College makes changes in Wardlaw-Smith-Goza Conference Center funding
The Wardlaw-Smith-Goza Conference Center is now operating as a self-supporting enterprise that no longer receives financial support from North Florida Community College’s general operating budget. The shift in funding was approved by the NFCC District Board of Trustees and considered a necessary change as the college prioritizes expenditures amidst another year of reduced state funding. A special announcement regarding the change was sent to NFCC’s “Friends of the Mansion” members in June.
“Over the years, Friends of the Mansion members have made monetary donations, volunteered time, and shown a great love for NFCC’s historic conference center,” said Maria Greene, WSG Conference Center Coordinator. “We are making changes, but our annual membership drive is currently underway and we continue to hold events, weddings and tours in the Mansion. It’s business as usual for now as we look for ways to build extra revenue.”
Greene is looking as far ahead as June 2012 with her current budget and needs the continued support of donors and the community. According to NFCC President John Grosskopf, the College is also actively seeking partnerships or alternative solutions that can keep the WSG Conference Center open to the public; even if that means taking NFCC out of the equation.
“NFCC is very proud of its tenure as the primary steward of this very important local treasure; however, we are now in a position where we must align all of our resources to the fulfillment of our primary mission, and we cannot continue to fund this endeavor,” said Grosskopf. “We will be working to find our successor to take over from here.”
The Wardlaw-Smith-Goza Conference Center, listed in the Historic American Building Survey and the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1860. NFCC purchased the WSG Conference Center property in 1988 through a Florida legislative appropriation to preserve and use it as a conference center for the six rural counties which the College serves.
Many of the antique furnishings and accessories inside the Mansion are loaned or donated by individuals within the area and according to Greene, these items will be handled with the upmost respect in regards to the donor or owner, whatever the future brings for the Mansion.
“The Mansion has become a valued icon in our community, full of history and character,” said Greene. “I appreciate all the community support, especially our Friends of the Mansion members, and ask for continued support and feedback as we work to build the future of the Wardlaw-Smith-Conference Center.”
By Kristin Finney
Greene Publishing, Inc.
The Wardlaw-Smith-Goza Conference Center sits in the heart of Madison at 121 NW Marion Street. This mansion was the dream of Benjamin F. Wardlaw of Madison. Wardlaw held high prestige in Madison and wanted only the best to build his dream. He then hired William Archer Hammerly from Baltimore, Md. His dream became a reality in 1860.
Since 1860, the mansion made conference center has had multiple owners. A. Marshall Cason owned the mansion from 1863-1867 followed by Elizabeth T. Glover 1867-1871. Chandler Holmes Smith, followed by other members of the Smith family, owned it from 1871-1978. Mr. and Mrs. William M. Goza were the owners from 1978-1982. In 1988, the property was purchased by North Florida Community College, and to this day remains in their care. The mansion now serves as a conference center for six counties that the college serves.
In Madison, the history of the mansion is one of both tall tales and facts. Some facts include that the mansion served as a hospital following the Battle of Olustee during the Civil War. This battle was fought on February 20, 1864, not far east of Madison. It is also rumored that following the fall of the Confederacy, Gen. John C. Breckinridge, during his run to Key West, spent an evening at the mansion.
NFCC’s website describes the mansion as a “two-story, square structure made of heart pine that has many beautiful and interesting features, such as original window panes and shutters; 20 fluted columns of the Doric order; African mahogany, freestanding stairway; heart pine flooring put together with wooden pegs; expansive hallways; and original bookshelves in the library.
“A four-foot garden wall enclosing the property was added in 1980, along with a fountain and an Italian pergola. These fixtures were typical to the Southern landscape in the 1800’s, when the classical style of architecture was popular. They are complemented by azaleas, camellias, boxwood, magnolia and wisteria. The old live oak tree on the north entrance pre-dates the house.”
Renovations for the mansion were most recently made in the summer and fall of 2000. These renovations are listed on their website and include: “Replacing and reframing the porch floor base, reinforcing the foundation, adding new piers for support, column repair and new paint for the exterior and interior walls.” There was also an addition of a wheelchair ramp.
The Wardlaw-Smith-Goza Conference Center is listed in the Historic American Building Survey and the National Register of Historic Places. It remains in use today and can be rented out for weddings, meetings and parties. For all day rentals, prices are as follows: First floor and kitchen, $620.75; First floor, kitchen and grounds, $720.75 and just the grounds and kitchen are $310.75. For meetings lasting 2-3 hours, with 50 people or less, a person can rent the first floor and the kitchen for $435.75.
In 2010, Wardlaw-Smith-Goza celebrated its 150th Anniversary. Each year the mansion hosts the annual Quilt and Flower Show, as well as a Christmas Open House. Anyone who is interested can become a “Friend of the Mansion” by making a small donation. Individuals or families are $35; a Sponsor is $150; a Patron is $200; a Business is $500; or a Benefactor is $1,000. According to the NFCC website, “Your membership support helps to preserve the beautiful historic house we all lovingly call the “Mansion.” It also allows us to keep the Mansion open and available for wonderful events that fill its halls during the year. Join today — your support is more important than ever in helping us continue our community activities such as the annual Quilt and Flower Show and Christmas Open House.”
All photos Submitted