Tucked into the easternmost point of the Choctawhatchee Bay and away from the towering pines and scraggly brush of the Florida Panhandle’s forests lies a set of perfectly-manicured gardens playing host to a mansion styled in the fashion of the antebellum period. Eden Gardens State Park holds 163 acres of neatly trimmed grass, delicate flower gardens, and an elegant two-story home, all formerly part of the Wesley Homestead. This lumber site-turned personal antique-turned state-managed acreage is steeped in history and not without opportunities for adventure — kayaking, paddleboarding, and hiking through the gardens and nature walk are all options at Eden Gardens.
What Makes It Great
From 1890 until after World War I, the area now known as Eden Gardens State Park operated as something quite different: Wesley Lumber Company. Tucker Bayou, situated at the eastern section of Choctawhatchee Bay, served as a transport for lumber barges for this successful company, and the Wesley Mansion that was erected in 1897 was the personal home of Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Wesley, proprietors of the lumber mill. Eventually, the once flourishing panhandle forests had been stripped bare thanks to the demand of lumber, and in 1953, the death of Wesley’s wife left the mansion and grounds unoccupied.
Ten years an antique collector by the name of Lois Maxon bought the Wesley house and the surrounding land experienced a revival. Maxon filled the home with priceless family heirlooms and antiques, including furniture from King Louis XVI. The renovated home gardens that encompassed it were then generously donated to the state, just five years after Maxon’s purchase.
What was once a home is now a museum of sorts, thanks to Maxon’s gift, and while the waters of Tucker Bayou no longer usher lumber from the mill, folks with kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards are welcomed guests. Flowers, towering oaks — including the Wedding Tree with an age of approximately 600 years — a butterfly garden, and nature path now make up this historical piece of land.
Who is Going to Love It
Garden enthusiasts, coastal paddlers, and history buffs will enjoy Eden Gardens State Park. The mild climate of the Florida Panhandle makes the park pleasant most days of the year; picnics come highly recommended by both staff and patrons. Guided tours and larger events — weddings included — are also popular at Eden Gardens, and late fall stargazing events promise an excellent view of the night sky.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Eden Gardens State Park is open from 8 AM to sunset every day of the year, and guided tours are only on select days, so be sure to check the site and plan accordingly. Well-behaved furry friends are allowed on the grounds, while alcohol is not. And, as always, visitors are asked to respect this incredible space, and leave it as they found it for the generations of fellow enthusiasts to follow.