Thought to have been constructed in the 1880s, County Commissioner and businessman Steve Champion calls the Livery Stable “the drive-through of the 1800s,” where people could rent horses and carriages and buy supplies. Made of heart pine and cypress, the building is located down the hill from the courthouse at 158 South Main Street. Though the exact building date remains a mystery due to records being destroyed when the courthouse burned down, what is known about the stable is that the property has changed hands multiple times over the century and a half since its founding.
Another perspective on the construction of the building was provided to the University of North Florida Digital Commons around 2010 – 2015 via photographer George Lansing Taylor, Jr., who obtained a statement from Dennis Rhodes, Curator of the Hernando Historical Association, and Ron Daniel, President of the Hernando Historical Museum Association. Rhodes and Daniel comment, “This building was constructed … by the Emerson Brothers: John, Charles, and Tom. They were in the construction business. It was originally a livery stable. The next owner was O.C. Dick who ran the lumber business until retirement around 1933. His high school helper was Gene Snow to whom Mr. Dick sold the business. Gene Snow ran it by himself for six days a week from the 1940s until around 1996. Mr Snow’s three daughters inherited it and they sold it to Mr. Spanos who wanted to run a carriage ride business from this location.”
For much of its history, the stable has served as a lumber yard. One unsung aspect of the building’s history is the fact that it served as a focal point for leaders to discuss the goings-on in Brooksville and negotiate policies while taking a break at the stable. Mayor Blake Bell has close ties with the Livery Stable, as his uncle and aunt, Gene and Ernestine Snow, oversaw the stable in its lumber yard phase.
“I just think it is really cool that while it was a lumber yard, a lot of the major business and political decisions of the time were made in that lumber yard while important leaders sat around eating donuts and drinking coffee on a Saturday,” Mayor Bell said. “You look at the lumber yard, and you might not know that, but it is really where a lot of the folks, important decision-makers in the city of Brooksville, would convene… for almost a six-decade period of time.”
Brooksville Lumber, which the Snows operated out of the former stable, remained in business until Mayor Bell’s uncle passed away in 1996. Upon his passing, the property bounced between owners until Mr. Champion managed to purchase the rights to it. According to the commissioner, the stable is the oldest commercial building in Hernando County. According to the Brooksville Main Street website, it is also believed to be one of the only livery stables still standing in Florida. Now, the stable-turned-lumber yard has a new lease on life. On Champion’s watch, he hopes to renovate the decrepit yet historic location into a country-style restaurant. With a tentative plan to rename the venue The Stable, he hopes to utilize the building’s rich past to highlight the history of Brooksville.
While he aims to make the restaurant a reality, he emphasizes that it is “a big if” whether they will be able to pull it off. If that becomes unfeasible, the county commissioner sees it as a potential wedding venue, among other possibilities. With a maximum capacity of 200 people, the property is large enough to accommodate plenty of options. Issues such as a lack of parking space and potential fire code violations may keep the building from becoming an eatery, but Champion plans to renovate the space regardless.
Having begun this herculean task roughly three months ago, Mr. Champion projects a completion date of one to two years. His crew is still awaiting engineering to complete the electrical, air conditioning, and insulation, among other tasks; there is an arduous road ahead before the former lumber yard can open its doors. Once it is restored, the space could be used for almost any purpose since it is just “an empty shell.” Even though the upper loft area will only be usable for storage, there will still be 6,100 square feet of usable space.
The project recently received grant funding of $20,000 for the structure’s roof replacement from the City of Brooksville’s Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Property Improvement Matching Grant Program. It was among eight other grant recipients within the CRA between May 2022 and July 2023.
According to Charlene Kuhn, the City’s Public Information Officer, the Property Improvement Matching Grant Program provides funding for a one-to-one dollar match, with a maximum grant of $20,000.00 awarded to any property for eligible approved projects. The award of grant funds is made following the completion and final inspection of the improvement project. The Executive Review Committee makes recommendations to the CRA to award funds to applicants for this program. Applicants need to refer to the 2022 Grant Application Guidelines prior to applying. All properties located in the Brooksville CRA district are eligible for this improvement matching grant program. The area includes properties that front portions of Main Street, Liberty Street, Broad Street, Jefferson Street, Fort Dade Avenue, and Saxon Avenue.
The project is a point of pride for Champion, whose family history stretches back generations in the county. “I’m fifth generation from this area,” Champion said. “My family came here in 1930. It’s more of a legacy thing for me, too. I want to make sure that we are restoring buildings like this… Stuff like this is irreplaceable. If I have the means to do it, I want to do it to help the area.”
Natalie Kahler, as Brooksville Main Street Executive Director, searches for properties that can be used for public spaces and expanding retail in downtown Brooksville. Kahler helped bring the property to various buyers’ attention before Champion purchased the land from the previous owner, who had decided not to get involved in a project of that magnitude.
“Steve was really perfect for that, and he was willing to spend the money he needed to keep it historic, which is important… We have to be careful that we don’t get people that are just looking for something cheap and are going to bulldoze it,” Kahler said.
Brooksville Main Street is a nonprofit organization and a Main Street America™ Accredited program that strives to create a vibrant downtown Brooksville, both economically and culturally.
Champion laments the absence of landmarks and the decline of popular gathering spots like the Hilltop, which has stood empty for several years now, but he thinks The Stable can fulfill a similar role when it is complete. According to Champion, people are excited about it. He told the Sun that he is encouraged by the level of enthusiasm that he has seen on his Facebook page. The commissioner also wants to make it clear that, as the property is in Brooksville, he has no jurisdiction or undue influence over the situation; he is simply renovating the Livery Stable out of a passion for the area. Fortunately for the town, Champion appears well-suited to the task of rejuvenating such a historic linchpin of Brooksville.
For more information on Brooksville’s CRA grant program, please contact the Community Development Department at (352) 540-3810.