HAVANA SPRINGS TIMELESS PAST AND LIMITLESS FUTURE
Our history begins in the 1820’s with Dr. Malcom Nicholson, a prominent physician and planter who was active in the early development of the north central region of Florida. He was on the original committee that chose Tallahassee as Florida’s state capitol in 1824. He built his seven-bedroom farmhouse – among the oldest houses in Gadsden County – sometime around 1828, using lumber from pine trees on his own property. Hand -formed bricks were stacked inside it’s wood-frame walls for added insulation.
The farm remained in the Nicholson family until 1971, when it was sold to the Eubanks family, who did a lot of restoration work on the original house. In 1987, Paul Nicholson, great-great-grandson of Dr. Malcom Nicholson, and his wife Ann, bought the house back in 1987, along with the surrounding fifty acres, and opened Nicholson Farmhouse Restaurant.
The farmhouse, the adjacent smokehouse, and a barn are the original buildings. Paul and Ann relocated several more vintage buildings to the property; the Littman farmhouse built in 1890, from a couple of miles down State Road 12; the Shady Rest Honky Tonk, built in 1927, also from just down the road; and the Overstreet, Florida Post Office/General Store. Thomas Patrick built the structure in 1916, and members of the Patrick’s family operated it continuously until 1991. Paul and Ann purchased it and moved it to the property in 1995.
The farmhouses’s decor includes a picture of wood-frame and brick walls with solid pine beams across the ceiling. It feels like a home. After all, that’s what it was for more than a century. In addition of the picturesque buildings and setting, steaks were the Nicholson Farmhouse speciality. The steaks were spectacular and crowds from all over the panhandle would come to enjoy!
Sadly, Paul Nicholson died in an automobile accident while on a hunting trip in Argentina in 1999. Gerald and Teresa Carpenter purchased the property in December of that year. The Carpenters continued the restaurant and the Nicholson Farmhouse tradition for the next 9 years after. After almost a decade, in 2007, the Carpenters decided to sell the property and close the Nicholson Farmhouse Restaurant chapter.
Lynn Badger bought Nicholson Farmhouse Restaurant in 2007 with the idea of turning it into a nature retreat, bed and breakfast and event center. She managed the front 10 acres for gopher tortoises and bluebirds, changing the mowing schedule to encourage the return of gopher tortoises and establishing a bluebird trail. She completed a nature trail in the back of the property for hiking, and built a dog park so that canine guests would have a place to play.
She removed a kitchen and bathroom building that were part of the restaurant, built a pond in the dog park, and created a road that went straight from the highway to the central Nicholson Farmhouse. She landscaped the property with longleaf pines, crape myrtles, live oaks, magnolias and many other plants.
Lynn divided off the open gift shop, named the building Salem House (as it was moved there from Salem, a community between the property and Havana), and made it into four boutique bed and breakfast rooms. Next she converted the Smokehouse to a bed and breakfast cottage, and then brought the downstairs of Patrick’s Store back to its former state as a post office and country store and turned both the downstairs and upstairs into bed and breakfast rooms. She then turned the former Nicholson Farmhouse kitchen building to Sea Oats, a bed and breakfast room, and the former porch into the Orange Grove room.
The Next Chapter
There was an immediate connection, attraction and love for the property for John and Jennifer Heal who purchased the property in the fall of 2018. They fell in love with the collection of vintage structures and the stories behind them as well as the unique community of Havana, Florida. Little did they know…it had been such a popular property in the past and had such a colorful history!
With a desire to relocate to a warmer climate (as they were from the Midwest); The Heals were pursuing an investment opportunity to do something outstanding in the wedding/B&B industry. Jennifer had many years of experience in the customer service industry featuring teamwork and entertainment. Also John being an IT software developer and CPA which together, they were equipped with the tools to make this huge life’s transition. This property was perfect for their vision!
Of all the properties visited and investigated throughout the Midwest into Florida, this property truly stood out. It’s unique history of the Nicholson family, the collection of structures that had been relocated and restored within this property, and the amazing community of Havana; all made the decision easy for the Heals. The community was so welcoming and excited to see the property purchased and taken to a new level.
