Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
The Raney House Museum is a Greek-revival style home built in 1838 that is filled with Florida history. It is owned by the City of Apalachicola and operated by the Apalachicola Area Historical Society.
“Heart pine,” the gentleman in the rocking chair declared. “Do you know about heart pine?”
I nodded. “Isn’t it supposed to be really strong and long wearing?”
“And - it’s explosive!” he left that statement to hang in the air.
“You see this house was originally one of three in a row facing the river. When the Union forces came down river and landed here, all three houses were flying the flag of the Confederacy, not the crossed stars and bars, that was the battle flag, but this flag with red and white stripes and the stars of the seven original Confederate states.”
“Well, the officer in charge of the Union forces ordered the houses to be burned, so they set fire to the first one and as it was burning there was a tremendous explosion as the resin in that heart pine heated and blew up. It set the second house on fire and it burned and exploded, but you know why this one didn’t burn?”
By now I’m sitting in the other rocking chair next to him, hanging on every word.
“Because that Union officer was an army officer and he was tired of living on a boat. He decided this house would make a fine headquarters so he had the fires put out before they could burn this house and that’s why we still have it today.”
I was still absorbing that tale when Don Gay, tour guide for Raney House Museum in Apalachicola launched into more Northwest Florida facts and stories of the Raney family and the beautiful Greek-revival style house they built in 1838 with money made in the cotton trade.
David Greenway Raney and his bride Harriet were Virginians who came to this port city in 1834. By 1836, steamboats carrying manufactured goods to upriver towns and plantations and returning with cotton destined for mills in New England and Europe had made Apalachicola the third largest cotton port on the gulf coast.
Raney was a cotton broker and, like his contemporary and neighbor Thomas Orman who built the nearby Orman House, made his fortune in the cotton trade. He also served two terms as mayor of Apalachicola, promoted a short-lived race track, and brought traveling theatrical companies to town by providing a theatre for performances.
David and Harriet Raney had five daughters, and three sons who served in the Confederacy. After the war, their son George Raney returned to Apalachicola to practice law and was later elected to the state legislature and served as both Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
Today the house is a Northwest Florida museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a home for a southern businessman’s family, the Raney House Museum serves as a gathering place for the Raney descendants’ family reunions and as a repository of 19th Century artifacts andNorthwest Florida history.
Beginning with the front porch, note the four elegant, tapering columns, each made from a single cypress tree. The portico was a later Greek-revival add-on to what was originally a plain, Federal style town house.
Two floors are open for public viewing, each room displaying items that reflect a room of the period. Notice the doorknob on the front door as you enter. Don says it’s German silver.
Downstairs is a wide hallway and two rooms, the front parlor and the dining room. The old floors creak as you walk through, but Don says there are no cracks in any walls, a testament to the durability of the heart pine. Upstairs are three beautifully furnished bedrooms, and a hallway displaying Confederate money, documents and weapons. In the master bedroom there is an innovation not usual for the time, an indoor bathroom.
Members of the Raney family lived in the house until 1914. After that it served as a doctor’s office and a boarding house until the City of Apalachicola purchased it in 1973 and established the Raney House Museum.
The Raney House Museum is located at 128 Market Street at the corner of Avenue F in historic downtown Apalachicola. The museum is open Sunday through Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free but donations are happily accepted. For information call 850-653-1700 or visit ApalachicolaHistoricalSociety.org. Oh, and when you see him, say hi to Don for me. He'll be sitting on the front porch rocking and telling tales.