Nestled within the entertainment district next door to the Old St. Andrews Church, the James E. Merrill House is perhaps the most well-preserved example of Victorian-era Queen Anne style architecture in Northeast Florida and one of Jacksonville’s oldest buildings. But it took a complicated path to earn those titles, including surviving two separate relocations.
The historic house was built in 1879 at 229 Lafayette Street, an address that no longer exists; the site now occupied by VyStar Veterans Arena. It was commissioned by James E. Merrill, a local business owner who would go on to help form the powerful Merrill-Stevens shipbuilding company in the mid-1880s.
In 1886, shortly after the formation of Merrill-Stevens, Merrill added onto his house. The house featured a dozen rooms as well as a tower from which Merrill could view his company’s property along East Bay Street.
The Merrill House accommodated multiple generations of the Merrill family, which included Merrill’s son, James C. Merrill, a four-time city council president who would eventually replace his father as president of Merrill-Stevens. Both the house and Merrill-Stevens’ structures were fortunate enough to be unaffected by the Great Fire of 1901.
The family eventually moved on from the Merrill House after several decades and, following brief stints with other owners, the house was abandoned and in rough shape by the 1990s. The city acquired the house’s property, along with other surrounding properties, as part of preparations to build a new municipal arena on the land.
With demolition or relocation as the building’s only options, the city agreed to convey the structure to Jacksonville Historical Society, which had just completed the restoration of its flagship property, the Old St. Andrew’s Church building. In 2000, the organization relocated the historic house to an empty lot at 311 A. Philip Randolph Boulevard near the church building and initiated renovation efforts to restore the house’s historic details.
Unfortunately, the house’s new land attracted the interest of the city as well, this time as a home for its new baseball park. JHS had to move the building again, opting this time to relocate it to the other side of the church building at 319 A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.
After six years, two relocations, and over $600,000 in renovations, the Merrill House restoration project was completed in 2006. The house’s exterior was fully restored, while its interior was reimagined as an homage to early-1900s living.
Today, the Merrill House Museum remains open – and in the same spot – as a small historic museum and annex building for JHS. Tours of the historic house can be arranged with JHS.