Historic Perkins home moved to Dudley Farm 

Mayor Jordan Marlowe speaks in front of the Perkins House on Dudley Farm.
Mayor Jordan Marlowe speaks in front of the Perkins House on Dudley Farm.
Photo by Glory Reitz

Community members, historians and dignitaries welcomed the addition of the Perkins House to Dudley Farm Historic State Park on Saturday morning. 

The 400 square-foot home belonged to Rebecca and James Perkins, who were born enslaved in Camden, South Carolina, and moved to north Florida after the state proclaimed emancipation in 1865. The couple purchased 40 acres and raised and educated their eight children as well as many orphaned children in the community. 

Rebecca worked for the Dudleys for years and also worked as a nurse and midwife in the community. James was a farmer who served as a trustee for the Freedman School in Jonesville. 

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Community members have worked for years to get the house moved into Dudley Farm. The goal is to expand the state park’s scope to include the history of people born enslaved, who were emancipated and thrived, contributing to the community. 

“An exhibit like this is going to help facilitate those conversations,” Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said in an interview. It’s gonna help tell the truth, it’s gonna help tell history from all perspectives.”  

Nii Sowa La performs the libation ceremony while Jordan Marlowe holds a microphone.
Photo by Glory Reitz Nii Sowa La performs the libation ceremony while Jordan Marlowe holds a microphone.

Nii Sowa La and D. Ayoka Jasey Sowa La performed a libation ceremony for the house, pouring out liquids and inviting goodness into the gathering. 

The celebration drew a crowd of about 60 people, listening to details of the Perkins’ lives and about what is coming next for the little house. 

“I’ve gotten this overwhelming feeling of love here today,” Dudley State Park manager Dennis Parson told the group. “I thank you so much for bringing that love here to Dudley Farm and to the Perkins home.” 

The Perkins House previously sat on a property adjacent to Dudley Farm, but the owners agreed to donate the structure to the state park in 2021. 

For years before Marlowe approached the owners about adding the house to the Dudley Farm Historic State Park, the park service had been seeking the property. After Newberry helped lead the charge in Alachua County’s Truth and Reconciliation Project, property owners Helen and Philip Saltzgiver agreed to donate the house. 

The process of moving the house a few hundred feet west onto the state park’s land was originally expected to take a few months and an estimated $85,000. An anonymous donor stepped up to cover $75,000 of the cost. 

Marlowe expressed hopes in December 2021 that the house would be moved by spring 2022, but the Florida Department of State’s division of historic resources generally frowns on picking up and moving a historic structure. 

Dr. Sherry Dupree tells the crowd about the history and significance of the Perkins family.
Photo by Glory Reitz Dr. Sherry Dupree tells the crowd about the history and significance of the Perkins family.

Dudley Farm had also just been designated a National Historic Landmark, which added the red tape of the National Park Service. 

Several people in the crowd on Saturday had helped bring the house into the state park, including Roy Hunt, a historian who Marlowe credited for helping navigate the Florida State Parks and National Park Service. 

John and Anne Shermyen were major financial donors to the house’s movement and were “thrilled” to see it as it stands today. John’s mother was a longtime volunteer at Dudley Farm, but she also cared about African American history. The couple’s donations have been in her honor. 

“It’s sort of a family tradition in a sense,” John Shermyen said in an interview. “But I know my mother was always concerned that, even as a volunteer and how much she loved Dudley, that there was a part of the story that was never told.” 

The Shermyens encouraged others to continue contributing to the Perkins House, as moving it was only Phase 1. The next phase begins with a restoration plan, according to Parson. Some demolition was done inside the house, and now it will be restored to a representation of what it could have looked like when the Perkins family lived there. 

Attendees look into the Perkins house after Saturday's ceremony.
Photo by Glory Reitz Attendees look into the Perkins house after Saturday’s ceremony.

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