Pastor Larry and The Latson House

Pastor Larry and The Latson House

“Oh. I almost forgot my cane,” Larry Latson says as he turns around and carefully walks back into his home. A moment later, the 69-year-old veteran steps back out of his front door, holding a simple brown walking stick with a rubber tip. Everyone in Micanopy calls him Pastor Larry. He is well known for being a pastor, a veteran, and, most recently, the man in charge of locking and unlocking the Micanopy Historical Cemetery gates every day.

Larry suffered a stroke 30 years ago. The stroke paralyzed the left side of his body and his face. Over time and with years of physical therapy, he regained use of his legs and his facial muscles, but his left arm is still impaired.

We take our time as we walk the 50 feet to the house next door, a local marvel located at 306 NW 5th Street in Micanopy. The Latson House is a single-story wooden structure with a prominent chimney; its bricks are chipped and worn from years of neglect. Some records indicate the house was built between 1903 and 1918. The lack of a deed prevents the actual construction date from being certified, yet locals respect it as the oldest standing home in Micanopy built by blacks.

For most, the Latson House is an eyesore. The decrepit dwelling is certainly out of place in the small town of Micanopy, where every street lined with impressive oaks appears to be the beginning of the path to a fairy tale. But for Larry, it is the place he called home well into adulthood.

Although the Latson House appears as if it may fall down at any moment, Larry’s mouth curls into a slight smile when he sees it. He remembers.

As children, he and his playmates would crawl beneath the house and race from one side to the other.

“It was a game. This was our toy!” he recalls with a laugh. “We would crawl under the house and see who could come out of the other side first. I had no idea that the house was this low to the ground because, when I was a kid, it seemed like it was 4 feet tall.”

The Latson House was purchased by Larry’s great-grandmother Pressie Martin in the 1940s. Mrs. Martin purchased the home to raise her grandchildren in, even though it was not in livable condition at the time. Black men who worked locally at the Franklin Crates Company volunteered during the evenings after work to repair the home so that she and her family could move in. In the absence of modern carpentry tools like a chisel or a level, the crafty black neighbors worked together using rudimentary instruments to level the home and reinforce the cypress wood planks and pine wood interior so that it could withstand the weather and shelter the family.

Without electricity, running water, or a bathroom inside the house, the home was soon deemed suitable to live in. Mrs. Martin moved in with her grandchildren Pressie Martin, Vashti and her husband TB Latson, Larry’s parents. Eventually, Larry’s parents purchased the lot next door and built a more modern home on it to begin their own family. Larry was the third and last child born to his parents. He doesn’t recall what caused the transition, but he was the only child to move into the Latson House with his great-grandmother and aunt Pressie.

Without basic amenities, the family had to find creative ways to make due. Larry remembers that the fireplace was the only source of heat for the entire house. During one cold winter, his grandmother taught him how to place a smoothing iron into the fireplace until it became hot and then wrap it in a sheet to place at the foot of the bed so that their beds would be warm. The family shared an outhouse situated in the backyard. The outhouse was a 5×5 shed with a rickety door that revealed a simple platform inside.

The home was lit with kerosene lamps: a lamp in the living room, a lamp in each bedroom, and a lamp in the kitchen. Their water source was a pitcher pump in the backyard. Larry’s chore was to pump the water from the pitcher into a water bucket and carry it inside for family use. The family bathed in a number 3 tub by heating water on the kerosene stove and washing up in the kitchen pantry. Mrs. Martin made handmade lye soap in a smut pot that she used to wash clothes, scrub floors, and even to clean their brown bodies. “No germs lived on that body after that lye soap,” Larry recalls with a laugh.

Growing up in a home without electricity or running water didn’t stop Larry from being grateful for what he did have. He says he never questioned whether he was rich or poor because, as he says, he felt blessed to have a house. He even described himself as being spoiled because whatever his great-grandmother had, she offered to share with him.

“It was a different kind of experience because the other kids would describe waking up to jump into the shower or using electricity, and we never had that, so I never experienced that,” Larry reflects. “But that was a great time in my life. It allowed me to realize that I could do anything.”

