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A Study of the Robb House, Gainesville, Florida
University of Florida, College of Architecture
Graduate Preservation Option
Spring Quarter, 1981
The interpretation of the Robb House was conducted in May, 1981, under
the direction of Professor F. Blair Reeves of the College of Architecture
and Vince Gabianelli, Director of Interpretation, the Florida State
Museum. With special thanks to Associate Professor Phillip P. Wisley,
and Adjunct Professor Herschel E. Sheperd of the College of Architecture.
Also a very special thanks to Lucretia D. Thomson for without whom much
of the information would not have. been possible.
This report was prepared by David L. Jass, Susan M. Turner, Andrew P.
Williams and Pam Hollings McConnell, responsible for the Evolution -
Adaptive Use Restoration and HABS description respectively.
The object of this study, the Robb House, served as the office of the
first woman physician in the State of Florida. Dr. ~Sarah Lucretia Robb,
along with her husband Dr. Robert L. Robb, purchased the house in 1898
and Dr. Sarah Robb established her office in the small front room. Sold
after the death of the Robbs, the house has fallen into a state of disre-
pair and was threatened with demolition. Despite its physical problems
the house is one of the few surviving reminders of early medical practice.
The Alachua County Medical Assoication, realizing the historical value
of the house, purchased it saving it from demolition. The Medical Associa-
tion now plans to adapt the house for use as their office headquarters as
well as a small museum of medical history.
This project was brought to the attention of the College of Architec-
ture, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida in the spring of 1981
and has been the object of extensive documentation and research. A pro-
gram of the proposed functions for the house was supplied by Dr. Barrow,
a member of the Medical Association. Following is a study of the history
of the house with proposals for its restoration and adaptive use.
HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY
THE AVERA-ROBB HOUSE
Prepared by: Pam Hollings McConnell
College of Architecture
University of Florida
June 2, 1981
HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY
THE AVERA-ROBB HOUSE**
Originally: 406 E. University Avenue, Gainesville,
Alachua County, Florida (northeast corner of N.E. 4th
Street and E. University Avenue), B~k 7, Range 4 in Town
Present: Southwest corner of W. 2nd Avenue and S.W. 2nd
Place, Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida, Lot 1, Blk.
1, Wilson's Subdivision of the F. X. Miller Property in
Southwest Gainesville recorded Plat Book "A" at pg. 55 of
public records of Alachua County.
Building was moved from original site April 11, 1981.
Alachua County Medical Society, Inc.
Unoccupied and under rehabilitation for use as offices
and medical history museum.
The Avera-Robb House was the home 1 offices of Drs. Robert Lee and
Sarah Lucretia Robb, prominent citizens of Gainesville
around the turn of the century. Sarah Robb, who lived
in the house until her death in May of 1937., was one of
the first female physicians in Florida.
Part I. HISTORICAL INFORMATION
A. Physical History:
1. Original and subsequent owners: In 1870 T. C. Goss, President
of the Board of County Commissioners of Alachua County, Florida
deeded Block 7, Range 4 in the Town of Gainesville to Mr. Joseph
Avera. The Warranty Deed for the transaction was $42.00. It is
more than likely that no house was located on the site at that
time. The 1880 Census (page 42) of the city lists 7 persons
living in the house: Joseph Avera, age 41, blacksmith (from N.C.);
his wife, Emma, age 39, housewife (from S.C.); their children: son,
Joseph, age 19, single laborer (born in Florida), son, William, age
14, student (born in Florida), and daughter, Lena, age 5 (also
born in Florida); and George Debrie, age 35, a cratemaker and his
wife, Mary C., age 33 (both from Pennsylvania).
In 1898 Joseph Avera and his wife deeded the house to Sarah Robb
(Deed Book 48, Page 404, Warranty Deed $1,000). The house remained
the home of Sarah Robb until her death in 1937 (her husband having
died after the turn of the century in 1903). At her death the house, Tot,
** Popularly known as the Robb House
Historic American Buildings Survey
Avera-Robb House, Page 2
lot and furnishings were left to a widow friend, Mrs. Margaret
Gross, originally from Chartersville, Westmoreland County, Canada,
who had been living with Sarah Robb for several years since their
mutual widowhood. Grossy had become a close family friend. Two
years after Sarah's death she deeded the property to the Robb
daughters (Mrs. Wettie Robb Gunz, Mrs. Sarah Emily Dorsey, and Mrs.
Elizabeth McKinstry)(Warranty Deed in the best interest of all
parties, Margaret Gross released claim for life interest). That same
year the house was deeded by the three daughters to Mr. Joe C.
and Mary E. Jenkins.
2. Date of Erection: Original structure constructed in the late 1870's.
3. Architect: Unknown
4. Alterations and Additions: The 1897 Sanborn Map shows the house as
an L-shaped structure containing only 1 bay on what is now its north
elevation. In 1903 a rear addition to the main structure located
on the site of an outbuilding shown on the 1897 map is illustrated
on the Sanborn Map. In addition, an extension of the front portion
is documented on the map with an additional bay on the west (now
east) portion of the front elevation. A front porch was built
between the two bays. Porches which existed in the earlier versions
of the house (between the two front bays and on the east and west facades)
were enclosed over the years to provide additional living space. The
porch between the two bays was enclosed around 1949/1950.
B. Historical Events and Bersons Connected with the Structure:
The Drs. Robb moved to Gainesville in May of 1882 from Illinois. Both
were practicing physicians.- Dr. Robert Robb was a public spirited citi-
zen and became very involved in the Gainesville community. At one time
he owned a considerable amount of land north of East University Avenue
near Newnan's Lake Road. His original plan was to construct a streetcar
line to Newnan's Lake, but the yellow fever epidemic of 1888 halted his
plans. Dr. Sarah Robb is said to have been one of the first female
physicians of Florida. She also was involved in the.community and was a
member of the Presbyterian Temperance Union, an honorary member of the
Founder's Garden Circle, and member of the Colfay Rebekah Lodge No. 2.
C. Sources of information:
1. 01d View: Turn of the century photograph of Dr. Sarah Robb sitting
in carriage in front of house along E. University Avenue.
