Now a shadow of its former self, Melrose Inn remembered fondly

Originally built in the 1880s, the rundown structure is now for sale


Published: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 8:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 8:40 p.m.

MELROSE — When Roger Buz was just entering his teenage years, he was walking by the Melrose Inn when a woman standing by the door crooked her finger at him.

“I got one piece of pie left,” she told him once he walked over. He can't remember what kind it was, but he remembers it was delicious.

“Two bites and it was gone,” he said. “I inhaled it.”

Behind her, he could see people sitting inside the inn enjoying a nice dinner. He had never been inside the inn himself, although he lived nearby.

“The smell of her apron. That's what I remember,” he said. The scent of lima beans and ham clung to the material.

More than 50 years after he was offered that piece of pie, Buz is overseeing the sale of the inn. An aging building nestled in the historic district of Melrose, the property hasn't been kept up well over the years.

Most of the screens that used to encase the porch are gone and its windows are boarded up.

The vegetation behind the old inn rises up to your knees in some places. A pool in the shape of the state of Florida is obscured by grass and weeds. Inside, the building is dark and dusty.

But the structure of the inn, which was first built in the 1880s and then added onto in the 1920s, is still pretty sound.

With a little imagination, Buz said, you can see the nice place it could once again become.

Buz, now almost 65 and a broker/associate with Century 21 Lakeside Realty in Melrose, has spoken with several people who are interested in potentially buying the property. So far, no one has come forward who is interested in restoring it to its former stature. The property, located at 6010 Centre St. in Melrose, carries a listed price of $49,900.

Alachua County has two liens on the property related to unserviceable vehicles and the accumulation of junk that amount to $2,010 in total, according to information provided by county staff.

Judy MacLaren, president of Historic Melrose Inc., said most people in the community would like to see the inn, which is remembered fondly for its wonderful food, restored.

“We don't have that many old houses to begin with, and those we have we'd like to keep,” she said.

But MacLaren understands that may not happen. She said others in the community who have restored old buildings estimated it would cost around $150,000 at least to restore it.

If the eventual buyer does decide to tear the building down, she hopes they will consider deconstructing it instead of bulldozing the old structure. That way, valuable wood could be saved and used for other preservation projects.

Buz and MacLaren visited the old inn recently, using flashlights to navigate from room to room.

The flashlights revealed an anarchy symbol and other graffiti on a few of the walls, but they also illuminated some of the building's nicer traits. The old columns are still there, and the hardwood floors and thick, wide baseboards remain sturdy and pretty well-preserved.

The wood flooring would clean up real nice, MacLaren said as she wandered through the pitch-black rooms.

“It's an eyesore right now,” she said. But it has potential for someone with the money and passion to restore it.

Reda Robinson LaNinfa, who lives in Gainesville but spent her childhood in Melrose, remembers the inn in its heyday, back in what she considers the small town's “golden era.”

She is 71 years old now but remembers spending time at the inn as a child. Her family owned a grocery store next door.

Robinson's Grocery eventually burned down, but back in the '40s and '50s the woman who ran the inn, Bess McGahee Lynn, would buy food from her family's store and give them a discount on dinners at her restaurant in return, she said.

Bess would get up at 5 a.m. to start cooking, she said, and local kids like her older sister would earn pocket money working as waitresses and dishwashers at the inn.

The mashed potatoes were wonderful, she remembers, and Bess would make little cookies and put her thumbprint in the center of them, filling the indentations with guava jelly. Bess, who did all the cooking herself, was famous for her rolls and sometimes decorated her dinner plates with a sprig of parsley.

“Everything was real,” she said. Real butter, real whipped cream, homemade ice cream, homemade salad dressing.

“She had a lot of energy and what she did she did well,” she said. Many of the inn's customers were snowbirds in town for the winter. Fuller Warren, a former governor of Florida, visited the inn once.

Business was drummed up mostly through word-of-mouth, she said. People would come from Gainesville and Palatka to eat there.

Bess also had a couple of long-term boarders at the inn, although it was better known for its food than its lodging. Sometimes they were elderly people who lived there instead of in a nursing home, she said. Bess, a registered nurse, looked after them.

“It breaks my heart to go by it and see it because it's in sad shape,” she said. “It's hard to have remembered it in its heyday and see it like it is. I don't want to go inside.”

It needs to either be restored or torn down because it's an eyesore, she said. She remembers people sitting out on that porch, decades ago, in rocking chairs on nice evenings. No one sits out there anymore.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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