Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 8, 2019 1:47 p.m.
The Lesesne House (pronounced Le Sane) is a centerpiece of Centre Street in downtown Fernandina Beach, FL. Located at the corner of Centre and North 5th Streets, it sits opposite the historic Nassau County Courthouse. Many visitors mistake it for a bed-and-breakfast inn or a commercial property, but it remains the last of a series of grand residences that once lined Centre Street west of the Golden Age’s bustling commercial district.
A Florida State Historical Marker attests to the house’s significance.
This antebellum, Greek Revival style residence dates from around 1856-1860. It was built by Dr. John F. Lesesne, who did not survive the Civil War. It was inherited by his 13 year-old daughter, whose estate sold the house to Judge John Friend for $3,000 in 1868. It has remained in the same family to this day.
John Friend emigrated from Germany at the age of 22 in 1846. He established a law practice in Ohio in 1855. Appointed Tax Commissioner by President Andrew Johnson to sort out property claims after the Civil War, he moved to Fernandina in 1865, where he later served as Nassau County Judge until his death in 1878, at which time he was a state senator elect.
Judge Friend’s daughter Bertha married Charles Angel. Both families were associated with the Angel & Friend Bakery at the northwest corner of Centre and 3rd Streets, where Robison’s Jewelry is currently located. The property passed in turn to their daughter Otilia Angel Starke; granddaughter Angel Starke Davis; and great granddaughter Marie Louise Davis Chaplin. It is currently owned by a great great granddaughter, Jennifer Whitmire.
The house has been called a classical, or Greek, revival because of its columns and the double galleried porches. The boxed columns were cut from single timbers. The construction was post and beam with mortise and tenon joinery: no nails were used. The house lost its roof but otherwise survived the 1898 Hurricane, a category 4 storm by today’s standards, that left a boat at the intersection of 4th and Centre Streets in its wake.
The house was timber framed and originally had two rooms on the main floor and two above. The front porch wrapped around the west side and was later enclosed to serve as Judge Friend’s office. Later it became a dining room.
The original kitchen was in a free standing building behind the house, along with a carriage house.
The house has been extensively documented in the Historic American Building Survey (HABS FL-357) housed in the Library of Congress and available on their website.
The Lesesne House is probably the oldest continuously inhabited house in Fernandina Beach. It is the last residence on Centre Street, once the site of many between 5th and 8th Streets. It is said to be the only post and beam house remaining on the island.
The bricks used in the front walk were allegedly made by Lesesne family slaves.
Property at one time owned by the family west of the house once contained an olive grove. It was sold off at one time for a hotel that was never built. However, that property became the site of the U.S. Post Office, Customs House and Federal Courthouse — today’s historic Post Office Building.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.