Furman E. Williams built the Williams-LeRoy house beginning in 1898. He completed the home in 1902. The families associated with this home are deeply embedded within the origins of Alachua, one of Florida’s oldest inhabited inland pioneer settlements.
Furman E. Williams, along with his brothers, played a major role in establishing the town of Alachua. His nephew, Henry N. LeRoy became an important businessman and local politician.
The Williams brothers found themselves with sizable portions of land in “the district of Elochaway” in the 1860s. Furman owned land where the new railroad established a depot in the 1880s. As people flocked to the depot, Williams sold off his land in one acre plots, keeping the best for his own businesses, which ranged everywhere from phosphate mining to a general store to the Bank of Alachua.
Ida, Furman Williams’ future wife, moved to Alachua around 1866 from Kentucky. Ida was raising her 5 year old nephew, Henry LeRoy, as the boy had been orphaned as a toddler. By the turn of the century, Furman and Ida Williams had married, and the couple began constructing their grand new home near the center of town, first appearing on the tax rolls in 1902. Along with Furman Smith, another nephew raised by Mr. Williams, Henry LeRoy and the Williams’ family moved into their new Queen Anne Victorian home along with the William’s family servant, Candacy Wilson, a fifty-year-old widow.
While constructing the house, Williams had one huge ancient tree on his Newnansville property felled and milled for much of the heartwood pine used to construct the front lobby and grand staircase. The same wood remains in the home today.
People noticed the manor for its outstanding architecture even then. A 1903 report titled “Southern Industry ” stated, “The private residences of Alachua are among the best in the county and those of Mr. Williams, among others, have acetylene gas, water works, etc.”
Furman Williams suddenly died in 1905, the year of the home’s completion. On Friday, February 3 The Gainesville Daily Sun reported, “…F.E. Williams, a good man of Alachua, and leading citizen, passed away Thursday at his home in Alachua at 11:30 (AM). Deceased was one of the most widely known men in this section, if not the entire county. He was one of the leading businessmen and most enterprising spirits of this county, and the loss will be heavily felt. He was possessed of a gentle,Christian disposition and had many friends throughout the country. The funeral will be held from the residence Saturday morning at 9 o’clock, and the interment will be in Newnansville Cemetery. Friends of family invited.” In the cemetery, near the historical marker for the Newnansville Methodist Church, one can still read the epithet on Furman William’s grave:
Living he made the poor man’s heart glad And at his death the sorrowing ones more sad. Fortunately good news soon returned to the Williams’ household as in June, 1905 Henry Leroy and Eliza Dell announced their marriage.
The Gainesville Daily Sun reported that “The groom is one of Alachua’s leading young men.
He is a nephew of Mrs. F.E. Williams and a member of the firm of Williams Company. He is regarded very highly as a businessman and is destined to become quite prominent in business circles. The bride is one of Gainesville’s most popular young ladies. She is a general social favorite and will be greatly missed among the young people… The Sun, with other friends, extends congratulations.” In 1912, the young couple welcomed the arrival of their baby daughter, Blanche, who Mrs. Williams considered like a granddaughter.
Though as a young man Henry worked in his Uncle Furman’s mercantile business, after he passed away Henry became a stockholder, running the William’s Company along with Jack Williams, Furman’ s brother. Along with general merchandise, Mr. LeRoy business interests included farming and real estate properties. In 1921, he became active in his uncle’ s old bank, the Bank of Alachua, taking on responsibilities as vice-president. He served as Mayor of Alachua for four terms, continuing on as city commissioner into the 1930s.
Henry’s wife Eliza was known as a fashionable and active social member of the community, though her daughter Blanche was considered reserved and quiet. As a child, Blanche enjoyed playing in a backyard playhouse that was built as an exact scale replica of the Williams’ home. Later, when the home’s outdoor kitchen burnt down, the Leroy’s became concerned the playhouse could be a fire hazard as well, and had it dismantled.
Across the street, where the present Alachua Woman’s Club now stands, sometimes a travelling fair would set up it’s tents while parading trained circus animals up and down Main Street after arriving at the railroad depot. From the windows of her home’s third story tower, Blanche and her friends were also known to tease the young men of Alachua back in the days when Main Street was a dirt road.
Though she never married, Blanche did become involved in her father’s insurance agency. After Mr. LeRoy passed away in 1969, Daurice Bohannon, a close friend of the family, moved in to help Blanche take care of her father’s various business affairs. Daurice, who was also an insurance agent, had previously been married to C. B. Bohannon, a mayor of Gainesville and city commissioner during the 1950s. Some say it was after Mr. Bohannon took one too many business trips to Jacksonville that the couple went their separate ways.
Blanche and Daurice continued to run Mr. LeRoy’s old insurance agency through the 1970s. Blanche passed away in 1989, while Daurice lived in the house a while longer, passing away in 1996. The home was left to Daurice’s niece and husband, Joan and George Sterovich, who sold the home in 1998.
Today, the home is a premier wedding and event venue for the Alachua area and beyond. The home’s historical beauty remains as a testimony to the past, and sign of endurance to the present.