Hidden away off Monroe Street, Tallahassee’s newest museum will open its doors for the first time to the public on Saturday. The Grove once sat on 640 acres of land and earned its name from the abundance of hickory, pine and live oak trees that surrounded the property. Under the stewardship of the Department of State and Executive Director and historian, Johnathan Grandage, the antebellum home has been given a second life.
Its story begins at basement level where Grandage says he and his team began their narrative with the late Governor LeRoy Collins, a tenant of the estate, and his personal journey as an advocate for civil rights. Collins’ office has been recreated with precision from photographs and his belongings — books, desk objects, a funky chaise lounge — all so guests could understand the evolution of his ideas from where they originated. Through his research, Grandage wanted to honor Governor Collins’ legacy, in addition to the other individuals who lived and worked in the home.
“We wanted to create an inclusive narrative because it’s a Florida story and an American story,” states Grandage. “This house has been a witness to the changes Tallahassee has undergone. The people in this home were literary and did a lot of writing, so we wanted words authentic to the people, spoken by them or written by taught survey classes at Florida State and Tallahassee Community College in U.S. History, Latin America, and, his favorite, the History of the Seminoles and Southeastern Tribes.
“Historians play a role in providing context and giving people a baseline understanding of the past, which I think is of tremendous value to understanding the present,” says Grandage. “As an instructor, I always tried to take seemingly random materials and find a way for the students to walk out of the class with a better understanding of why it was important.”
His first job after graduate school was with the DOS as a historian in the Florida Memory Program— an initiative with the state archives and State Library of Florida to share collections with the public via their website and social media. He credits mentors like his superior, Jody Norman, who taught him about work ethic and being committed to serving the community.
In 2014, Grandage was asked to step into the role of Executive Director at The Grove, which was on the cusp of final renovations and in need of an “interpretive plan” for the burgeoning museum. He oversaw the final landscaping and construction phase, and with a team of historians, he fleshed out the narrative and key stories that museum visitors would experience upon entering the property, moving through time as they traveled from floor to floor. When it comes to the interpretation process, Grandage always rounds back to the “so what” question that faces many historians.
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