When he was in the 4th grade, he walked with his great-grandmother, Mrs. Martin, to Thrasher’s Store, a grocery store in downtown Micanopy. At the time, shoppers were allowed to make food and supply purchases and pay for them at the end of the month. After they completed their shopping for the day, the grocer motioned for Mrs. Martin to meet him at the store counter to sign the ledger. He knew that Mrs. Martin could not read or write, so he instructed her to sign an ‘X’ next to her purchase total.

Larry interjected. “I can write your name,” he said to his great-grandmother. Mrs. Martin stood in awe as she watched 9-year-old Larry walk up to the counter and carefully write out each of the letters of her name into the record book. Mrs. Martin beamed proudly as they walked back to the Latson House together, clasping his little hand tightly. She bragged to everyone that she saw along the way, “My Larry can read and write!”

Larry enjoyed school and his life at the Latson House, despite its many quirks. During the school week, he did not have a clock, so he had to create a substitute so that he would make it to school on time. There was a hole in the wall that he covered with a piece of cardboard, and each morning he would slide the cardboard to the side so that he could watch for the footsteps of his classmates on their way to school.

As a teenager, Larry considered himself to be a hippie. He painted the walls of the Latson House in psychedelic colors and decorated the hallway with album covers from Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. He remembers that the pine wood that lined the interior walls was so hard that nails would not penetrate the wood, so he had to use tape to hang the decorations.

Around 1978, Larry attended Santa Fe Community College and was inducted into the honor society. He finished his associate’s degree with honors and went to the University of Florida admissions office with his honor society certificate to ask if he could be admitted to continue his education. They never reached back out to him.

“I guess they didn’t see me as someone who could go to school there,” Larry laments.

But that didn’t stop his growth. He went on to join the Army, leaving the Latson House in 1981 to move to South Carolina. During his service, he became the private driver for the general of the 101st Airborne Division, chauffeuring the general to all of his important meetings in a big Ford car and a Jeep. During his service with the Army, he was assigned to a station in Kentucky, where he met a woman that he fell in love with. They produced a son. By 1985, his time in the service was over, but the mother of his son chose not to return to Micanopy with him. He gave her his sister’s phone number and the numbers to his bank account as he watched his son play on the floor. He had no idea that this would be the last time he would ever see or hear from either of them again.

He headed back to Micanopy alone. Upon his arrival, he was warned by his siblings that a nest of hornets had moved into the Latson House. He grabbed a small gas can and doused the hornet’s nest; the gasoline and fumes killed them. Once he was sure it was safe to go inside, he cleaned up the dead hornets and moved back into the Latson House. He lived there until 1987.

While recovering from a stroke, Larry managed to receive a doctorate in Christian ministry. He then became the pastor of the Micanopy Church of God in Unity, where he led the congregation for 7 years. Shortly after, he became pastor of the Mount Zion Church of God in Unity, in Gainesville. When his parents passed, he rebuilt the home they lived in with the help of specialized funding for veterans with disabilities. He yearns to preserve the Latson House and turn it into a museum, but without a deed that proves ownership, his efforts are futile, although he is still required to pay taxes on the land or he will lose it.

Larry’s mental health began to deteriorate two years ago. He noticed that he became disoriented and confused while trying to navigate the same city streets that he had known all of his life. He now lives on his family’s lot, just next door to the Latson House. An onsite caretaker helps to maintain the property, and his nephew also lives in the home with him. Despite the drawbacks of his journey, Larry says he is proud of what his life has become.

Every morning Larry drives past the Latson House on his way to unlock the gates of the Micanopy Historic Cemetery so that visitors can pay respect to the ancestors who paved the way for them. In the same manner, he hopes that the Latson House will someday be preserved to show respect for the generous black men who poured their sweat into building the home for his great-grandmother and for the humble beginnings that should have held him back but did not.

4 Responses to “Pastor Larry and The Latson House

  • Noel Vitallo
    1 year ago

    So amazing. I have seen Larry almost every day. We wave to each other. I’m so happy to hear his story.

  • Gia Mallardi
    1 year ago

    What a wonderful read – full of history, humility, and gratitude. Thank you for caring and sharing.

  • Emma Dolingar
    1 year ago

    Nice subject matter, story telling and writing not so much.

  • Ana Varela
    1 year ago

    Thank you for reviving such important part of Micanopy’s history! I have talked to Pastor Larry many times during my walks through town, and hope his dreams of the Larson house may be realized .