BARTOW, Fla. – Polk county’s capital city of Bartow is home to one of Central Florida’s most historic homes, the L.B. Brown House, which was constructed in 1892 by self-taught master carpenter Lawrence Bernard Brown.
Born into slavery in 1856, Brown is considered one of the state’s greatest Floridians for his later accomplishments.
“Mr. Brown being born in slavery meant he was not allowed to learn how to read and write. So, he was largely self-taught,” Clifton Lewis, president of Neighborhood Improvement Corporation in Bartow, said.
Despite his limited education Brown progressed to become Polk County’s richest man of color during the late 1800s as builder and developer.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Brown worked as a carpenter constructing homes in Alachua County as well as Volusia county.
"He built some homes to start up communities,” Lewis said.
Brown also built his family home, a 9-room Victorian house where he lived with his wife, AnnieBelle, and seven children. That house still stands today thanks to history enthusiasts including Lewis. The home is a Florida historic landmark.
“It was very important for us to preserve this house so that this generation and future generations would know that along with the suffering and everything that the blacks went through, they achieved much,” Lewis said.
Lewis, 77, said he learned about the house more than 25 years ago and in 1999 prevented its demolition. Instead of being torn down, the house was restored. It took 4 years starting in 1999 and about $600,000 to bring it back to life.
Many details in the L.B. Brown House remain original including screen doors, the veranda wrap around porch on the second floor and several mirrors built into the walls that were cut by Brown himself.
Visitors enter the house near a parlor room and then move into a sitting room. Inside the kitchen, several items are on display to showcase how they lived during that late 1800s and early 1900s.
The 1892 house was built with plaster and sits on 18 tree stumps. It’s a Central Florida treasure that Lewis hopes will stand long after he’s gone.
“I’m 77 years old and I’m one of the youngest in our board and other than passing interest, it’s very difficult for us to find 40 and 50-year-olds who are really interested in the history of the house,” he said. “If we could just find individuals who love history to keep this going.”