photography by Dan Austin • Styled by Lisa Malott of Wish Vintage Rentals
Nestled among the confluence of timeless Florida citrus and decades-old oaks, this story began when two brothers from Illinois bought a lakefront property in the sparsely populated region of Central Florida. Surrounded by lush ornamental plants and a pathway adorned by orchids stood an enchanted home that would soon be the place to entertain and engage the people of the city. Step back into the early 1900s, a time when Florida was still the hidden gem of the South, and discover the Roe family’s home.
Dating back to when the untouched land on Eagle Lake was first purchased, the owners were avid naturalists with a devotion to preservation of architectural beauty. Still today, two avocado trees from 1918 can be found on the property. While the house pays homage to what now would
be considered old-fashioned, it was always well ahead of its time. In 1919, Gilman Drew, a zoologist and one of the original brothers who commissioned the house, urged his neighbors to contract with the electric company. Those homes soon became the first powered homes in Eagle Lake.
Starting out in a bungalow built by Dr. Gilman Drew in 1914 for his beloved wife, Lena, the Drews lived in the humble abode as they prepared the large home alongside. Transcended into a tranquil, nostalgic haven, the house has been preserved by the Roe family for over 50 years. While raising their growing family in 1958 (seven kids in just 11 years), Willard and Marjorie Roe took on a complete overhaul of the 8,500-square foot house. Over a period of three years, it was modernized to include an intercom, a multi-room sound system, and the latest in kitchen appliances, along with many other modern automatic features.
The home now features a unique rectangular design pattern used on the doors and windows, including the pocket doors. The skillful, thorough, custom work of the home is a genuinely artful design. Each room was redesigned with a specific purpose or theme, while carrying a motif throughout the house. Some rooms are robed in wallpaper or stucco walls, while others are covered with a unique wood paneling featuring cherry, cypress, pine, or redwood. All the entertainment room floors are either specially imported tile, unique for each room, or narrow-gauge hardwood floors with patterns.
During their residence at the big house, Marj and Willard were consummate entertainers. Updating their home to accommodate large numbers of guests for all type of events, the couple incorporated men’s and women’s bathrooms into the first floor. The kitchen contains over 50 feet of stainless steel countertops with four sinks. Well-equipped for formal sit-down dinners, the house could easily accommodate 50 people, indoor buffet parties for 250 guests, and outdoor parties during nice weather, comfortable for up to 500 guests. Themed parties, political fundraisers, birthdays, graduations, weddings, and holidays were all occasions for the house to become an elaborate venue.
Governors, senators, and many other legislators attended parties and fundraisers here. Community leaders and industry leaders were frequent guests. Very generous with their time and property, Marj and Willard were always looking for ways their home could bring awareness to social causes and benefit those around them. Their drive to entertain and host so many at the big house was to make the Winter Haven community a better place to live for all people.
Maintaining a home suitable for modern living, when its soul is worn in a past era, is a conundrum the Roes have grappled with for decades. With great diligence and elegant taste, the house emulates the original styling that both the Drews and elder Roes cultivated throughout its nearly 100-year legacy.
This house, still very much a private, family home, represents a rare glimpse into a classic, historical gem of Polk County heritage.
The pride and meticulous care that current owners Quentin and Lori Roe take in their home is a testament to the love and memories that have been shared throughout the history of the estate. When they took occupancy of the home in 2001, the Roes performed some modernization on fixtures, plumbing, and electrical items but kept most of the original mid-century home and furnishings intact. The music room was an epicenter for family activities, a practice room for all sorts of childhood musical interests as well as a gathering place for holiday traditions. Its decor and utility from those times have been immaculately maintained. The home’s library features original and rare books, novels, and anthologies dating to the 1800s. To learn the history of this home is to learn a lifetime of reverent preservation.
To learn the history of this home is to learn a lifetime of reverent preservation.
This house, still very much a private, family home, represents a rare glimpse into a classic, historical gem of Polk County heritage. Tucked away on Eagle Lake, the Roe family continues to preserve this architectural masterpiece.