BREVARD COUNTY — The clock is ticking for one historic home as members of the Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village Inc. work to raise $285,000 to save a vital part of Melbourne’s history.
The nonprofit aims to preserve and restore Green Gables, a historical landmark and green space that, for the last 123 years, has withstood hurricanes and vagrants. Now, Green Gables faces a risk of being demolished if it doesn’t receive the funds needed to purchase the property by April 15.
Green Gables has partnered with nonprofit organization bUneke.org to present a 30-minute documentary that gives meaning to why this historic property needs to stay.
The next showing of “Forgotten Enchantress” is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20 at Intracoastal Brewing Company, 652 W. Eau Gallie Blvd., Melbourne.
Admission is by donation, and there will also be raffle items, a food truck and “Intracoastal bites” available on the menu.
Built by William and Nora Wells in 1896, the Wells were instrumental in the development of Melbourne. They promoted literacy, education, the arts and nature.
Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Wells, the city of Melbourne was generously offered land to build its first library, a high school (which the family also funded the teachers’ salaries), the first Melbourne Theater, and helped relocate Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Mr. Wells also played an important role in bringing the Florida East Coast Railway to Melbourne in 1893.
“I think what people are really getting out of watching the documentary is how important it is to save our old architecture like this, and the importance of having the history of your area documented and kept safe,” said Sue Fallon, vice president of Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village Inc.
“Just having that additional green space along the river, which there isn’t much left, most of it is built up,” she added. “That’s what we’re trying to preserve, not having another tall building there or a gas station.”
Green Gables was built in a Queen Anne-style, and was the first home to have a working indoor bathroom in Melbourne.
Walking along the property, visitors may have the chance to see dolphins and flocks of birds enjoying the beautiful river. Most of the centuries-old oak trees were even planted by Mrs. Nora Wells.
In the last week of January, bUneke’s Creative Director Jennifer East interviewed 96-year-old Rockledge resident Phillip Eschbach to be edited into the “Forgotten Enchantress” documentary.
Mr. Eschbach's interview adds a more personal and colorful touch to the documentary, as he may be one of the last people alive to have met Mr. William Wells.
“He’s a delightful man. I want to be like him when I’m older,” said Mary Brotherton, founder of bUneke.org. “He’s 96, doesn’t use a walker, and he was a fighter pilot in WWII. When he was five, his mom had gone off to nursing school in St. Pete, and he stayed with his grandmother and great uncle.
“His great uncle said one day, ‘We’re going to go talk to Mr. Wells, so come with me, Phillip,’” Mrs. Brotherton continued. “He really didn’t remember a lot, they were probably there about three or four minutes to talk about Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. He talked about how Mr. Wells was in a suit, vest and a tie in the middle of the afternoon.”
Mr. Eschbach’s interview shed light on what life was like 90 years ago in Melbourne, and Mrs. Brotherton added that he remembers a time when fishing in the Indian River produced larger fish.
Green Gables has to date reached $35,950 in pledges and donations of its $285,000 goal. If the nonprofit can reach that, then they will be eligible to receive a matching fund of $500,000 to make the $1M purchase of the home.
In addition to producing the documentary, bUneke had made a $10,000 in-kind donation to Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village.
“If we’re able to go forward and apply for the grant between April and June, we won’t know until September 2020 if we’ve been selected to receive the money,” Mrs. Fallon said.
Visitors are able to take a tour of Green Gables by a costumed docent each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. While visiting the house is free, a donation is suggested.
Students who visit Green Gables as part of a school field trip will learn about what life was like to grow up in the late 1800’s, local history and founding families. Students can even learn to make soap and ice cream, and play games that were common in that time.
Another screening of “Forgotten Enchantress” is scheduled for Friday, March 6 at Green Gables, 1501 S. Harbor City Blvd., Melbourne. A time for the showing has not yet been determined.
For more information, visit www.greengables.org or search for “Green Gables Film” on Facebook.