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Horace Drew Mansion | Photo © 2011 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Dr. Horace Drew Mansion

Location Class:
Built: 1909 | Abandoned: 2006
Historic Designation: Historic District
Status: Under Renovation
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Columbus Drew

The story of Dr. Horace Drew and the Drew Mansion begins with his grandfather, Columbus Drew, born to British parents, Solomon Drew and Elizabeth Glyuas, on January 6, 1820, in Alexandria, Virginia. He grew up in Washington, D.C. where he earned a law degree. On November 26, 1840, he married Marietta Hume Robinson and they had their first son, Columbus, on December 3, 1847.

As a young man, he worked for Joseph Gales and William Winston Seaton who published the National Intelligencer, the first newspaper published in Washington D.C. Drew was a member of the Whig party and by 1847, he was working as an editor of the American Whig newspaper. Prominent Whig politicians enticed Drew to relocate to Jacksonville in 1848 to edit the Florida Republican, the state’s leading Whig journal.

columbus drew
Columbus Drew Sr.


In the 1850s, the Whig Party was on the decline. Abolitionists were fed up with the two major parties, Whigs and Democrats, for downplaying slavery and its expansion into the Mexican Cession. During the 1852 election, both major parties ran on almost identical platforms with the Democrats winning by a landslide. Many northern Whigs were already bitter about the Missouri Compromise in 1820, legislation that stopped northern attempts to prohibit slavery and allowed Missouri to be admitted into the Union as a slave state.

When Congress introduced legislation in 1854 that would introduce slavery into Kansas, the Whig party collapsed with a majority of northern Whigs and northern Democrats splitting off and forming the Republican party. The Republican party ran on a one-policy platform: to abolish slavery in all of the territories. When Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, seven slave states seceded from the Union which soon led to the American Civil War.

Drew remained editor of the Florida Republican until 1855 as the newspaper’s plant was destroyed on April 5, 1854, in a large fire. That same year, he established one of the first stationery companies in Jacksonville, the C. Drew, Bookseller, and Stationer. During the Civil War, he would join the Confederate cause, returning to Virginia to take a position in the Confederate Treasury Department. Columbus Jr. would also join the cause as a drummer boy in the Confederate forces. In his stead, another one of his sons, Horace, although extremely young at the time, oversaw the family business. When Union forces captured Jacksonville, the Drew family fled to Lake City.

After the war, Columbus Drew returned to Jacksonville with his family and applied for and received a federal pardon for his involvement in the Confederacy. Horace joined his father full-time in the family business and it was re-established as C. Drew and Son. Columbus Jr. would go on to become a prominent physician, noted for being the first specialist in the ear, nose, and throat area in Florida.

Columbus Sr. remained active in politics and was selected as state comptroller under Governor George F. Drew, no relation, in 1876. At this time, he sold off the stationary business to his son, Horace, who renamed it the H. Drew Company. In 1881, Horace’s brother William B. Drew came into the firm, and the company was renamed H. Drew and Brother. Columbus Drew Sr. was a leading political figure in the development of Florida during the Reconstruction Era having been involved in the development of state railways, drainage systems, and canals.

Of his publications, his best known Is his 1867 New Map of the State of Florida which, through multiple revisions and editions, chronicles the history and development of the state of Florida during an important time in history. While these maps are extremely rare, you can view an enlarged image of the 1870 edition of the map here. What some did not know about Columbus Drew Sr. was his affinity for poetry which was inspired by daily events and was read by him at local events and published in local newspapers from time to time. The poems were never collected into a book. He died on July 8, 1891.

The H. & W. B. Drew Company

The name of the stationary business was renamed again in 1893 to the H. & W. B. Drew Company. After the Great Fire of 1901 destroyed the business’ operations, it moved to a two-story building at 49-51 West Bay Street known as Drew’s Bookstore. A third story was later added to the building. No one knows who designed the building nor does anyone know who designed the third story.

