304 Hillcrest St.

A two-story bungalow at 304 Hillcrest Street is the first to be graced with a cast-bronze plaque declaring it an official “Dixieland Century House.” It’s one of at least three dozen 100-year-old-plus homes identified so far in the neighborhood.

The Historic Dixieland Neighborhood Association has begun to recognize homes in the area that have reached a century in age. The effort is a spin-off of the Lake Morton Century Homes project, which was launched last year by Michael Maguire of Lakeland.

A map on the association's website shows the locations of 37 Dixieland homes built in 1920 or earlier. Six of them were built by 1914. Residents who think their houses qualify can let the association know about it.

Christopher Olson, Dixieland’s volunteer historian, wrote a summary of 304 Hillcrest Street’s backstory:

The original occupants appear to have been newlyweds Mabel A. (Drane) Moore and William Stephen Moore. They are believed to have moved into their new home sometime in 1916.

“William was president of Moore's Little Style Shop and a merchant tailor. The shop was in business from 1914 to at least 1931. William had moved from Virginia and Mabel Drane was born in Lakeland. They met shortly thereafter at a party and were married on Nov. 2, 1915.

“That night it was noted in the Lakeland Evening Telegram, which covered the wedding that, ‘Upon their return to Lakeland, Mr. and Mrs. Moore will be at home to their friends in the beautiful new home, in the Drane Addition, which Mr. Moore is having built, and which when completed will be one of the most attractive residences in the city.’”

The couple honeymooned in Cuba, and they proceeded to have two sons, Stephen and Herbert. William was living in a nearby Hillcrest home when he died in 1966. Mabel, who lived to be 99 years of age, died in 1989. She had moved into her family home across from Drane Park.

Mabel’s father was Herbert Drane, a founder of Lakeland in the 1880s and congressman from 1917 to 1933.

Jeff Stoneman

The current owner of the home, Jeffrey Stoneman, fell in love with it and purchased it in 2016. He lovingly restored it with respect for its history, and had planned to live there with his family.

But Stoneman’s family dynamic changed, and he moved to Fort Myers. He rented the house out, but he certainly did not fall out of love with the grand old house.

“I love historic homes, and I always keep my eye out for those that are distressed. It’s hard to beat the character and construction quality of an older home.”

He took great care in selecting the tenants — his affection for the house runs deep. Stoneman was not about to let just anybody live there.

“The original plan was to live in the house for long-term,” he says. “I loved the location, and its historic charm was just unbeatable — nothing we found was comparable.”

He paid $234,500 for the home in February 2016. He estimates he’s put about $25,000 into it as he renovated it. And he’s not finished yet.

Interior photos provided by Jeff Stoneman

Listening to Stoneman talk about the house is like hearing a love story told out loud. He comes to visit it regularly, and brings his tools. He knows that a home that old needs a lot of love and attention.

He’s had it tented for termites, and that was just a small piece of the revamping scenario.

“All 10 of the upstairs original windows were completely restored by a company in Orlando called Austin Historical for a total cost of $15,500 in 2017-2018. That included restoring the hardware, rope-and-pulley system, and window casings to their original condition,” he says.

A portion of the roof was repaired, along with the sprinkler system. The oak trees were professionally trimmed and an elm tree was removed. A light was added to the attic storage space.

The back door was replaced with a new, craftsman-style door. Stoneman also restored part of the front porch floor.

The tree swing was replaced and painted. All new kitchen appliances were installed as well.

“I’m also in the process of restoring the cedar siding, and painting the exterior of the house,” Stoneman says. It seems his labor of love knows no limits.

I will never sell that house,” he says.

As for Maguire, who is providing the plaques for the homes, he says history, ironically, is not really his passion:

“I am not actually a fan of history per se, or for revering it, but perseverance is admirable, and keeping something well-made alive and well testifies to its original value.”

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