2. Additional Information: Sanborn Maps, Gainesville Daily Sun 5/3/37
pg. 1, interview with Dr. Mark Barrow, assistance from Interpretation
students, Preservation Program, University of Florida, Spring, 1981,
and the Alachua County Records Office.
Historic American Buildings Survey
Avera-Robb House, Page 3
PART II. ARCHITECTURAL INFORMATION
A. General Statement:
1. Architectural Character: This a typical example of a small,
cottage style Victorian clapboard house. The structure is
one story with two bays on the front elevation decorated with
brackets, beading, diagonal tongue and groove siding, and
other decorative wood detailing. Roof eaves are decorated
with sawn wood verge board decoration in a stylized elongated
2. Condition of Fabric: Poor wood rotted with extensive termite
B. Description of Exterior:
1. Overall Oimensions: This house is approximately 44 feet wide
and 58 feet long.
2. Foundations: Original location: Foundations of earliest portion
of structure are limestone. Later additions are of brick and
concrete. New Location: Foundations are concrete block piers.
3. Wall Construction, Finish and Color: Painted novelty siding in
pine and cypress. All siding is painted white.
4. Structural System, Framing: Front L-shaped portion is braced-
frame structure with wood interior framing. Rear portion is balloon
wood frame with wood interior framing.
5. Porches: Original porches now enclosed. Flashing and roof line
of original porch still visible along eas'ternwing shown in
North Elevation.Porches originally located on norCth, west, and east facades.
6. Chimneys: Two chimneys exist 1 in front portion of structure
(approximately 1'l" X l'6") and I in mid-section (approximately
2'5"1 X 1 '6").
a. Doorways and doors: The main entrance is located on the eastern
facade at the front of the house. The entrance is protected by
by a simple entrance roof which extends over the doorway. Two
additional exterior doors are also located on the east side of
the structure in the mid and rear sections.
b. Windows and Shutters: The majority of windows are double hung
with two lights over tw~o lights. One double hung, six over six
window is located on the east facade of the building and two
Historic American Buildings Survey
Avera-Robb House, Page 4
four over four on the west facade.
c. Roof (Shape, Covering): Portions of the original wood shingle
can be seen protruding from under later asphalt shingle
additions to bay roofs. Remainder of major roof areas are
gable type, surfaced with asbestos shingles (17" X 21") laid
on end to form a diamond shaped pattern. Many shingles are
missing from the foof and interior damage to structure indicates
roof leakage, rot damage, and termite damage. Gutters are flased in copper.
d. Roof (Cornice, Eaves): An overhang (approximately 11") extends
around the house on all sides. In some areas the overhang is
decorated with sawnwood verge board in a stylized elongated
heart pattern. Other areas of the eaves have 4/5" strips of
board nailed to roof joists and outriggers while other areas of
the eaves and roof joists are exposed. Two front gables and gable
on eastern side are decoraged with stick-style gable decoration.
areas of overhang and verge board are rotted.
C. Description of Interior:
1. Floor Plan:
a. Ground Floor: The floor plan consists of ten rooms now
separated into 3 separate dwelling units. One major room
extends across most of the front of the house. This room
two smaller rooms, and one bathroom make up the front portion of
the house. The mid-section of the house contains three smaller
rooms and one bathroom. The rear portion of the house
contains two rooms and one bathroom.
b. ttic: The attic area was never utilized as a living space.
2. Flooring: The tongue and groove pine flooring is exposed in
some areas,.other areas are covered with asphalt tiles. Bathrooms
are floored in ceramic tile.
3. Wall and Ceiling Finish: Walls and ceilings are plaster. Rough
plaster finish was skimmed over original walls probably in the
1930's. No cornice, wainscotting, or ceiling medallions exist.
4. Doo rways : Doors which remain-are 4 .& 2 panelled. Most of interior
detailing has been vandalized and stolen. Doorway openings lack
any unusual decorative detail. Openings generally measure 2'10"
to 3' in width and 6' to 6'9" in heighth.
5. Trim: Trim moldings around doorways and windows is generally four
inches in width. Baseboards are in all rooms, some with quarter-round
and decorative moldings.
6. Hardware: Little of the original hardware exists today. Some
windows and doors which are still in place have latches and
old hinges. Windows still hanging have original weights and pulleys.
Historic American Buildings Survey
Avera-Robb House, Page 5
8. Lighting: Two original ceiling fixtures still remain in the
two major rooms of the rear of the house. These fixtures are
identical and are double, incandescent bulb ceiling lights cast in metal
with a simple decorative pattern.
1. General Setting and Orientation: Original: The house was located
on a corner lot facing south and set back from the street by
a short distance (approximately eight feet). The present location
is also on a corner lot, however, the house is oriented facing
a. Original Site: The original site contained several outbuildings
over the years. The first of these structures was probably
the kitchen for the main house and was located at the rear of
lot just behind the house. The 1903 Sanborn Map shows
an addition to the main structure located where thetout-
building had been located. In 1913 another outbuilding
was recorded on the Sanborn Map located to the rear and east
of the main house. In 1922 this structure was not shown on
the Sanborn Map. This building probably functioned as the
stable for the Robbs as it is known that they did own horses.
In 1928 another outbuilding is pictured on the Sanborn Map and
probably served as an automobile garage.
b. Present Site: No outbuildings exist at the present site of
PART III. PROJECT INFORMATION
These records are part of the documentation of the Avera-Robb House performed
by the Documentation Class of the Preservation Program in the College of
Architecture, University of Florida. The project was under the general
supervision of Professor F. Blair Reeves. The Historic American Buildings
Survey documentation was prepared by Pam Hollings McConnell and is meant to
be used in conjunction with information, plans, elevations, and photographs
prepared in the general documentation and interpretation of the Avera-Robb
House (popularly known as the Robb House).
Pam Hollings McConnell
University of Florida
Spring Quarter, 1981
The beginning record of this site is found in the County Commis-
sioners records dated September 6, 1854. In this document is informa-
tion concerning the formation of Gainesville, authorizing the employ-
ment of a suitable person to lay off the land of Gainesville.
