It's History vs. Property Rights; Family's Descendants Worry about Future of Old Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Patricia Neleski, Times-Union correspondent

ST. MARYS -- The descendants of a founding Camden County family want to save their ancestral home, any way they can.

But the Pacetti family descendants have no legal claim to the 1898 structure built on land now occupied by Crooked River State Park and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. They only hope to convince the city of St. Marys, Camden County, and even the state to help them save the house from any potential destruction.

"It's a wonderful old house," said Marguerite "Midge" Matthews, who spent her childhood summers in the house, owned by her great-uncle Marion Floyd Pacetti. She now lives in North Carolina.

Matthews still visits the house yearly and keeps a photographic log of it.

The house was sold to Ronald Moody of Jacksonville in 1984 to settle the Pacetti family estate. Moody has alternately lived in the house, worked at renovating it, and attempted to sell it.

Now, his plans to incorporate the building into a recreational vehicle park he is building on the land surrounding the house have the Pacetti ancestors scrambling to save it.

According to Matthews' family history, carefully culled from oral histories, the house was rebuilt after a storm destroyed it in 1898. Wood from the original circa-1830 house went into the current structure.

Last week, Matthews began a letter-writing campaign to City Council members. Her cousins, Charles Davis, Marion DuBose and John DuBose, are leading the charge in St. Marys.

"I'd rather see it moved across the street [to Crooked River State Park] and turned into a museum," Davis said.

"I know the owner has rights," Davis said. "But it's better that the house be preserved. It's part of our history. We just don't have enough historic buildings in downtown St. Marys to maintain the tourists' interest."

Moody said he has no plans to tear down the structure. He said the building will enhance his RV park.

"It's basically sound, it's made of cypress and we'd like to renovate it," said Moody, who envisions using the building as the office and country store for the new park.

Moody, a contractor at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, said he has purchased several old homes over the years, renovated them and sold them, including one in the historic district in Fernandina Beach.

But the Pacetti descendants say they aren't convinced he will be able to keep his word. …