Work underway to repair Haile Homestead's 'Talking Walls'

Patrons visit the Historic Haile Homestead on Oct. 20, 2006. The home is undergoing repairs to its “Talking Walls.”

File photo
Published: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 8:51 p.m.

At the Historic Haile Homestead off Archer Road, the walls actually talk. In almost every room, there is writing on the walls, adding up to more than 12,500 words.

Completed in 1856 by enslaved craftsmen, the 6,200-square-foot homestead stands today as one of the few remaining antebellum homes in North Central Florida.

Recently, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution granted $2,125, which the Historic Haile Homestead Inc. will match, to repair water damage on the walls and ceilings caused by a leaky roof at Haile.

The grant, one of two awarded to nonprofit organizations in Florida, is a part of the DAR's Special Project Grants program, which promotes the mission of the DAR: historic preservation, education and patriotism.

The project at the Haile Homestead falls under historic preservation, said Dot Hope, who was regent of the Gainesville DAR chapter when the grant was awarded and was sponsor of Haile's grant application.

“That's supposed to be what determines whether or not it's going to fly,” Hope said about her sponsorship letter.

To ensure there would be no further damage to Haile's “Talking Walls,” the leaky roof was repaired first, thanks to the $62,000 paid to Ace Remodeling & Roofing by the Alachua Conservation Trust.

Karen Kirkman, president of HHH Inc. explained that the Alachua Conservation Trust “is a much larger, wealthier organization than HHH Inc., plus they are half-owner of the property.”

Now that the roof is repaired, the focus is on repairing water damage to the walls and ceilings to ensure the preservation of the historic writings, said architect and HHH board member Jay Reeves.

Reeves said the restoration process must be done with extra care.

“We've got something that's museum-quality here and it can't just be done by anyone, it has to be done by somebody that knows a lot about plastering and is taking great care,” he said.

Once they begin, the repairs should take about 30 days.

Kirkman said the restoration is extremely important because the homestead is one of a kind.

“We have not heard of another property in the country that has this much writing on the walls,” she said.

The oldest dated writing is from 1859 when 7-year-old Benjamin Haile snuck upstairs into the trunk room and scrawled his name on the wall.

After that, the writing spread to almost every room, from the closet to the music room, and the content includes shopping lists, wise sayings, agricultural records, lists of party guests, old-time prescriptions and recipes.

“When you stand there in front of the wall that someone's written on, you're standing in the same exact spot where they stood,” said Kirkman.

The Historic Haile Homestead is open for tours on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. During the week, special tours can be arranged for larger groups.

Kirkman said the restoration will not affect tours.

Hope and Kirkman agreed that the tour is about more than just the homestead.

“It's not just the house, it's the family and the way they contributed to the history of this area,” Hope said.

The Historic Haile Homestead is located three miles west of I-75 at 8500 SW Archer Road.

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