The specific site which is of concern in this study is block 7,
range 4 of the township of Gainesville as surveyed by Jessie B. Hunter.
Commli s si oner-' s Rep~ort.
East Plorida, Newna~nsville.
At a call meeting of theg Board? of CouLnty Comm~~:issioners.
Present, John E. Standley, William J. Turner, William H. brook=
Commissioners, and A4. Y. Caston, President of the Board.
The Board being sufficient to transact business proceeded
Orde-r No. 1.
In pursu7ance of thre Act of the Gene~ral
Assem~bly, entitled An1 Act to jr~ovide for the Election of
the Coun~ty Site of A~lschua~ Couityr, approved Dec;mber 28, 1_852,
we the County Commissioners of Alachua County, haee purchased
a suitable Countyl~ Site at the place~ selected by vote.
Ordered that the- J~~udg of Pr'obaLte be, a~nd he~ is thereby
authorized to employ a suitable person t~o lay off the land
so purchased into lots in conformity cith the said Act, the
su~rvy to be commenced "oy the 15th inst., the following to be
mzde the basis of said survey: A square to be reserve(. in the
center, as near as may be, containing forare;fu
main streets entering the equare to be 90 ft, wide, the other
streets to be 40 ft. v~ide, the entire tow tob urunded
by a street not less than 30 ft. wide, the place to be named
It is further or-d~ered that the sale of ,he lots at sai
County site take place on the first day of October next, and
that the Judge of Pr~obate give notice of said sale in as many
newspapers as he may think neC3Essar, and also by circulation
of hand bills; terms of sale to be one-half cash, ths other
half on credit of six or twelve months, and interest from
date, purchasers to give notes wilth approved security.
j ~~Page~ 65 and 85 Old Record`s Couvnty Comm~cissioners,
1846 to 18371, dnted September 6, 1854.
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Two othr pol eesding in the h80Cnu, ae ousep Aeat the teo hise cenus
GereDbiwie years old and a bakmt r N caroiate make wfroEma Pensylvania
Hisrg wie Mrye waste 33 years old and wascae a from Pennsylvania.
On September 1, 1898 Joseph H. Avera and his wife sold all of
block 7, range 4 to S. L. Robb for the sum of $10(00.00
Half of this sum was paid with a mortgage of $500.00 which
was cancelled on May 9, 1899.
SCALE 1"' = 30'
Dr. Robert L. Robb was white, his wife, Dr. Sarah L. Robb was white
and 45 years old in 1898. They had four children, one a son, deceased
and three daughters, Nettie (Mrs. W. H. Gunz), Lizzie (Mrs. Robert
McKinstry) and Emily (Mrs. W. S. Dorsey) who was 11 years old when the
Robbs moved to Gainesville.
Dr. R. L. Robb was an entrepreneur, not interested in his profes-
sional field, he involved himself in the development plans for a town
West of Gainesville and promoting a street railway system for Gainesville.
Neither of these were actually built, a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1888
brought a halt to the railway.
Dr. S. L. Robb received her nursing training in Maryland and got
her R.N. at Hanilman Hospital (unsure of correct spelling). Her husband
recognized her abilities as a doctor and after being refused entry into
medical schools in the United States they both moved to Germany where
she received a professional medical degree after two years of study.
Prior to moving to Florida they lived near Chicago, Illinois. Some-
where between 1882 and 1884 the Robbs moved to Gainesville and resided
at the residence formally occupied by Dr. W. L. Sigler, 916 Northeast
3rd Avenue. In 1898 the Robbs moved to 506 East University Avenue, the
residence formally owned by Joseph Avera and the focal point of the study.
Between 1897 and 1903 the 80' square north east corner of the original
site was sold and the 11 story structure along East University
Avenue was removed.
The house proper received the addition of two offices for
SCALE : 1" =30'
both R. L. Robb and his wife on the southwest corner of the
house. The north porch and separate enclosures of the structure was removed
and replaced by a kitchen and dining room, a fine example of balloon frame
construction, still existing. Along the west elevation an open 5'-0" wide
porch was added connecting the living room and the dining room. To the
rear of the site an outbuilding was constructed to house possibly a
carriage along with a bathroom and miscellaneous storage. It was con-
structed to match the house.
In 1903 Dr. R. L. Robb died.
Between 1903 and 1909 the remaining east 80' of the site was
sold. The addition of a bathroom and an extension of the
east porch were constructed on the east elevation. Toilet :i
facilities may still have been out back.
SCALE 1" = 30'
This is the period which the residence is being restored to.
I -- I
I 1 I
Between 1909 and 1913 the northwest 55' x 70' and the southeast
20' x 110' pieces of land were sold. To the northeast of the
site a new stable was constructed which was a single story
structure with a shingle roof. The west elevation of the site
SCALE : 1" =30'
received the addition of an open porch.
Sometime after Dr. R. L. Robb's death Mrs. Robb met Mrs. Margaret
Gross near the location of the public library downtown and learning of
her situation of distress took her into her home.
Mrs. Gross (Grossy) was a widow from Canada who moved down south
because of her son who was sick, hopeful that Florida's mild climate
would restore the health of her son. While on the way down, in Georgia
her son died. Grossy and Sarah Robb became close friends and Grossy
was treated like one of the family.
Between 1913 and 1922 the north portion of the site was sold leaving
a property 110' x 100'. The outbuilding at the northeast cor-
ner of the site was removed. All porch area roofs were redone 3
with composition roofing (asphalt shingles).
SCALE : 1" =30'
During this period of time, possibly 1917 Sarah Robb retired
from her profession.
I-- ,I I I .A
Between 1922 and 1928 a garage was constructed in the northeast
corner of the site. A single story structure with composition
roofing. Also the main roof of the structure received a new
composition roof to replace the wood shingle roof that existed.
SCALE = 30'
It is my estimate that this is when the asbestos cement shingles
which still exist were applied.
Between 1928 and 1950 Sarah L. Robb died and through several
legal proceedings the house was sold to Joe C. Jenkins.
