The Wood family owns the land past the Old Store and up the hill in Evinston.
Evinston is a quiet town, but if that land could talk, it would have plenty to say. It’s seen pecans and oranges, cows and dogs, grandkids and more grandkids. It’s seen the start of new lives and the end of others, sometimes too soon. It’s seen hurricanes and weddings and the old railroad that used to run in front of it. The 42-acre estate has seen every moment of the town’s development.
But on the Woods’ land is the only other thing in the town that is as constant and permanent as the land itself: the white house with the columns on top of the hill. And that house belongs to Ashley Wood, the man who’s promised to spend his retirement restoring it.
“It’s been an effort,” Wood, 68, said. He retired six years ago and has been working on the house for the last five.
The house is the oldest home in Evinston. It was built in the 1880s when William Drayton Evins, a captain who served in the Confederate States Army, moved his family to Evinston from South Carolina to start a new life. It took two years and $2,000 to build. Evins became the founder of Evinston, having surveyed the land when it was just Florida brush. Evins had sons, but all of them died, so the home and the land took on the Wood name when Evins’ daughter, Anna Chapman Evins, married Henry Deaver Wood.
Even the furniture inside has significance. China cabinets and tables are original to the family’s first trip from South Carolina, and a framed photograph of William Drayton Evins hangs over the fireplace in the library. Upstairs sits a 180-year-old cradle that Wood said rocked all his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Things have changed in the last 100 years. The kitchen used to be in a building separate from the house to prevent fires, and the only bathroom on-site was an outhouse in the backyard. The old dining room has since been converted to a modern kitchen, and one of the downstairs bedrooms is the new dining room. For all five bedrooms there is only one bathroom, a modern, indoor one rather than an outhouse, and it’s made from what used to be an outdoor porch.
Wood has done almost all the work on the house himself, with the exception of the electricity, the roof and some of the porch work. He said this has helped keep the cost of the project relatively low. He’s spent between $70,000 and $100,000 so far, but if he hired more people to do the work for him, he estimates the total cost would have been closer to $150,000.
“As long as I’m able, I’ll continue to work on (this house),” he said.
It hasn’t been easy restoring the home. Wood said about 15 percent of the siding needed to be replaced, and the whole house needed a coat of paint. The house was also not well insulated, so he caulked the entire building. He estimates 250 gallons of paint and 400 tubes of caulk have been used so far. The entire porch ceiling had to be replaced because it was sagging.
“You talk about a neck ache, good grief,” he said.
Wood said he rented a lift from a friend to paint the house, and he enjoyed taking people up in it to see the scenery around the home.
“I’d lift it up, and then I’d turn around and look just for a while, and it was so beautiful,” he said.
Wood said the house isn’t done yet. It still needs a new ceiling in the dining room, an extension on the porch, paint in two of the upstairs bedrooms and a couple more years of restoration on the inside.
“It’s like a painting,” he said. “When you paint, where do you stop?”
Wood currently lives in a house on the same property that has more modern amenities, such as a swimming pool and additional bathrooms. But he said he would move back into the old home if one of his children wanted to move into his current home on the property.
“Would I swap this for that? I’m not sure,” he said. “But I certainly will make this the family home and represent it as a real beautiful place that people come to.’’
Wood said he will always remember the home as a place where the family gathered every Thanksgiving. While his father was alive, the Wood family also held Christmas parties there.
“I’m surprised that some of us got home after the amount of champagne that was drunk,” he said.
Fred Wood, Ashley Wood’s older brother, remembers his mother when he thinks of the old family home.
“She was a big influence on my life,” he said. “She was a deeply religious person and would carry us to Sunday school and church; of course, the little church wasn’t far from where the house was.”
He said he’s happy his brother is taking the time to preserve this piece of family history.
“I’m just glad to see him restoring it,” he said. “It’ll be a gem for future generations.”
The Wood home has significance for the whole community of Evinston, not just the family that’s occupied it for more than a century. Artists have come to capture the beauty of the house and its grounds in their own paintings during “Plein Air Paintout,” an event that sells paintings to raise money for preserving the historic Wood and Swink General Store. Two dinners were held at the home for the artists during the event. The site has also held weddings and receptions for the Wood family and friends.
Kay Richardson, an Evinston resident and a member of one of the other first families to come to Evinston, said he doesn’t think the old historic homes in the town are the most significant part.
“It was really more the people that made this town than the houses,” he said.