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Green Gables | Photo © 2017 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Green Gables

Location Class:
Built: 1896 | Abandoned: 2004
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (May 18, 2016)
Status: AbandonedEndangered
Photojournalist: David Bulit

William Twining Wells, Inventor

Green Gables, also known as the Wells House, is a historic house built by William T. Wells in Melbourne along the Indian River. William Twining Wells was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6th, 1854. He attended the School of Mines of Columbia University where he studied metallurgy. W. T. Wells became well known as the inventor and developer of the Wells process of rustless iron and his subsequent company, the Wells Rustless Iron Company.

Rustless iron is a form of wrought iron that has been chemically treated while in the furnace, coating the iron and preventing rust from developing. Rustless iron was advertised as suitable for drinking water plumbing due to its ability to prevent rust with fresh and saltwater. Wells manufactured this iron from his foundry in Little Ferry, New Jersey, with business offices in New Jersey. The foundry however was destroyed in a fire in July 1895. Although the loss was estimated to be $13,000, the business still thrived.

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William T. Wells

He later married Nora Stanford, and they had three children together. Nora was the eldest daughter of Senator Charles Stanford and niece of Leland Stanford who founded Stanford University and was the Governor of California during the Civil War, United States senator of California, and President of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad.

Nora tended to get pneumonia, so the Wells family ventured to find a winter home in a much better climate for Nora’s health. After traveling across the state of Florida, they chose Melbourne as the most desirable for its friendly residents, several outdoor activities, wonderful fishing along the river, and most importantly, an improvement in Nora’s health. A property consisting of 150 acres was purchased and the Wells family began construction on their winter home, Green Gables, which was completed in 1896.

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Nora Stanford

Green Gables

Constructed by Baker and Bell, Green Gables was initially designed in the American Foursquare style and modified multiple times. It is said that the home was wired for electricity at the time of its construction, long before electricity was available in Melbourne, and powered with a generator driven by an artesian well. The house was also the first in Melbourne to have an indoor bathroom. The largest modifications to the home were done before 1910, and include probably its most notable feature, the octagonal tower, and porch.

The home was expanded to include a bathroom on the second floor between the two southern bedrooms. Another bathroom was added on the north side and the resulting space underneath was turned into a porch. These initial expansions were what turned the American Foursquare-style house into a Queen Anne-styled house. There were many additions made to the house in later years, such as a laundry room and pantry near the kitchen. In the 1950s, a mother-in-law suite was added to the back of the house and the living room was expanded.

A picture of the original house as it appeared in October of 1897. Staff is getting the house ready for the arrival of the family for the winter. greengables.org
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This image shows the addition on the right. 1898. greengables.org
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This image shows the house with the additions including the round turret and the circular veranda. Later another bay window would be added to the upstairs bedroom on the left. 1901. greengables.org

Wells’ Contributions to Melbourne

During his lifetime, Wells was one of the most prominent men in Melbourne, not only due to his fortune but also due to his contributions to society. When Green Gables was constructed, it was isolated from the rest of the town and the only streets at the time were one of two blocks situated around the old Carleton Hotel. Wells decided to construct roads leading from his house in each direction and then donated them to the town. There was no suitable school at the time either, so there was one built known as Educational Hall. He employed Professor Winters from Deland and invited other children in the town to attend the school as well.

Interest in Chautauqua was on the rise, a movement consisting of adult education events with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers, and specialists, with the first Chautauqua being held in the town church. As it grew, Wells allowed the use of the Educational Hall and later, built the town’s first auditorium which could hold up to a thousand people and was described as having “perfect acoustics”. Wells was the Vice-President of Chautauqua and became its President in 1907.

In the 1920s, he donated a 30-acre tract of land to the city of Melbourne for a park, now named Wells Park. Something to note, W. T. Wells also owned a pineapple plantation on the east side of the river, now known today as Wells Point. He also loaned money for the construction of the Melbourne Public Library and oversaw its construction.

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Postcard for the Carleton Hotel in Melbourne, Fla.

Death and Family Legacy

His health began to decline until he passed away on July 6, 1930, at the age of 75. Nora lived there for another three years until her passing on October 2, 1933. Both are buried at the family plot in Bolton, New York.

After Nora’s death, their son Stanford Wells took up residence at Green Gables with his newlywed wife, Pearl Mitchell Lyman. Pearl’s first husband, Louis Atwater Lyman, also died in 1933 with whom she had three daughters; Lois, Gladys, and Katherine. After Stanford and Pearl’s deaths in 1971, their daughter Gladys would take up residence in the home. Something interesting to note, Stanford Wells has two grave plots. Although he is buried in Melbourne along with his wife, he has a second gravestone at the family plot in Bolton alongside his parents.

Currently owned by descendants of W. T. Wells, no one has occupied the home since 2004 when the house sustained severe damage during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Green Gables at Historic Riverview Inc. was formed in 2010 in hopes of preventing further deterioration of the home, protecting the home from demolition, and restoring the home to be used as a community event venue. Since their formation, they have repaired the roof, cleared overgrowth around the home, secured doors and windows, and treated the home for termites and other pests.

In June 2014, the city of Melbourne issued a demolition permit allowing the owners to demolish the house. In April 2015, Green Gables at Historic Riverview Inc. struck a deal with the owners allowing them to purchase the home if they raised $800,000 by December 31, 2017, and preventing its destruction at least until then.

On May 18, 2016, Green Gables was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On May 23, 2018, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the home was included on its ’11 to Save’ list. The preservation group has spent years raising funds to purchase the house from the current owners and has been struggling to raise those funds before it is sold off to a developer.

In June 2020, it was announced that the preservation group had met its fundraising goal of $221,775, allowing them to submit a grant application for $482,500 to the Florida Department of State, Historical Division of Resources. Once approved by Governor DeSantis, funds may be released to the group by July 2021, which will allow the nonprofit to close on its purchase of the historic home and begin work on restoration.

Author’s Note: Photos here were obtained with the permission of John Daly of the Green Gables at Historic Riverview Inc.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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