According to the Gainesville Daily Sun, Monday afternoon T
May 3, 1937 Dr. Sarah Lucretia Robb, 84, died at 3:30 p.m.,
SCALE 1" =30'
Sunday morning at her home 506 East University Avenue after a long
illness. She was born on June 7, 1852 in Newark, New Jersey and was
married to Dr. Robert Lee Robb on February 14, 1872 in Delvan, Illinois.
She was a member of the Presbyterian Temporance Union, honorary member
of the Founders Garden Circle and the Colfax Rebekah Lodge No. 2.
In her will she states "I give, devise and bequeath to my valued
and faithful friend Mrs. Margaret Gross, only during her natural life,
my home place and the furniture contained therein to use as her home."
She then continues to divide her entire estate into thirds, being
given to her three daughters.
On October 28, 1938 Margaret H. Gross gave the house and furnish-
ings therein to the three daughters of Sarah L. Robb, given with "the
best interest of all concerned."
On December 1, 1939 these three sisters along with their husbands,
except Emily who was widowed, sold the property to Joe C. Jenkins and
Mary Jenkins his wife for the sum of $2884.50.
According to records, in 1949 a mortgage for $10,500.00 was acquired
from the Florida Bank at Gainesville. This sum may have been used for
improvements to the house making it a four-apartment building with the
addition of a single story dwelling in the southeast corner of the pro-
perty and the removal of the garage at the northeast corner. The "Robb
House" was changed on its west elevation by expanding the open porch to
the north and west and enclosing the bottom leg of the "L" shaped porch.
The front porch was enclosed also.
On October 5, 1973 Mary Jenk~~~Inssl h Rb os"t r
O n October 5, 1973 L Mary, Jr enkin Uss so the "obHouse"tagou
during this period of time to the present is unclear. I have .:
heard of a dance school and a judo school existing in the
SCALE : 1" =30'
The date of the sale of the house to the Alachua County Medical
Society, Inc. is not known yet but the price paid for the building was
one dollar. The house was sold on the condition that it would be moved
to another property. On March 31, 1981 such a property was purchased,
lot 1, block 1, Wilsons Subdivision of the F. X. Miller property in
southwest Gainesville as per plat therefore recorded in Plat Book "A"
at page 55 of the records of Alachua County, Florida. The price paid
for this property was $23,000.
The porch and enclosed porch of the west elevation was in very bad
condition on the original site and was removed before moving the house.
Moving of the structure occurred on April 11, 1981. The recorded move
is contained within this paper. The site to which the house was moved
was at one time owned by Mrs. Austin McKinstry, a granddaughter of Dr.
Sarah L. Robb.
O. W 2 we
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Moving of the Robb House
Existing Location: 406 East University Avenue
New Location: 200 block of Southwest 2nd Avenue
Date: April 11, 1981
Moving Company: Hygema House Movers Inc.
Albert Botles, Superintendent
Moving Company Cost: $16,000
Utility Costs: 7,800
Total Cost: 23,800
Arrive at site on East University. Traffic lights at corner
of Northeast 3rd Street are being taken down. Men are
arriving to move the house.
Final trimming of trees on site for move using both power
and hand saws.
Removal of railroad ties at corner supports of front of
building which are replaced with neumatic jacks. Gasoline
powered pump used to raise jacks so that center support
which is attached to the tractor bed can be cleared of
its railroad tie support system.
Wooden planks are placed to allow tractor to back in and
link up to cribbing.
9 workers and 1 foreman are used to move the house.
Tractor is moved into position. Stop lights from North-
east 3rd Street have been removed and intersection is
ready for move.
Man from Southern Bell arrived and talks over move with
foreman. Jacks are lowered and cribbage is attached to
the tractor bed.
Wooden planks are laid down for wheels of crib earring
house. Men under the house watch the planks as house is
City utility truck arrives. House moved 3 more feet,
blocking is placed behind wheels of tractor, and planks
are moved forward.
Truck with hook and wench moved from side of house to
Traffic moving on East University still, but very light.
Horizontal pole supporting traffic lights on East Univer-
sity and 3rd Street is removed.
Truck with hook is attached to right major support of
crib to aid tractor in moving house out of depression.
Tractor now up to front sidewalk and hook truck is removed.
Planks are being moved forward again.
Police road block on University.
Building bridge up to sidewalk to give smooth transition
of house out of depressed site area. Weight problem on
tirer extremely dangerous, especially for people under the
house moving the planks.
Wheels of crib out of hole and are resting on the side-
walk. Planks are built up to make a smooth transition
down curbs to East University Avenue.
House on East University heading west toward Northeast
3rd Street. House centered in street. A police escort
is provided. Wires are watched, which span the intersec-
tion and they are moved up with the assistance of a bucket
truck to allow roof clearance.
Planks are being stacked onto a flat bed truck from site.
Bucket truck arrives at intersection. A ladder is assembled
and used to place two men on the ridge of the house to
guide wires over the ridge and chimneys. Fortunately
the run of the ridge role is with the direction of the move.
Bucket truck moves cable up for ridge clearance.
House clears wire, now heading south on Southeast 3rd
Street. Southeast 1st Avenue and Southeast 3rd Street
intersection clear for move.
Another cable is moved under before Southeast 2nd Avenue.
Southeast 2nd Avenue and Southeast 3rd Street intersection
has a cable on the pavement. Planks are placed either
side of the cable to protect it from the crib wheels.
When planks are in position a foot is placed on the plank
nearest the approaching wheels to stabilize it, otherwise
a finger could be taken off through movement in the boards.
Intersection cleared, now heading west on Southeast 2nd
Cable on pavement is being raised and retensioned.
Street lights along north side of Southeast 2nd Avenue
are a potential problem but ridge passes under them by a
foot and a half.
Utility trucks working ahead of move but at Southeast 2nd
Avenue and Southeast 2nd Street a tension wire was not
removed and is delaying the move. "Come along" are used
to take the tensioned wire down.
Wire is cut and taken down. Those cutting cable are using
25'-0" as the height of the house on the cribbing.
Clear intersection with Southeast 1st Street. South Main
Street intersection still being worked on.
