|Contact name||Randy Heimos|
|Home area||3,064 sqft|
|Lot Area||0.86 acres|
Step into the Emery House and step back to a time when everything was rosy and optimistic. Big bands were playing popular tunes. Folks were doing the Charleston – and drinking bathtub gin. You’re transported back to 1925 – the year the Emery House was completed – and an unsuspecting country enjoyed the carefree good life before being hit with the Great Depression.
Charles Emery came to Howey in 1924 after retiring from McNeil and Libby in Chicago – the forerunner of Libby Foods. He soon met the town’s founder and namesake – William J. Howey – and became an early investor in what was to become Howey’s citrus empire. On Oct. 3 of that year Emery bought 36 1/2 acres that became known as the Emery Heights subdivision. Three days later he bought an 18-acre citrus grove and on Oct. 18 he bought the three lots on which the Emery House now stands.
Construction started immediately and was finished in November of the following year – a year before W.J. Howey completed his more famous mansion.
With the exception of golf, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment in town so Emery helped form a men’s poker club. And the “poker widows” subsequently founded their own club. A notorious party giver, you can imagine Emery and his family entertaining guests here.
The house stayed in the Emery family until 1969 when it was sold to Frank and Violet Dix. The Dix family lived here for the next 20 years, eventually selling the home, which had fallen into disrepair, to Jack Cunningham in 1992.
Jack Cunningham used to work on restoring some of the magnificent mansions of Palm Beach – homes belonging to familiar movers and shakers of the past like du Pont, Vanderbilt, Wanamaker and Annenberg. Soon after “retiring” to central Florida in 1991, Cunningham (possibly in need of a hobby) bought this former home of one of Howey’s original settlers. He then worked on painstakingly going over almost every “nook and cranny” while restoring the 3,800-plus-square-foot house to near original condition over the following eight years.
The Emery House was built in typical Florida cracker architectural style to accommodate the furniture the family owned. It’s a three-bedroom home, with two bathrooms. The living room is large, as is the dining room. According to Cunningham the kitchen’s many cabinets were unusual for the time period, as was the generous closet space. “I like the nice roomy atmosphere,” he said. “And I love the old, old floors. I love the wrap-around porch. I like the fact it’s plastered and has cork insulation.”
The two-inch thick insulation did a good job of keeping the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and Cunningham said he was only uncomfortable working during some of the most humid summer days. The home’s 10′ high ceilings and 44 windows also helped bring in the cool lake breezes and plenty of sunlight.
Cunningham said plenty of care was taken in the design of the house, with virtually no wasted space – with plenty of interesting features and quality workmanship everywhere. In addition to the shower in the basement, Emery also had a locked liquor storage room. “It was typical of that period and people with money,” said Cunningham. The house has the original light fixtures and an original heat lamp with bulbs is still in the back bathroom.
At the age of 75, Jack Cunningham decided that he had done his part and it was time to sell the house to someone who would once again make it a home. Our family bought the house from Jack in 2000. Besides lovingly maintaining it, with a great deal of respect for the past, we have made some necessary improvements and upgrades since then. We added a central air conditioning system with heat pump and modernized/upgraded the original 1925 electric service to accommodate it. We also added a 9.156kW ground mounted Sunpower solar array to cover most (sometimes all) of our electricity usage. We added modern appliances. We added ceiling fans and windows with screens to the wonderful wrap around front porch so we could enjoy it year round. Finally, we had the driveway and walkways covered with paver bricks and added a gathering area with a gazebo in the rear yard.
The house has a front porch on the first floor that wraps around one side. You enter a large living room from the porch through either of two sets of original french doors. A formal dining room is accessible through a set of french doors off the living room or through a swinging door from the kitchen. The front bedroom is off of the living room and it has a 2nd door at the back of it leading to the main bathroom. From the main bathroom, there is a hall leading to the kitchen and another hall leading to the back bedroom and the master bedroom. The master bedroom has an attached sun room with a set of french doors in between them and another door which leads to the back bathroom. The back bedroom also has a door to the back bathroom. See the attached main floor layout for the general locations of these rooms but be aware that it is an approximation and not to scale. The upstairs is one large room with about 1100 sf that we use as a library and a small movie theater, there are four doors up here that open to a large cedar storage closet and other attic storage areas. The full basement is under the entire length and width of the house, it’s accessible through a door in the kitchen and a set of doors on the outside of the house. The detached garage has a bedroom, a bathroom and an enclosed porch all of which were originally used by the Emery’s servant/cook. Note that the interior square feet of the home (3064) only includes the areas of the main house which are air conditioned and does not include the front porch, the basement, the garage or the bedroom, bathroom and porch that are in the garage building.
Me and my wife have retired and now work in real estate rental, sales and investments, with me being a licensed real estate broker in the state of Florida. Now after 20 years, our children have grown and moved away and we too have found ourselves ready to retire from being the caretakers of the Emery House, making room for a new family to be a part of it’s ongoing history. We’ve just begun the process of getting ready to downsize and have a lot to do, some photos are here and more will be added as we progress.
Howey in the Hills is somewhat secluded from, yet convenient to, the best of Orlando’s attractions and both Florida coasts. It’s a small, quiet, safe and well-kept community on the shore of Little Lake Harris with gently rolling hills in the center of Lake County and the state. Lake County has the highest elevations on the Florida Peninsula and is a natural eco-tourism destination with recreation areas, fishing, boating, golf and a wide variety of other outdoor activities nearby. Lots of info is available online regarding the town of Howey in the Hills, the historic Howey mansion and life in Lake County in general, please contact me with any other questions.