2017-08-01 / Features

IF THIS OLD HOUSE could talk

By Barbara Udit
President of GBAHS

A red brick ranch is rarely noticed by the thousands of people who travel Hwy. 98 through Gulf Breeze. It is nestled behind a gas station and an overgrown parcel of land. So, why is this modest home the topic of many recent news articles and conversations among local residents?

Even though a World War II military housing unit lies beneath the brick in the center portion of the house, it is more the people who lived in the house who deserve mention and respect. The house was the residence of one of the founding families of Gulf Breeze -- Mark X. and E. Louise Benson.

After Mrs. Benson’s passing in 2006 (Mr. Benson died several years earlier), the house, property and a cash donation were made to the Gulf Breeze Area Historical Society in 2007. Her last will and testament states: The purpose of this bequest is to establish and maintain a public museum to be known as the Mark X. and E. Louise Benson Museum for display of the buildings located at the time of my death on said property as exhibits of Gulf Breeze architecture, culture and Gulf Breeze history, and for the display therein of historical artifacts pertaining to the history of Gulf Breeze for educational purposes and for the benefit of the general public.

Some work was begun after that, but, basically, the house sat dormant for over 10 years, until interest was reignited. The current board and members of the GBAHS are focused on honoring Mrs. Benson’s will and taking steps to create the Mark X. and E. Louise Benson Museum.

It is exciting to enter this modest home and see how simply the Bensons lived. It is obvious that they did not spend much on luxury living for themselves, allowing them to be so overwhelmingly generous to the city and area they helped to settle and develop.

Mrs. Benson left a condominium to a pastor, $2,000 to a niece, $10,000 to the Gulf Breeze Fire Department and $10,000 to the Gulf Breeze Police Department, expressing her gratitude for the help and kindness and prompt response to her and her late husband’s needs. Then $30,000 was left to a children’s home and $30,000 to a small church of Gulf Breeze. Another church in Gulf Breeze received ownership of a lot in Sandy Cove. The largest donation -- several commercial and residential properties -- went to a Gulf Breeze church that the Bensons founded. These properties were eventually sold.

So, why save the Benson House? A grass roots effort has begun to honor this amazing, hard-working couple who gave so much of their lives to the city they loved. The name of our city was chosen by Mr. Benson when he started the fi rst post office and was the first postmaster. We hope to honor the Benson’s will and someday soon the Mark X. and E. Louise Benson Museum will become a destination for many Hwy. 98 travelers.

Editor’s note: The purpose of this story is to introduce both area residents and visitors to the enthusiasm and interest members of GBAHS have in the history of this area. Subsequent stories, to be provided by members of the organization for Splash! magazine, will focus attention on people and events who have shaped Gulf Breeze and neighboring communities through the years.

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