South Main intersection cleared. Southwest 1st Street
intersection has a tensioned cable which needs to be re-
Site clearing (new) has been occurring since the house
moved onto 2nd Avenue. Underbrush and small trees are
being cut back.
Southwest 1st Street intersection cleared. Cables at
Southwest 2nd Street intersection need to be cut.
Southwest 2nd Street intersection cleared. Cable just
after intersection is held up to clear house by a bucket
Trees are cleared from site. House in front of site.
Men on roof are taken down. House is swung wide (into
the site and then out to opposite side of street.)
Wood planks are used in reverse of previously described
method, allowing for the smooth transition over the curb
of Southwest 2nd Avenue.
Two shovels are used to mark west most position of house
on site. Wheels on west side of crib are realigned, they
were twisted out of position in turning and transcending
Further clearing needed behind the house.
Continuing to move and shift house into permanent position.
Crib and tractor are straightened to tighten west side of
house into shovel line.
Measuring setbacks to exactly position house in the north,
Shut down for lunch.
House in position.
Police 12 men
3 Bucket trucks
1 Ladder truck
City of Gainesville:
2 Bucket trucks
Control Specialist Company
2 Bucket trucks
1 Truck with hook and crane
HB0 Cable Vision
Hygema House Movers, Inc.
1 Tractor (52 Auto car)
1 Hook truck
1 Equipment truck
David, Jess G., History of Gainesville, Florida, with Biographical
sketches of Families.
Hildreth, Charles Halser, A History of Gainesville, Florida.
1880 Census, p. 62.
Property Records, Alachua County Abstract Co., 215 Southeast 2nd Avenue.
Weekly Bee, 1882 1884.
Sanborn Maps, 1897 1950.
Documentation of the Robb House done by students in the Architectural
Preservation program, University of Flroida under the supervision
of Blair Reeves and Phil Wisley.
Thomson, Lucretia, Oral history, collected on May 30, 1981.
A DA PT I VE US E
R ESTO RAT I ON
BAC KG ROUND
In the autumn of 1898 Dr. Robert Lee Robb and his wife Dr. Sarah Lucretia
Robb purchased a house at 506 East University Avenue, then Liberty Street.
In the 19 years which followed, Dr. Sarah Robb used an office in this
house as a base for a medical practice which established her as one of
the first female physicians in the State of Florida and one of the finest
physicians in the City of Gainesville.
The small Victorian cottage is one of the final reminders of the career
of a significant physician as well as the day by day life of an early
20th century Gainesville resident. Knowledge of the life and environ-
ment of Dr. Sarah Robb can greatly contribute to an understanding of
medical practice in early Gainesville and thereby strengthen the bond
between past and present so essential to a full appreciation of the pre-
At the height of Dr. Robb's practice, about 1909, the plan of the house
was as shown on the following page. The exterior .appearance of the- house
is shown in the following exterior restoration section.
The formal entry to the house was by way of a large front porch facing
Liberty Street. Two doors opened onto this porch. The side door was a
secondary entrance to Dr. Robb's office; the major door, located on the
south wall, opened into a small vestibule which in turn opened into the
living room. Documentation of the dimensions and aesthetic character
of this vestibule is scarce. It is believed to have been rather small
with only enough space for the door to swing open and for a small umbrella
stand. A side door in this vestibule opened into the front bedroom which
was occupied by Dr. Robb's friend, Grossy.
The living room walls were of plaster on wood lath strips and were paint-
ed off-white. All walls in the house were finished in the same manner.
The floor was probably of 5" tongue and groove pine identical to that
which still exists in other parts of the house although this is not
certain. There was a couch in the northwest corner and a large chair
in the southwest corner. Curtains on the front windows were of knitted
lace as were all the curtains in the house. A door on the east wall
opened into a bedroom used for guests and patients who needed to spend
1909 FLOOR PLAN
the night. A small stove for heating existed in. both this bedroom and
in the bedroom used by Grossy. A similar stove existed in the back of-
The most frequently used entry to the house was on the west side and led
to Dr. Robb's office in the front room. The small canopy sheltering this
door can' be seen on the east elevation in the following restoration sec-
tion. Th~e door employed extensive use of ornamental glasswork. It had
three lights, the center light being of etched glass and the lights to
either side of stained glass. In this office Dr. Robb established her-
self as one of the most respected physicians in Gainesville. She treated
her patients on a couch located in the northeast corner of the room.
Because of inadequate pharmacies in Gainesville Dr. Robb ordered sugar
pills from St. Louis, Missouri. Upon which she placed her medication to
dispense to her patients. She entertained children while treating their
mothers by dumping some sugar pills on a chair with a woven hemp seat,
located in the office. The sugar pills would become lost in the woven
seat and the children would occupy their time by looking for them and
being rewarded for their search by being allowed to eat them.
Behind the front office was another office used by Dr. Robert L. Robb
prior to his death in 1903. A large desk built of cherry was located
in this room. All of the Robb's furniture was built of cherry in the
family owned furniture factory, R. L. Robb and Sons in Iowa, and was
shipped to Gainesville in 1880. The back opened to the living room on
the east and to a linear open porch on the north.
This linear porch was used as an exterior hallway with Dr. Robb's bed-
room and the dining room both opening from it. Dr. Robb's bedroom had
access to the living room through a door in the south wall and access
to a screened porch through a door in the east wall. A small closet
occupied the space beside the chimney at the north end of the room. The
door from the exterior porch to the west was not used and Dr. Robb placed
her large cherry dresser in front of it. Her bed was located against the
west wall beside the dresser.
The screened porch to the east of Dr. Robb's bedroom served to connect
the living room with the rear wing of the house containing the kitchen
and dining room. This porch was a multi-purpose space. The kitchen
door was at the north end. The bathroom was located at the northeast cor-
ner of the porch and entered through a door on the west wall. An icebox
sat next to the kitchen door. Along the west wall hung several small
wooden chairs for Dr. Robb's grandchildren to use when they came to visit.
Along the south wall hung the medical equipment which Dr. Robb used when
on housecalls. This was a convenient location for her to pick up the
equipment as she left and her carriage would be waiting by the porch
steps.' Beside the porch steps sat a large plant stand on which Dr. Robb
kept ferns and geraniums which she raised.
