician for the State of Florida. I always wanted to live on the coast with a water view and now I was free to pursue this dream. Even better, a water view across from the space center.
Coincidentally Connie was thinking of moving back to Titusville to help watch over her aging mother. She, too, is a physician and works as a medical director for a large insurance company. The fact that she worked from home made relocating much easier. Neither of us was comfortable living on the ocean shore, but we were good with living somewhere on the mainland along the Indian River.
Arriving in Titusville for the first time, I noted the entry sign with the words: Nature, History, Space. We wanted to take advantage of all three.
At first, we looked at condominiums and actually got into negotiations over one in Titusville but then, COVID hit. Not knowing what the impact would be on the real estate market, we pulled back to see what would happen. As it turned out, the world did not collapse and we resumed our search; however, this time we started thinking of a house or a lot to build on.
We looked as far south as Cocoa since the only riverfront home on the market in Titusville was a beautiful for-sale-by-owner in the historic area. But with four bedrooms and four baths it was really more house than we were looking for plus it had a pool we felt we didn’t need. The fact the master bedroom was upstairs was another negative. Yet it had one major thing going for it, it was situated on the bank of the Indian River and had a direct drop-dead gorgeous view of both the river and the Kennedy Space Center.
Surprisingly, we discovered this home was owned by a Betty Hopkins Eigenmann, a former classmate of Connie’s from Astronaut High School. When we went to look at it, Betty’s first words alluded to the fact that Connie had edged her out for freshman homecoming princess in 1973. I have to mention that Connie went on to be chosen homecoming queen of Astronaut High School, class of ‘77. Fortunately, Betty did not hold a grudge and agreed to sell us the place. We closed in August 2020.
As part of our agreement, Betty stayed in the house for up to nine months while her new home was being built just down the road and while we were getting our Gainesville move in order. This also gave us a lot of time to think about what we wanted to do with the house. It quickly became evident that what we thought was too much was, in fact, not enough.
LONG LIST OF PROJECTS
Our list of desirable additions included: rebuilding the undersized seawall; adding a backup solar power system with battery storage; burying the unsightly power lines leading from the street to the house; renovating the kitchen; overhauling the driveway and landscaping; and adding a conservatory.
As for the house itself, we needed to create the space we wanted by a combination of renovation and addition while preserving as much of the original house as possible. This included setting up a master bedroom suite downstairs. But even more challenging would be that, because Connie and I are dedicated ballroom dancers, we wanted to have a ballroom. Fitting such a room into a 3,500-square-foot, two-story house that is almost 120 years old would not be easy.
Renovations and additions would certainly not be new to the property. It was Alfred W. Lee who immigrated from England with his Scottish wife and built the original structure out of Merritt Island pine about 1904 in a style known as Frame Vernacular. It had two stories with a third-floor attic and wide wrap-around porches.
There was a windmill, a water tower and, in 1915, a detached tinsmith shop was added to the property. In the 1920s, Dr. Dallas Adams, who had a medical office in town, purchased the house and moved in with his wife and children. No significant alterations were made during his ownership.
In 1948 the house was sold to Clarence Richard “Daddy Mac” McCotter Sr. who owned the local Ford dealership. He closed off interior access to the second floor and added outside stairs so that level could be used as an apartment. Most of the exterior wraparound porches were enclosed and a 400-square-foot room was added to the southeast corner of the house possibly sometime in the ‘70s.
Betty and Conrad Eigenmann acquired the property in 1995 and reestablished interior access to the second floor with a central staircase and had the exterior stairs removed. They also added a built-in pool and a three and a half car detached garage. Now it would be our turn.
We will be taking our stewardship seriously as we recognize the need to balance modernization with preservation. In fact, we wish to make the house an homage to the late Victorian era by drawing from decor and landscaping ideas that were popular during that time. We invite everyone to follow us on our journey.
I am originally from Canada but was raised in South Florida. I received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida and trained in medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. I am board certified in Internal Medicine and Wound Care and spent the majority of my medical career doing primary care at a state run facility in Gainesville, FL. I am now retired.