The original plantation house was built in the 1830s and overlooked the industrial complex interpreted at the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site. E. E. Simpson, one of the owners of the industrial complex, used the house as his summer home for him, his wife, and their thirteen children. After he died, his son C. H. Simpson took over the farming on the property. He eventually married Anna Fitzgerald and they lived in the historic house with their three children. In 1935, on a breezy March day, a spark from the chimney blew onto the roof and the house quickly burned to the ground. During the fire, the family managed to save some of their furniture and treasured valuables, but once the fire reached the guns and ammunition stored in the nursery, they had to flee to a safe distance. Since the fire occurred during one of the worse economic times the country has ever seen, the family had to quickly rebuild with almost no money. They took wood and supplies from around the farm to build a small bungalow to replace their opulent three-story house. They filled the house with furniture they saved from the fire and the family stayed there until 2016 when they donated the house and property to the UWF Historic Trust. The UWF Archaeology Department has been doing research on the property for several years and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.
The 1930s historic house is now a museum that highlights the history of the Simpson family and life during the Great Depression in the South. Through renovations in 2018, the house was brought back to 1930s style house. The living room and dining room houses furniture saved during the 1935 fire that the family kept for all the years that they lived in the house. A radio plays programs from the 1930s, such as Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats and the Hindenburg disaster. Historic silver is displayed in the dining room that belonged to E.E. Simpson’s wife. The kitchen has recipes from Anna Simpson posted on the wall in her handwriting. The room also includes a wood burning stove, a sewing machine and a gas-powered washing machine. Outside, the house has a small Victory garden that the staff maintains. The rest of the property has paths that walk under heritage live oaks and through archaeological remains of the historic site. These remains include the plantation house, a well, and a slave cabin. The Arcadia Homestead, like Arcadia Mill, is dedicated to telling the story of not just the plantation owners, but those unjustly enslaved that worked and lived on the property.
The Arcadia Homestead is a great stop for the family, where both children and adults can have fun and learn about local history. Children love running the grounds and looking through a house that is so much different than their own. Adults always feel that the house reminds them of someone from the past. The most common phrase they say is, “This feels like Grandma’s house.” They would be correct because while the Simpson family once was the richest families in the area, by the 1930s they were like everyone else because the Great Depression affected everyone. The historic house does not just represent that one family, it represents all families that lived through the Great Depression with very little.
The Arcadia Homestead is open Friday and Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM. For more information visit their website, http://www.historicpensacola.org/explore-arcadia-mill/.