The kitchen located to the north of the screened porch was the largest
room in the house. A round dining table occupied the northwest corner
opposite the porch door. In the southeast corner was a large free stand-
ing woodburning stove. Under the window on the east wall was a sink.
A handpump existed but the house was equipped with indoor plumbing at
this time. On the west wall was the door to the dining-room. The
dining was a very formal room seldom used when company was not present.
Two tables existed in this room, a large table for the adults and a small
one for the children. A flight of steps onto the west porch occurred in
front of the dining room door. When company came to dinner they would
often enter the house by way of these steps and directly enter the dining
Much of the above information was supplied by Mrs. Lucretia Dorsey Thompson,
the granddaughter of Dr. Robb, who spent much of her childhood in the
Robb's house. Most of this information was supported by evidence in the
now abandoned and partially gutted house, such as nail holes and patched
baseboards where partition walls have been moved. Where information was
difficult or impossible to obtain assumptions have been made.
In 1939 the heirs of Dr. Sarah Robb sold the house to Mr. Joseph Jenkins
who made considerable alt erations destroying much of the character of
the Robb's house. The house was purchased by a group of lawyers in 1973
interested in building an office on the land. The house was eventually
left vacant and the lack of maintenance occurring between the time of its
abandonment and the present has resulted in considerable deterioration.
Approximately one year ago the Alachua County Medical Association pur-
chased the house with the intention of adapting it for use as their office
headquarters, and a small museum of early medical practice. The house
was moved from its original site to a lot on Southwest 2nd Avenue. On
its new site the orientation of the house is opposite .that of its former
site (north side is now south side, etc.). Following is a plan showing
the Robb House in its present condition. The remainder of this section
will discuss the requirements and the philosophy which will govern the
adaptive use of the Robb House and the proposal which resulted from those
requirements and philosophy.
The Alachua County Medical Association intends to use the Robb House as
its office headquarters. In addition the association wishes to develop
a small museum to recreate the essence of early medical practice in
Gainesville. The following program was provided by Dr. Barrow:
-Reception and secretary space to accommodate one receptionist and
one part-time secretary, 2 or 3 filing cabinets, chairs for guests,
xerox machine and minimal storage.
-Conference space to accommodate 8 people on a regular basis and
12-15 people on occasion.
-Office space to accommodate the medical association's Women's Auxiliary
one desk, one filing cabinet, and a small table to seat 3 or 4 people.
-Kitchenette to accommodate small refrigerator, sink, hot plate, and
-Two restrooms, one to accommodate the handicapped.
-Adequate space to accommodate equipment for the complete climate
control of the house.
-Space to accommodate the following museum exhibits.
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-The restoration of Dr. Robb's front office
-A countertop and shelving from a turn of the enetury pharmacy
-A display on the history of the medical assoication including
portraits of the Association's past presidents
-A display on Dr. Robb's practice, lifestyle, and the history of
The Robb House is one of the last surviving reminants of the life and times
of Dr. Sarah Robb. The importance of this building lies not in its archi-
tectural significance but in this historical significance. As a valuable
part of the past of the medical association the Robb House has a contri-
bution to make to its present and its future. Memories of the past create
an understanding of the present and a sense of direction for the future.
The Robb House can bring back memories of Dr. Robb and early medical prac-
tice of great value in forming both the association's self image and
its public image.
In purchasing and planning to adapt the Robb House for use as their of-
fices, th~e Medical Association has taken the first step toward a renewal
of their rich heritage. The deisgn for the adaptive use of this building
attempts to further the association's efforts and strengthen the rela-
tionship between past and present. The design will attempt not to re-
create the past but rather to create a living recollection of the past;
a synthesis of the past and the present. To accompli-sh this the museum
exhibitions to be incorporated in the design will not exist independently
of the office space but will exist as an integrated whole. The exhibits
contributing to the character of the office spaces as well as the design
of the office space being allowed to have an impact on the exhibits. The
design solution will attempt to create a whole in which past and present
will merge and through this merging both will attain a further dimension
in life and vitality. The house, in its ability to recreate the atmosphere
of Dr. Robb's practice, serves as the major exhibit but simultaneously
becomes a living space used daily by those who can profit most from an
understanding of the very atmosphere which it creates. Thus the philosophy
governing the adaptive use of the house and the statement of purpose of
the museum exhibits to be incorporated within the house become as one:
to convey the essence of the life and times of the first woman physician
in the State of Florida in such a way that it strengthens the sense of
identity of today's medical practice as well as enriches the daily life
of any who may experience it.
The philosophical concept of integration of past and present is achieved
in the proposed design by the incorporation of the museum exhibits within
the office spaces rather than separating the building into museum areas
and offices areas. The house itself, restored as closely as possible to
its character at the time of Dr. Robb's practice, serves as the major ex-
hibit, the offices occurring within this large scale exhibit. On a smaller
scale museum enhibits covering a range of appropriate topics, from early
medicine to the evolution of the house, will occur within the office spaces.
In addition to philosophical motives an analysis of the user group serves
to reinforce the validity of this concept. Although the Medical Associa-
tion will invite the general public it is probable that the majority of'
the users will be those who have business with the Medical Association,
mostly those who are association members themselves. By incorporating
the exhibits within the usable office space these association members
will hopefully benefit from the living memories of the past.
The architectural restoration of the Robb House will attempt to recreate
as closely as possible the past character of the house while still serv-
ing the functional needs of the Medical Association.It will only attempt
to recreate the character and will not be a strictly accurate restoration.
This decision was made for reasons of cost and programmic requirements
of the office space. The year 1909 was chosen as the time to which the
house will be restored. This time is relevent in that it signifies
the height of Dr. Robb's practice. Several sources aided in obtaining
information as to the appearance of the house in 1909: Sanborn Insurance
Company Maps 1909; an oral description by Lucretia D. Thompson, the grand-
daughter of Dr. Robb, and a photograph (see cover sheet) taken between
1900 and 1916, (heretofore referred to as the 'old photograph').
