University of South Florida St. Petersburg



New preservation grant will help make historic Williams House more secure during hurricanes

Williams House hero

The Williams House features a rooftop platform called a widow's walk. The name is said to come from the wives of mariners who would watch for their spouses' return. The decorative railing around the structure is one of the many items that need repaired. 

The historic John C. Williams House on the USF St. Petersburg campus will undergo major restorations and upgrades over the next two years thanks to a $280,640 matching grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The upgrades will include foundation work, a new roof, hurricane panels and other repairs that will help ensure the structure’s safety and stability during a major storm.

With matching funds, more than $561,280 will go towards restoration efforts at Williams House.

Built in 1891 by General John C. Williams, one of the co-founders of St. Petersburg, the Williams House was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The house serves as a venue for the education of Florida history and is a popular stop on historical tours in St. Petersburg. It has been a landmark on the USF St. Petersburg campus since 1995, when it was moved to 511 2nd Street South, and has housed offices for departments such as History and Philosophy.

When visitors pass by the landmark building, they are greeted by beautiful oak trees that line the street and hand-crafted wooden details outside the large home. Featuring an octagonal tower and widow’s walk, common in the 19th century, its interior boasts original mahogany carved mantles, staircase and railing.

Unfortunately, over the years, its beautiful details have become weathered and at risk of being destroyed by tropical storms and hurricanes. Some of the damage includes rotting wood and a shifting foundation.

Williams House wood rot

The wood is rotting on the house and the upper railing needs to be replaced. 

In 2020, the state awarded the university $17,837, which USF matched, for a total of $35,674 towards creating a historic preservation master plan. That plan was then used to submit a new request for funding for the restoration and repairs.

“The new grant will restore the Williams House to its original grandeur,” said Susan Toler, the St. Petersburg campus associate dean of USF’s College of Arts and Sciences who led this initiative. “We came up with a very itemized plan where we would take care of the whole building and ensure that it could be totally reconstructed and preserved.”

USF will work with Renker Eich Parks Architects, a St. Petersburg company specializing in historic preservation. The firm also worked on the C. Perry Snell House, another historic landmark on campus that sits next to the Williams House. 

“These two houses are integral to the history of St. Pete,” said Paul Palmer, principal at Renker Eich Parks Architects, who helped with both grant proposals. “The 1891 Williams House is a Victorian-era home built in the Queen Anne style. It’s one of the earliest frame buildings built in the city. The 1904 Snell House is a rare example of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture with Queen Anne influences. They make a good pair, and they’re both good examples of early St. Petersburg architecture.”

In addition to the exterior wood siding, balcony and foundation repairs to Williams House, new hurricane clips will be added to the roof to resist wind uplift. Customized hurricane panels will also be installed to protect the windows from the impacts of debris and high winds.

Restoration construction will likely start on the Williams House foundation in December 2022, with the bulk of the other repairs being made in 2023. The two-year grant requires that the work be completed by Spring 2024.  

You can see inside and learn more about the history of the Williams and Snell houses in this video from 2019. 

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