The property had previously accommodated some weddings and also some overnight guests but that was just the foundation to their vision. John and Jennifer’s inspiration was to transform this amazing historical property into a thriving wedding venue, a B&B, and a unique celebration platform backed by delicious catering, vintage upscale guest accommodations and also the most beautiful backdrop for an outdoor wedding ceremony that featured the enormous oak tree and gazebo. The previous owner had done an amazing job at transforming some of the historical homes into guest rooms. The Heals took that a step further and renovated the entire property including the historical Littman House with 6 additional guest rooms including handicap accommodations. It was important that all the guest rooms feature unique antique furniture and décor so that each room had its own personality. They completely renovated the famous Nicholson House and added restrooms, electrical service, air-conditioning and handicap accessibility. They refurbished the Salem House and added handicap accommodations. All the roofs and exteriors of all the buildings were painted and restored. They added shower features in the guest rooms to the existing claw foot tubs for guest convenience. They built a state-of-the art commercial kitchen inside the Shady Rest to accommodate catering and events. An interesting feature is the bar area constructed within the Shady Rest that features the bar top made from the wood of the aged Nicholson House front porch. It’s stunning!
Some of the most amazing progress was in cleaning the debris and overgrowth that had taken over the beautiful features of the property. They cleared back acres of overgrowth, tore down broken fences, planted flowers and bushes, and installed some irrigation to help in dry times. They began to clear back paths and walk trails for beautiful walks thru the woods.
And then they were visited by hurricane Michael. It was devastating and costly but nothing was going to hold back the Heals at this point. The hurricane delayed the construction, grand opening and created a lot of costly challenges in the journey. Not to mention all the clean-up and debris left behind in its tracks. However, nothing was going to stop the vision! The Heals were able to get the job done and open successfully while it was delayed and costly, it all worked out beautifully.
They were able to do some amazing activities and celebrations within the time they had ownership including the launching of Nicholson Restaurant featuring Sunday Family Style Dinner and Steak Nights on the weekends. They served Sunday dinner to more than 300 guests on the first weekend they opened the restaurant. The weddings and celebrations took off like a storm as well and basically most every weekend was booked with dining, a celebration activity and overnight guests.
They added fun activities like outdoor ping-pong, corn hole, numerous yard games and with the help of James (the landscaper) installed a disc golf course that immediately attracted many daytime visitors. Some of the most memorable events besides weddings and B&B guests, was the hayrides, concerts, Prime Music and Steak @ Nicholson’s House featuring live music, the Murder at the Shady Rest Halloween Dinner & Ghost Tour, the Irish Dance and Dinner, the Swing Dance Show and Dinner with professional dancer Matt & Julie Auclair (Multi US Open Swing Dance Champions), and the Mardi Gras Mystery Dinner to mention just a few of the amazing gatherings held at Havana Springs Resort.
And then came the pandemic…which put everything on hold. The property was regulated to be shut down until the pandemic was better under control. In the meantime, Jose and Merissa Tapia had reached out and expressed interest in purchasing the property. It was a blessing in that they were equipped with the business expertise, experience and financial stability to keep the property alive until the pandemic restrictions were lifted. The Heals immediately recognized the honesty, integrity, ambition and business savvy in the Tapia’s that could best continue on what they had started. They made the Heals an offer that made sense for everyone and since, have accomplished even more incredible advancements to the property. Please take a drive and stop by to visit this amazing unique property. The Tapia’s ambition, love and vision has created Havana Springs Resort to be one of the most unique wedding and entertainment venues in Florida!
We are proud of the work that has been done to restore Havana Springs to its former glory. Built circa 1828 and placed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the property has been meticulously restored and updated to respect the history yet accommodate today’s needs. This labor of love has brought new life to one of the Northwest Florida iconic structures.
All 13 rooms and suites have now been completely refurbished and the property appears as a boutique resort with a vintage look and feel. A Havana tradition stretching over multiple generations lives on.