Then and Now — 1928 & 2023 — 647 34th Ave S
This 9 room mansion was built in 1928 by Ed T. and Nellie D. Lewis after their other home near this location burned down. This new home/mansion was constructed by Franklin J. Mason Co. building contractors for a cost of $80,000 (equivalent to about 1.4 Million in today’s money).
Edson Tiffany Lewis was born on January 19, 1972 in New Milford PA. to Frederick and Alice Lewis, he was the second oldest of four children. His father was a farmer and lumberman. Ed’s parents either divorced or were separated in the late 1880’s, a census from 1900 lists Ed’s mother as ‘widowed’ (even though he husband Fred didn’t die until 1932) and a census from 1910 lists his father Fred as ‘divorced’. So, what we can draw as a conclusion is that his parents were no longer living together and giving different reasons as to why.
On March 7, 1888, Ed, (age 16) came to St. Pete (keep in mind that St. Petersburg was not a named city at the time – that would come later – when he arrived it was a small village of a few shacks and small buildings without formal roads -however, I will refer to in the village as St. Pete in the further telling of this story) with his mother by narrow gauge rail from Fernandina to Tampa, before the railroad had been completed in St. Pete (June 1888), and then from Tampa to St. Pete in a small sailboat that carried mail, passengers and freight and made one trip per week. Once the boat arrived, Ed and his family made their way to the Village via horse drawn wagon. His family was among the first to arrive in St. Pete. They purchased a piece of property from Jacob Baum for $50 which was the first small tract of land sold for home building, and their house was the first home constructed in St. Pete on what is now 9th Street No. by Ernest Norwood, builder.
Once settled Ed took up work in George L. King’s saw mill (having learned the lumber business with his father in PA.) but soon accepted a position as clerk at the Ward General Store, a small wooden building in the middle of a flat dirt field. On October 3, 1888, Ed accepted a position with J.C. Williams Jr. in his general store and remained with him until the Spring of 1889 when he opened his own business in partnership with Edward Durant, he was 17 and Durant 19 (he bought Durant out in 1894).
Ed’s first step in public affairs was taken in 1892 when he took a decided stand for grading and filling in the swamp dividing the heart of the town and located between 2nd & 3rd streets. It was during this time that public improvements began in the city and it was then that Ed began accepting city bonds in his store as cash in order that this work might continue. It was during this same time period that the first school was built in town and hogs were barred from the streets.
On November 29, 1894, Ed married Ms. Nellie Demarest from Englewood, NJ., and the couple had one son, Leon Demarest Lewis in 1896.
Ed was now serving on the city council and fought bitterly for city wooden sidewalks, which finally passed. He took active interest in water and sewer projects and also gave strong support for the brick paving of the streets. This fight for brick streets was so bitter that an injunction was filed against him and others for using the city’s money for brick instead of marl. Ed and his friends won out and the brick paving continued.
Ed was also a huge proponent for a standing fire department with paid firemen and new horse drawn fire equipment. He was also behind the first deep well drilled in St. Pete adding a new water supply to the city and establishing a meter system.
Ed introduced a bill to widen Central Ave. which was ultimately accepted. He was also instrumental in the securing and beautifying the waterfront and yacht harbor, along with W.L. Straub, and served as the Chairman of the light committee of the Board of Trade which established lighting in the city.
In 1904, Ed and others established the National (later called Central) Bank, the C.W. Green Marine Hardware, Citizens Ice and Cold Storage, the Lewis Burton Co., Central American Shipping and Transportation Co., and the South American Import and Export Co. of Tampa.
Ed was very active if social and fraternal groups in the city. He was a member of St. Pete Masonic Lodge No. 139, was the first Exalted Ruler of the local Elks Lodge No. 1224, a member of Sunshine Commandery, Selama Grotto, Knights Templar, Egypt Temple Shriners, St. Pete Yacht Club, Lakewood Country Club, charter member of the Pass-a-Grille yacht club and a member of Rotary.
Ed died on December 2, 1940 at age 68 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in St. Pete. Nellie lived in this mansion until she passed away on November 19, 1947, at age 74 and was buried next to Ed.
The nine room mansion (including 3 bedrooms, 3 baths and 3 lavatories) and its three acres was left to Leon and his wife who remodeled it in 1949. Leon died in 1950 and his widow donated the house to the Florida Presbyterian College in 1960, then valued at $200,000. From 1961 -1985, the house was being used by the Adirondack-Southern School for Girls, a private preparatory school. The mansion was then purchased by The Boley Center Inc. and is still in use by them today.
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