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.”
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By Kristin Finney