Following is a plan of the design for the adaptive use of the Robb House
and a space by space description of the solution.
PROPOSED FLOOR PLAN
General The Robb House was greatly altered after the death of Dr. Robb.
The majority of the walls are no longer in the same location as they were
in 1909. An attempt will be made to restore most of the walls to their
1909 locations. When a deviation is made from this intention it will be
stated in regard to the specific situation. The two chimneys,indicated
on the old photograph, which no longer exist will not be restored for
reasons of economy and space. Efforts have been made to accommodate
modern functions and equipment in as inobtrusive way as possible. In-
terior finishes and furnishings will be attempted to be reproduced as
accurately as possible. In many cases original furnishings will be donated,
where this is not possible reproductionswill be made from a knowledge of
of the Robb's furnishings and a knowledge of typical furnishing-s circa 1909.
I Front Porch This space will be restored as accurately as possible,
Both existing doors will be retained. Further discussion of this
porch will be included in the following exterior restoration section.
SE Waiting Room The 1909 parlor will serve as the waiting/reception
room for those doing business with the Medical Association. This
room will be restored as accurately as possible to its 1909 condi-
tion. The furnishings known to have existed will be reproduced or
if possible the originals donated. The small vestibule between this
space and the front porch will also be restored although the side
door allowing access to the front bedroom will not be restored.
23 Restored Office Dr. Robb's office will be restored exactly to its
condition in 1909. Much of the original furnishings are now in the
possession of Mrs. Lucretia D. Thompson and many pieces will be
donated. This room will be the only space used exclusively as a
museum. The brick flue for a Franklin stove will not be restored.
It is possible that a donation of an original Franklin stove may
4 Secretarial Office Thi's space will 'be used for the secretary/
receptionist and will be restored in character to that of Dr. Robb's
back office. The pharmacy exhibit, possessed by the Medical Associa-
tion will be displayed in this space as well as a display on early
55 Conference The two rooms used as Grossy's bedroom and a guest bed-
room will be converted to a conference room for the Board of the
Medical Association. An exhibition on the history of the Medical
Association and portraits of the early board presidents will be
located in this space. This use necessitates removing the wall
separating the two bedrooms as well as the brick flue for the Frank-
(5 Secretarial Office This space will be used as an office for a
part-time secretary. A closet will be added at the south end to
accommodate office storage and a xerox machine. This requires the
addition of a wall about 3'-0" from the south wall slightly chang-
ing the proportions of the room.
7 West Porch The lattice-screened porch which existed in 1909 will
be restored with a few alterations. A small kithcenette will be
accommodated at the north side of the porch occupying a portion of
the space previously included in the guest bedroom. A small space
adjacent to the kitchenette will be used to run the risers for the
air conditioning unit to be located under the house. At the south
end of the porch the restrooms will be located in the same space as
was the 1909 restroom. The east wall will be moved from its 1909
location to facilitate two restrooms where only one had formerly
existed. An attempt will be made to recreate the character of this
space which is believed to be significant to the character of the
(3 1909 Kitchen This space will be used for small conferences of the
Medical Association's Women's Auxiliary. A reproduction of the 1909
dining table which existed in this-space would serve the conference
functions. This space will be restored as accurately as possible
and will accommodate exhibits on the life of Dr. Robb and the his-
tory of the house.
5) Women's Auxiliary Office The former dining room will be used as
an office for the Women's Auxiliary and will be restored as closely
as possible to its original character. The door from the closet
in Dr. Robb's bedroom will be moved to this room to allow the closet
to be used for storage for the Women's Auxiliary.
IC) East Porch This space will be discussed in the following exterior
The primary concern of this paper will be to discuss the architectural
restoration of the Robb House, specifically those elements which generate
the Victorian character. A Maintenance Assay prepared in conjunction with
this project gives a detailed analysis of the physical condition. There-
fore, the more technical aspects of the restoration process can be readily
determined from that report.
The emphasis of this section is to describe the process of interpre-
ting physical evidence and verbal description into an accurate picture of
the house as it once existed, while accommodating programmatic requirements
as previously stated.
The restoration then will not be done in the strictest sense of the
word because certain compromises must take place in order to accommodate
the program, as stated above. Specifically, the chimney elements evident
in the old photograph are not going to be reconstructed. The location of
the chimney flues would totally disrupt any attempt in the adaptive use
layout. Therefore, the chimney flues which currently exist will be left
in place, giving the roof line the characteristic variety and symbol of
The house will also have to accommodate the handicapped requirements,
which in this case means the construction of a ramp approximately 36' in
length. Although generally obtrusive to old houses of this sort, the
ramp can be built at the rear of the house with the top landing accessing
the east porch. Since the ramp was not original, it is important to note
here that the construction of the ramp should not attempt to copy the
Victorian detail. This would tend to generate a Disneyland approach.
The ramp should be designed in simple details different than those of
the house, making the user aware that this is in fact a contemporary
convenience. Other considerations such as these will be noted as they
occur in the text.
From the old photograph it is evident that the roofing material has
been altered. The original roof was cedar shingles of which remnants
still exist on the bay roofs and in isolated areas on the interior of the
roof framing (sections of the original roof line covered by later roof
additions). The character of the house could never approach that of the
original without the shingle roof. Therefore, the existing roofing
should be removed and a cedar shingle roof replaced.
Other roof characteristics evident in the old photograph are the
small spires which are a continuation of the "cross members" under the
gables (see Drawings #2 & #7).
From the old photograph and oral description we know the house was
painted white and the shutters on the windows were painted a dark green.
As described in the Maintenance Assay, the condition of the exterior
siding is fair to poor but for the most part it can be re-used. The
window shutters will have to be reconstructed (see Drawings #7 thru #10).
The next major concern and the one requiring the most interpretation,
is the reconstruction of the porches.
Porches (General): From physical evidence and oral description,
three exterior porches are indicated (see Drawing #11), although the actual
presence does not exist. The floor construction is based primarily on
evidence of a previous floor which existed on the east elevation. What
was found were nails set at an angle along an exterior ledger board,
spaced at +4" o.c. As is done today, tongue and groove flooring is
blind nailed through the tongue, so the next board fits flush against
the previous board hiding the nail. This indicates that the flooring
must have run perpendicular to the east wall with supporting joists
framing into the adjacent wall (see Drawing #4). This construction
offers a sensible detail, allowing rain run-off to follow the wood
joints, and this detail should be used in rebuilding the three porches.
