GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Just across the street from Spring Park sits a house included in the 1991 National Register of Historic Places for Green Cove Springs. The house dates back to 1887, and it’s …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Just across the street from Spring Park sits a house included in the 1991 National Register of Historic Places for Green Cove Springs. The house dates back to 1887, and it’s where Judge Thomas Judson Rivers called home.
Rivers was a city lawyer, judge and a prominent figure in early Green Cove Springs. He passed away in 1992 and is buried with his wife in Hickory Cemetery. His descendant, Thomas Rivers II, sold the house to the city in 2020.
Located at 219 Spring St., the house is a snapshot of the classical Victorian architecture style that defined early life in the city. The sprawling front porch is characteristic of southern homes built in a time period before air conditioning. For a building 135 years old, the house is in remarkable condition. The structure has survived hurricanes and floods – but its closest call came from City Council last July.
The council was concerned with the financial costs needed to preserve and restore the building properly. The council had leaned the other direction, opting instead to demolish the house and pave a parking lot over where it once stood, said Lesley Davidson.
In response, Davidson, who contributed to the 2021 Citizen’s Advisory Committee decision that recommended preserving the structure, took to the podium at a City Hall meeting.
“On Aug. 1, I stood before council with my five-part proposal to spearhead the restoration of the house,” she said. “If we continue to knock down historic buildings and erase our past, Green Cove Springs will lose its charm and become just a passthrough on the way from (Interstate) 295 to the new First Coast Outer Beltway. This is why I am championing the restoration and protection of the Rivers house,” she said.
Davidson also offered to purchase the house from the city.
The next day, Mayor Connie Butler called Davidson to accept the proposal to volunteer her time to preserve the historic site without Davidson having to buy it. Davidson has more than 30 years of experience as a civil and structural engineer.
On Oct. 6 and 9, Friends of the River House, the organization dedicated to preserving the building, held a landscaping clean-up day.
“The city public works department has also stripped the deck railing, shutters, fascia boards, trim and areas of siding from the building, and stripped paint. I understand that this was done to possibly paint the structure, but they did not repair or protect the structure. The Friends of the Rivers House are interested in cleaning up and decorating the house for the holidays while renovation bids are being sought,” she said.
The CAC offered ideas for uses for the property once renovated: a museum, vendor-leased park café, city office, leasable venue space, and more, among others. “The potential is limitless,” Davidson said.
She took inspiration from “The Magnificent Seven,” the forerunners of the preservationist movement in historic Savannah, Georgia.
“Anna Colquitt Hunter gathered six of her friends to stop the demolition of historic houses, most notably the Davenport House, and created the Historic Savannah Foundation, which saved the city. The Magnificent Seven started a movement. And I, and friends of the Rivers House, want to start a movement too,” Davidson said. “I want to save the Gustafson House next. Now that the council supports us, we are very hopeful!"
On Oct. 19, Public Information Officer Tiffanie Kelly responded that the council's official position has never been to demolish the building.
“Since the Rivers House was purchased in 2019, it has been the City Council’s goal to bring the house up to code and convert it for a public use that both residents and visitors can enjoy. The City is currently in the process of assessing what needs to be done to keep the house and is creating a timeline on the work needed to make the Rivers House a point of pride in Spring Park. We’re grateful for the assistance of passionate residents like Lesley Davidson and others who share the City’s goal of transforming the Rivers House into a place for everyone to enjoy," said Kelly.