According to Tim Gilmore, newspapers in 1909 reported that renowned architect Henry J. Klutho was designing an additional floor. It was then reported in 1910 that Wilbur Bacon Camp was designing it who had previously worked with Klutho designing the City Hall, the Dyal-Upchurch Building, the T.V. Porter residence, and the Congregational Church. During construction of the third floor, the roof collapsed killing two workers.

Years later in 1982, the building was set ablaze by supposed serial killer Ottis Toole, and I say supposed because many people, including myself, believe most of the killings he claimed he’d done were not actually done by him. One of his only confirmed killings occurred the night before the torching of the Drew Building in which he murdered 65-year-old George Sonnenberg by barricading him into a boarding house and setting it on fire.

In 1921, the business moved into the McConihe Building. Built in 1902 by George McConihe for a real furniture company, the enormous building was designed by John Henry Willis Hawkins, one of many architects who moved to Jacksonville following the Great Fire of 1901. Its original owner, former Mayor Luther McConihe, sold it in 1921 to the H. & W. B. Drew Company. The company also operated multiple bookstores throughout the city. Horace Drew continued to operate the business as President of the company until his death on January 4, 1926.

Much of the Drew company’s operations were shut down in January 1971 due in part to the general decline of the downtown area. Its linotype machines, presses and lithograph, and engraving equipment were sold. It wasn’t long before Independent Life bought the block that the McConihe Building stood on and demolished it to make way for the Independent Life Building, the second-tallest skyscraper in the city.

The stone columns with lion head motifs were salvaged and installed at the corner of the property. Operating on a much smaller scale, the owners of the H. & W. B. Drew Company wanted to retire and placed the company on the market. In 1997, Wells Legal Supply, Inc. bought the company to form the Wells & Drew Company.

H. & W. B. Drew Company building. Jack Spottswood, State Library and Archives of Florida.

Dr. Horace R. Drew, MD

Horace Drew married Gertrude Fairbanks Drew, daughter of George Rainsford Fairbanks, founder of the Florida Historical Society whose books on Florida history were published or co-published by Drew. Of this marriage, three children were born: Horace Rainsford Drew, John Graeme Drew, and Routledge Dorr Drew.

Horace Rainsford was born on July 6, 1876. He was a member of the Metropolitan Light Infantry, attaining the rank of Sergeant and serving in the Spanish-American War. After the war, he obtained a degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1901 from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. For the next 48 years, he practiced in Jacksonville specializing in internal medicine before retiring in 1950. He was an active member of the Duval County Medical Society and served as its president in 1908. He also operated a successful citrus grove located near Island Grove, Florida on a portion of land once owned by his grandfather, George R. Fairbanks.

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Dr. Horace Rainsford Drew. Source
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Dr. Horace Drew and his son, Horace Drew Jr., rest on the running board of their Buick after hunting ducks at their orange grove near Island Grove, Florida.

The Drew Mansion

It was in 1909 that Dr. Horace Rainsford Drew had his residence built at 245 West 3rd Street in the Springfield Historic District, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Leroy Sheftall who, along with Earl Mark, also designed the Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home on East Beaver Street. This house would later be referred to as the Drew Mansion.

The book Jacksonville Architectural Heritage describes the house as such: “Sited prominently on a corner near Hogans Creek, this exotic residence is a highly visible Springfield landmark. It also exhibits one of the most inventive uses of concrete blocks as a building material in Jacksonville. Both the smooth and ashlar-finished blocks are used, and many of the blocks were cast at odd angles, such as on the hexagonal columns, the tower, and the projecting bays.

The eclectic design borrows elements from the Tudor Revival, Queen Anne, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. Its base is elevated more than adjacent residences, adding to the vertical projection of the multi-planed roofline, gables, and three-story tower. The composition is enriched by harmonious colors found in the gables with half-timbering over stucco, the clay tile roof, and concrete walls.”

