If you haven’t visited the Orman House, and the adjacent Chapman Botanical Gardens, you are missing the blossoming back into life of what has become a sprawling portrait of Apalachicola’s history.
With the early 19th-century house, administered under the auspices of the Florida Park Service, shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Chapman Gardens becoming relatively withered due to inattention, both are now fully reopened and robust again.
Under the guidance of Park Manager Josh Hodson, and Park Rangers Jeromy Roundtree and Tom Fugate, the Orman House is now open three days a week, Thursday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Chapman Gardens never closed. Fugate has been also working at the John Gorrie Museum State Park, but that museum at Sixth Street and Avenue D remains temporarily closed due to staffing issues.
Admission to the Orman House is $2 and a stroll through the well-kept gardens is free. But after visiting both, you’ll want to add a donation because of the wondrous surroundings.
A $40,000 planning grant from the state, written by the late Kevin Begos when he was working as a volunteer at the Orman House, is funding the production of documents and drawings needed
for the next phase in the rehabilitation of the park, that of the servants quarters. The Orman House staff have been able to get valuable oral history with residents of the Hill familiar with the tales of their forebears who worked as slaves for the family of Thomas Orman, a cotton merchant and businessman in Apalachicola from 1834 to the 1880s, who helped the tiny town become one of the Gulf Coasts most important cotton exporting ports by the mid-19th century.
The gazebo at the gardens has been fully rebuilt, and was the scene of a recent wedding. The sidewalks have been restored, the streetlamps are now lit every evening at dusk and everywhere you look there are wildflowers blooming, thanks to the late Debe Beard’s efforts to inspire a group of Florida Master Gardeners who have carried on her work.
An orchard featuring pears and citrus is blooming as well, thanks to the effort of volunteers, who have included Apalachicola massage therapist Kathy Jansen.
In addition, new flagpoles have been erected at the entrance of the gardens, so Old Glory and the Florida state flag now fly proudly.
For more information on the home at 177 Fifth St., visit www.floridastateparks.org and search for Orman House, or call (850) 653-1209.