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About the Lewis Washington Taylor House

U.S. National Register of Historic Places

April 6, 2015

Aquilina Casañas Howell

Lucille Casañas Alexander

Frenchtown is one of the most historic neighborhoods in Tallahassee. Settled by freed slaves soon after the civil war, it quickly became a vibrant African-American community. One of its more prominent buildings, the Taylor House, was built in 1894 by Lewis and Lucretia Taylor. The Taylors were married on December 17, 1887. 

 

Lewis Washington Taylor, was born in December 1865 in Wakulla, Florida, the only child of James and Clara Taylor. He was a well-known educator and community leader. Though soft-spoken and small in stature, he carried himself in an aptly stoic manner. He taught at Centerville School, the original Lincoln High School and Bel Air, a one room rural school house for black children in Leon County, on ground which had once been an ante-bellum plantation. Taylor was a very prominent man in the community of Bel Air and he also taught and tutored the well-to-do children from white families for 10 cents. He was a leader in the Tallahassee NAACP, where he also sold Crisis Magazine for the organization. In addition, he sold the Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper. His Granddaughter, Lucille Alexander remembers "He read that paper from front to back before he sold it."

 

Taylor's uncanny ability to work across the color barrier that existed during the late 1800s proved invaluable. He was granted the opportunity to teach white children for pay, which was virtually unheard of. Most likely, he was the first black person to be allowed to teach white children in Leon County. Called Deacon Taylor, he was Superintendent of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church Sunday School and a "stickler for education." Well-known throughout the community, Taylor would tip his hat to passerby as he walked Tallahassee's dirt roads. His land holdings included property on Fourth Avenue, and land near today's Griffin Middle School, where he and his family raised cows and chickens. He was self-employed as a proprietor of a Frenchtown jewelry store, making his jewelry out of gold wire, which he kept in a trunk in an upstairs bedroom. He died on September 24, 1931. 

 

Lucretia McPherson Taylor was born a slave in Tallahassee on May 19, 1865 to Dennis and Louisa McPherson. She was the Great-Granddaughter of Sam, Sr. and Nancy Edwards, a pioneer Leon County family. The next day, on May 20, General Edward M. McCook read the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the city's Knott House; officially ending slavery in Florida. She was a master cook and seamstress and in addition to cooking delicious family meals, she cooked for the family of Lewis M. Lively, for whom the Lively Technical Center, located on the campus of Tallahassee Community College, is named.

 

The Taylors were parents to 13 children, who all spent time in front of a classroom. One daughter, Madeline Casañas, taught at Ward School in Leon County, once serving both as principal and cook. Two of her children, Aquilina C. Howell and Lucille C. Alexander, went on to become well-regarded leaders in the Tallahassee community. Aquilina, born in an upstairs bedroom of the Taylor House in 1917, was a 43-year veteran educator, who in 1982, rose to become the first black woman assistant school superintendent in Leon County. Howell was instrumental in the school district's transistion from segregated schools to desegregated schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At her retirement in 1985, she was the district's highest ranking black official. A school administration complex, a Tallahassee park, as well as a local street, all bear her name. She died in 2000.

 

Lucille, born in 1929, earned her nursing degree from Florida A&M University. She spent the bulk of her career with Florida State University, where she served as a nurse and college professor.

 

The Taylors often took boarders into their spacious, two-story home, using the Taylor House primarily for this purpose after all of their children had moved away. Following Mrs. Taylor's death on December 14, 1935, a son, Samuel Edward Taylor, moved into the home. In 1958, the Taylor's youngest child, Victorine Taylor Blake, called the house home, remaining their until the late 1960's. During this time another daughter, Wallace Taylor Valentine and her husband Allen, moved into the house from the Harlem, New York community, where she was head of house keeping for one of New York's finest hotels. Mr. Valentine was a long shoreman.  

 

Wallace Valentine died in 1977, and was the last to occupy the home as a resident. The Taylor House sat vacant for the next 18 years. In 1995, the structure came within a week of being demolished by the city of Tallahassee's code enforcement department until Mrs. Howell, after much persistence and preserverance turned to the Tallahassee Urban League, Inc. The urban league purchased and restored the building to its original  1894 appearance, using the house temporarily as a resource center and shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Louisiana area in 2005.

 

Now it has become a museum, celebrating the rich heritage of the Taylor, Casañas, Howell and Alexander families; the Frenchtown community, Tallahassee Civil Rights movement and the state.