Lost to Fire: Historic Florida Home from Citrus Era Burns

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Stivender-Biggers House | Lake County, FL | 1880s-2021

Dr. Arthur Stivender would become a prominent local citizen, serving his community as a dentist and building a successful reputation for himself as a pioneer of citrus farming in this region. He would build this home to house the large family that he grew which showcased the wealth and success that he had acquired in his time in Florida. 

Duncan and Margaret Lee Stivender

Duncan Stivender and his wife Margaret Lee married on September 12, 1838 in Barbour County, Alabama where they would begin their family. Over the next 20 years, they had seven children and while their family grew, so did their farm. According to land records, they owned 80 acres of Alabama land patents and in 1858, Duncan was appointed postmaster of his town.

But life would change drastically in 1860 when they lost their oldest son Fredrick, age 18, and then again when their patriarch Duncan died in the same year. Margaret had six other children to raise so she made a plan to relocate to central Florida where her brother, Evander McIver Lee, had helped to found a small community that would come to be called Leesburg after his family.

Evander McKeever Lee, founder of Leesburg, and his wife, Susan.

The Stivenders Move to Florida

During the era following the Civil War, people were relocating to this part of Florida to plant orange groves. They arrived on the Seaboard Railroad and could find accommodations at the Leesburg Hotel, a ten-room boarding house that Margaret Lee Stivender ran to help support her family.

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As her children grew up, they became important members of the local community with one son, Akin, becoming the first fire marshall, and another son, Arthur, becoming the town dentist.

Akin Stivender, Leesburg’s first fire marshall.

The Dr. Stivender Family

In 1867, Dr. Arthur Stivender would marry the first of his three wives, Annie Stroble who died two years later in childbirth. He would marry his second wife, Sallie, in 1872 and they would 3 children over the next years before her death in 1876. 

In October of 1882, he married his last wife, Rosabelle Embry, and around this same time, he settled in a small community near Leesburg called Eldorado. The name, which means gold, came from the golden fruit on the plentiful groves in the area. At that time, the community had its own railroad depot and post office.

The loading docks at Eldorado c. 1885
Train arrival at Eldorado c. 1885

He purchased a parcel of land on Lake Harris where he would farm a grove of citrus trees and started construction on this impressive Italianate-style home. It was finished in 1885 and reportedly cost $12,000 to complete. Back then, the citrus packing facility and train tracks came up to the lakeside frontage of this property, transporting fruit and passengers. 

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Rosabelle and Arthur would add another 4 children to the Stivender family who would live in this home for 5 generations.


On May 2, 1900, Arthur died at his home, leaving his widow, Belle, with their Eldorado home and orange groves, which she continued to maintain until her death in 1934. The home then passed on to her son, Arthur Embry Stivender, and then on to his daughter, Gladys Stivender Biggers.

Gladys, who was a chemist and teacher, was also a very successful citrus grower, farming the same groves that her grandfather Arthur planted.

Gladys Stivender & her husband William Biggers

She would hire local teens to help maintain and harvest the grove and one of them has fond memories of Gladys driving him to his work site within the grove in her 1957 Chevrolet Station Wagon.

The Stivender House as it looked in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of the Stivender-Biggers Family.

In the 1980s, the home was in need of serious repairs and Gladys and her family were determined to do what they could to fix it up. According to the family, they spent $30,000 to have the porch redone. The architect and builder brought in scaffolding and propped the roof up with metal supports while they tore off the porch to rebuild it. The family says that at this point, the builder demanded another $130,000, threatening to remove the supports and let the roof fall if they didn’t payout. Understandably, this situation left the Stivender-Biggers Family in a place where they could no longer afford to fix up the house.

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It sat empty until 2015, when interior items were sold at an estate sale and the property, along with its 18 acres and orange groves, were sold the following year. The new owner, a local from Leesburg, had plans to fix the house up to the beauty she once was but things didn’t go according to plan and sadly, the home burned to the ground on July 2, 2021. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

The ashes of the Stivender home, courtesy of the Lake County Fire Department
The fire at the Stivender homesite, courtesy of the Lake County Fire Department

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  1. Love stories about old Florida. My grandfather Mr. L.L. Price migrated to central Florida around the turn of the 20th century, from Gilbert, South Carolina. He and his first wife Linnie Kaiser Price settled in a tiny community four miles north of Titusville, called Mims. they came by train with only a few belongings and four children. Later, three more children would join the P
    rice brood.
    His occupation was farming. He purchased 20 acres near the Indian River and began to cultivate his orange groves. He was highly successful and became one of the wealthiest and respected businessmen in the area. He was one of the original citrus pioneers and is mentioned in some of the Brevard County history publications. He passed away in 1945 and is buried in the old LaGrange cemetery near Mims.

  2. This is such a beautiful home, it’s so sad that it was destroyed by fire,of course I love all old homes,I lived an old 2 story house with a porch wrapping 3/4 of the way around the house,I still pass buy it at times,thank you so much for sharing your journeys with us.You are awesome!?

  3. This information and the photos are wonderful to me, as I am a Stivender descendant! Dr. Arthur Averhart Stivender was my 1st cousin, 6x removed.

  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fire started for some type of insurance settlement. If so, I hope the person gets caught doing this. It was a beautiful home, and looked like it would have been gorgeous place when fixed up.

  5. So interesting! Love to read real life history that is so personal and down to earth. These descriptions of families and homes cause me to stop and appreciate those generations that forged the present especially I. This time of fast paced AI entertainment option that are available in our day!

  6. The house could still be standing if it was given historic landmark status years ago. The house was very likely eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which would have enabled the owners to get grants for restoring it.

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