As indicated, the flooring should be +4" tongue and groove and be
blind nailed to 2x joists (size as required).
East Porch: The actual dimensions and supports of the porch roof
are determined somewhat through conjecture as well as documented evidence.
The slope of the roof can be determined from the shadow left on the siding
of the south wall (see Drawing #4). Framing of the roof is indicated on
the east wall (see Drawing #3). Although it is reflecting a later room
addition, there is no indication that any other framing existed. And
since the existing indications of the framing depict a shed roof and the
earlier porch roof was most probably a shed type of a roof, the assumption
here is that the framing was not substantially altered from the earlier
to the later porch. Other documentation includes a view of the south
corner of the proch roof in the old photograph.
The reconstruction will consist of 2 x 4 rafters at 21 o-c. with
tongue and groove sheathing and a cedar shingle roof (see Drawing #8).
The columns, brackets and balustrade are designed from less factual
evidence. Mrs. Thomson describes this porch as being the entrance
company used, patients would use the door under the canopy which was .a
more direct approach on the original site. She also describes the
balustrade as being used to sit on and having round spindles. This porch
also faced a side street and with this evidence in mind the decision was
made that this elevation warranted ornament which would maintain the
Victorian atmosphere although not as ornate as the north elevation.
Therefore the columns, brackets and balustrade are patterned after
similar details found in Gainesville and off the Victorian flavor (see
Drawing #8). The drawing of the proposed east elevation (see Drawing #8)
is one possibility although upon further consideration the following
recommendations would seem more appropriate. Firstly, the placement of
the posts should be centered over the foundation piers. This would place
the stairs centered between two columns and generally give the elevation
a more logical organization. Secondly, the brackets as drawn were inspired
from the curvilinear brackets on the north bay sections. Second thoughts
about these brackets are that they should more closely relate to the
geometric forms existing in the canopy bracket and the "cross members"
at the gables.
North Porch: From the old photograph as well as changes in the floor
and roof framing, the front porch is well documented although none of the
original framing exists today. Therefore, the reconstruction is primarily
based on study of the old photograph and similar framing techniques which
exist in the house. Also, from a description by Mrs. Thomson we know there
was a balustrade and steps up to the porch.
The roof construction can be determined partially as it relates to
the verge board. The solid portions of the verge board occur at 16"
intervals, therefore the rafters would have to be spaced at 16" o.c. or
32' o.c. of which 16" is more probable. The rafters would be supported
by a beam and in turn be supported by columns, which appear in the old
photograph. The exact configuration of the columns, brackets, ballustrade
and steps are not documented and therefore are based on what is felt to be
a compatible reconstruction (see Drawing #7).
West Porch: Although the west porch is the least significant of the
three in restoring the exterior character of the house, its presence is
essential in recreating the original atmosphere. The primary source of
information in reconstructing the porch is again an oral description from
Mrs. Thomson. Although physical evidence exists in the space to indicate
it was once a porch (exterior siding plastered over, existing door framing
in the partitions, noted changes in roofing materials and window configura-
tions) the alterations have significantly altered the framing to a point
where the exact porch configuration is undeterminable. We do know there
was a bathroom added to this area and that access to it was by way of the
porch (so the Ice Man did not have to enter the house proper). This was
also where Dr. S. L. Robb would leave the house to get to her horse and
buggy when making calls.
An interesting note here is that Mrs. Thomson remembers the porch as
having a lattice screen at the exterior and her sister remembers the
porch as being screened with a drop cloth for sun control. This conflict
in description and with regard to fulfilling program requirements, the
design which was generated reflects this conflict (see Drawing #10). The
screen wall is maintained to preserve the open atmosphere while the lower
panels incorporate a lattice screen to add a domestic character to this
element, Here again second thoughts and new information has come to
light since the drawing of this elevation. What would be a more probable
strict restoration is the reconstruction of a lattice screen. Before
wire screen was readily available lattice screens were widely used in
situations like this. It would have been constructed in panels of
1 1/2" to 2" strips placed in a diamond pattern and run the full height
of the porch. This would be a definite consideration in reconstructing
the west porch.
The existing two bathrooms directly adjacent to the west porch was
originally one bathroom. It is doubtful that the two existing windows
were here during the 1909 period, but since the bathroom is being reused
in the adaptive-use, they tend to work well with the design and do not
detract from the architectural character. Therefore, they will remain.
The bathroom north of the west porch has no place in the restoration
and is being removed as well as the accompanying window on the west
elevation (see Drawings #5 & #10).
Along with the replacement of various doors and windows, which are
either missing or completely deteriorated, this completes a general
description of the restoration of the exterior. (An interesting note
here is that the door to Mrs. Robb's office is still in existence and
is being donated to the Alachua County Medical Association for the
restoration of the house.)
The only other element I will address here is a little piece on
site treatment. The feeling is that the character of the house could
not be achieved without the addition of the picket fence as seen in the
old photograph. The fence should follow as close as possible the same
site lines although a change in the gate or fence opening is needed.
This would occur by placing a gate opposite the door to Dr. Robb's
office and an opening in the fence opposite the main entrance in the
north elevation. This is to accommodate an acceptable public circulation
Finally, a statement of the building's significance is needed. It
should be positioned in such a way so as to both invite visitation and
offer an interpretive note to the pedestrian activity which occurs along
the sidewalk. One approach would be the design of a shingle or plaque,
positioned along the fence opening, with a descriptive label such as
j I i
THE ROBB HOUSE
Dr. Sarah L. Robb practiced medicine in
Gainesville between 1822 and 1917. She
was the first woman doctor in the State
of Florida and maintained her home and
office in this house, originally at
506 East University Avenue.
The house has been restored and offers
a look at the practice of Dr. Robb and
a history of medicine in Gainesville.
019 4 9
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1909 FLOOR PLAN no 11