Marabanong, a circa 1876 Queen Anne style home in the Empire Point neighborhood of Jacksonville, is an architectural gem with a rich history. Dr. Wayne Wood, author of “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future,” described Marabanong as one of the 12 most monumental buildings in Jacksonville, saying, “This is truly Jacksonville’s greatest remaining residence of the Victorian era.”
Queen Anne architecture was at the height of popularity from 1875 to 1910. The style originated with architect Richard Norman Shaw in 1868. In fact, the first American Queen Anne home was built only two years before Marabanong, so the house was quite contemporary in its time.
The name Marabanong comes from the Maori language in New Zealand, meaning “paradise.” The home exemplifies many of the classic features of a Queen Anne house, featuring shingle siding accented with ornate details, a wraparound porch with spindle embellishments and an asymmetrical frame dominated by an octagonal turret.
The interior includes over 6,000 square feet of space, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. Windows are everywhere — 121 of them. Outside, enormous oaks provide shade. Some of the original features remain on the grounds, including a koi pond containing ballast rocks from 19th century ships, a footbridge and a wishing well. “It’s like Cinderella’s house,” said current owner, Diantha Ripley.
Marabanong has had a number of interesting owners over the years. The first was Thomas Basnett, a noted astronomer from England. His wife, Eliza Madelina Wilbur, was a scientist and astronomer in her own right. She published a number of scholarly articles and books on the subject of astronomy and is credited as being the first female to lecture on science at Harvard. She was the inventor of a telescope and even worked on developing an airplane around the same time that the Wright brothers successfully did so. When her husband died, she married a French physician named Dr. E. Matthieu Souvielle, and the couple converted the home to serve as a convalescent resort for patients with pulmonary conditions.
In 1914, following the death of Dr. Souvielle, Eliza Madelina Wilbur sold the home to her cousin, Grace Wilbur Trout. Mrs. Trout was quite active in women’s suffrage, the movement that gained women the right to vote. The Trouts expanded Marabanong, adding the large swimming pool surrounded by concrete benches and Venetian lanterns. They also started a collection of exotic animals, including a South American crocodile. The zoo also included deer, pheasants and peacocks that roamed the property. A movie starring Ethel Barrymore was filmed there. Marabanong remained in the Trout family until 1983.
Joe and Diantha Ripley have been the owners and custodians of Marabanong’s history since they purchased it at auction in 1992. Mrs. Ripley recalls, “My husband was so excited when he heard it was for sale,” but she also remembers being intimidated because the house needed so much work. In spite of the challenges, after learning that the gracious old home was about to be auctioned off and possibly even demolished, the Ripleys placed their bid of $165,000, and purchased the property.
Mrs. Ripley now said restoring the home was a huge undertaking, but it was worth it. “I think it’s a beautiful house. It has been fun to live in it. It’s like a fairy tale.” The Ripleys have decided that the time has come to move on, and to allow someone else the opportunity to own this piece of Jacksonville history. The house was recently listed for sale at $1.49 million.