Photo of James and Sallie Townsend
Article and photos by Chuck Seaver
The Townsend House, built in 1895, is a focal point of the Clermont Historical Society’s Museum, located at 490 West Avenue, Clermont. The Townsend family, wife Sallie and husband James, were well known throughout the community in the late 19thcentury as a family that one could rely upon when help was needed.
Nearly seventy years after Mrs. Townsend was laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery, Clermont, it was discovered that the family’s headstone needed some help of its own. The face of the monument was nearly unreadable, and the two-part stone marker had broken away from its foundation, leaving the monument at risk of toppling over. 

Pete Cole, the Townsend family liaison, and an active member of the Clermont Historical Society’s (CHS) Board of Directors was joined by CHS members to not only clean the monument but also secured the monument with a permanent anchoring. The team researched and discovered a unique ink that is specifically used on headstones to enhance letters and numbers on the stone as well. A piece of Clermont’s deep history has been preserved for future generations thanks to the dedication of the CHS members.

 The Townsend’s were the first black residents of Clermont, moving to Clermont in 1887. Soon after moving to Clermont, Mrs. Townsend became a midwife after taking a nursing course. She is credited with delivering more than a thousand children, both black and white, in the South Lake County area. She continued her work until her health compelled her to retire a few years before her death in 1954 at the age of 81.  The late Sallie Benson, a beloved Lincoln Park and Clermont Elementary School teacher of more than thirty years, was one of two grandchildren of the Townsend couple.

The couple’s wood frame home, originally located on State Road 50, West of Third Street in Clermont, was built in the late 1800s. The home remained at that location until 2002 when it was moved to the CHS grounds and preserved in as much of its original condition as possible. The home’s galvanized handrail remains in its original location on State Road 50 and can be safely observed from a vehicle while driving by the location.

Members of the Clermont Historical Society

 The Townsend House is open for tours during operating hours of the Clermont Historical Village.

Hours of operation are Saturday, 1 PM to 4 PM; Sunday, 1 PM-4 PM; Reservations are available by calling 352-432-3496 (leave message).

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