According to Doug Nichols of Preservation SOS, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of homes in the Springfield neighborhood, the second-story porch was known as a “crying porch” where mothers could take their crying infants so they wouldn’t wake their husbands. The attic served as a billiards room where Horace Drew played pool with Oliver Hardy in the days when Jacksonville was a silent film capital known as the “World’s Winter Film Capital.” Horace Rainsford Drew died on May 28, 1951. After his passing, the family home was occupied by the Mears family up until the early-1960s.

Drew Mansion Jacksonville Postcard
Early 20th-century postcard depicting the Dr. Horace Drew Mansion. The top reads, “Residence Section of the Boulevard, Jacksonville, Fla.”
The Haunted House

According to author Tim Gilmore, the Drew Mansion was abandoned between 1967 and 1973 and became known as the “haunted house.” In March 1970, eleven students from Ribault High School ventured into the decrepit mansion on the evening of Friday the 13th. As described by the United Press International, “two young negroes” barged into the home, one wielding a knife and the other with a sawed-off shotgun. They wanted to know if the teenagers had any “reefers.” When they were told no, a hat was passed around demanding the teens put their money in it.

They picked two girls out of the group and threatened to knife anyone who tried to follow them. “That’s the easiest way to kill someone,” one of the intruders was heard saying. They moved the other teens into a bathroom, taking the keys of one of the boys with them. Using the boy’s car, they drove the girls to another abandoned home where they were joined by three other men. The girls’ sweaters were pulled over their heads and then sexually assaulted multiple times. The girls were then driven a short distance away and released, and the car was returned to the Drew mansion.

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A headline from The Miami Herald, March 1970
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1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Jacksonville, Florida. The Drew Mansion is highlighted in yellow on the far left. Library of Congress
The Human Head in the Backyard

Unbeknownst to most people at the time, there was also a human head buried in the backyard of the mansion around this time. The head was discovered by two young kids who ran out to the street and notified two teenagers, who then called the police. The head was buried in a hole 18 inches deep. It belonged to a man, around 50 years old, and was packed in a germicidal bag that prevented decomposition.

It was reported that the head belonged to a body stolen from Duval Medical Center back in November. An informant told investigators that the head was taken by an orderly who worked there and would occasionally take their friends back there to go see it. On July 12th, 18-year-old Michael Tiliakos was arrested just before clocking in for his hospital shift and was charged with “Dealing in Parts of Dead Bodies.”

Tiliakos had known the man who had given his body to become a teaching cadaver and wanted to keep a part of his friend as the body would be cremated. He slept with the head the first night before burying it behind the Drew mansion out of fear of getting caught.

Headline from the Tampa Tribune newspaper, July 13, 1970

Repaired and Re-abandoned

The Drew Mansion was fixed up in the mid-1970s and became home to the Massey family who occupied the home until 2006. Facing financial problems, Margaret Massey sold off most of her belongings at an estate sale and abandoned the property. A few long-time residents claim Massey lived the rest of her life in a nursing home.

On July 11, 2013, the property was foreclosed upon by Deutsche Bank. In February 2015, it was announced that Michael Bourre, owner of Bourre Construction Group and former president of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, bought the house with the intent of restoring it. He planned to use the house as a company office and showcase to help promote and enliven the historic community. At the time, extensive repairs were needed as holes in the ceiling allowed water to seep into every corner of the home, and regular flooding of the area had caused immense damage to the building’s foundation.

By 2017, no work had been done to the house. Many residents of Springfield feared the lack of progress was purposeful and that the house would eventually be sold to GNP Development Partners LLC which was in the process of planning a mixed-use development on the same block. A grass-roots campaign was started demanding Bourre to either start construction on restoring the home or sell the property to someone who will. The home was sold in 2018 and restoration work began shortly thereafter which included the addition of a new roof. Unfortunately, no work has been done on the house since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and the Drew Mansion gutted down to its bones, has been rapidly deteriorating ever since.

You can read about the Horace Drew Mansion and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.

Drew Mansion
A colored postcard featuring the Drew Mansion, published by the S. H. Kress & Co. c. 1915. Abandoned Atlas Archives

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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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