St. Pete Hidden Gems: Virginia Burnside’s House of 1,000 Lights

Exterior of a prairie style home in St. Petersburg
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There’s a house at 136 5th Avenue North that many have passed but few may know the history of. Today, the rare prairie-style home sits vacant on a plot of land that could soon be home to a new boutique hotel. Did you know this historic landmark was once home to one of the most groundbreaking voices in the ‘Burg’s history? I didn’t, not until a I joined Preserve the ‘Burg on a historic walking tour.

Yes, this 1914 home once belonged to St. Pete City Councilwoman Virginia Burnside. Burnside’s penchant for electric lights earned the home its “House of 1,000 Lights” moniker.

The first woman elected to St. Pete City Council 

Who was Virginia Burnside?

Burnside was the first woman elected to St. Petersburg City Council in July 1920, before the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote had been ratified.

Burnside was also the city’s first female commissioner at the time of her election.

It’s place in St. Pete feels all the more relevant as for the first time ever there is a female super-majority on the City Council with Lisa Wheeler Bowman, Gina Driscoll, Darden Rice, Amy Foster Deborah Figgs Sanders and Brandi Gabbard all serving the Sunshine City.

Dr. Florence Duckering calls the ‘Burg home

The home’s legacy doesn’t end with Burnside. This property was later co-owned by sisters Florence and Mary Duckering. Florence was the first female member of the American College of Surgeons. Florence split time between St. Petersburg and Boston, where she continued her gynecological practice. Mary spent the majority of her days at the home in the Sunshine City.

If this home has an aura, it is because 136 5th Avenue North was the home of powerful female trailblazers.

A rare example of prairie style architecture in the city

The future of the home is currently unknown. Officials with Preserve the ‘Burg recommend the home be considered for adaptive reuse. Burnside’s home could be moved from its current location to a different spot in the Sunshine City, and, without too many modern alterations to the Prairie Style structure, be used as offices/residence/or something of other residential use.

This story feels especially apropos with the upcoming event Florida Women’s Fight for Suffrage with Peggy Macdonald and Stephanie Owens.

Remembering Florida women’s fight for Suffrage

Preserve the ‘Burg’s event at The Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum takes place on March 4 at 6pm.

In “Florida Women’s Fight for Suffrage,” Dr. Peggy Macdonald traces Florida’s suffrage movement from its inception with Ella Chamberlain in 1892, to August 27, 1920, when Fay Gibson Moulton Bridges cast her ballot on the porch of a Jackson County dry goods store, becoming the first Florida woman to vote after the 19th Amendment went into effect.

Peggy will be joined by Stephanie Owens, who has spent over 20 years in public service, as an appointee of both President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton. She held senior official positions in the White House, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tickets to the event are $15 and can be purchased online.

Upcoming Preserve the ‘Burg events

Want to join Preserve the ‘Burg on its next walking tour?

The organization hosts a Historic Downtown Walking Tour on March 7, a Midweek Quickie Downtown Tour on March 12, and another Quickie Tour on March 19.

A Big Bayou Porch Party is also in the works for March 27.

Get to know St. Petersburg’s Kenwood neighborhood during the Westward Ho to Historic Kenwood Tour on March 28.

If you want to learn how to enjoy a self-guided tour, author and renowned Urban Planner Jeff Speck is here to help. The author joins Preserve the ‘Burg for the Launch Party for the Historic St. Petersburg Self-Guided Walking Tour Book on March 31.

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Written by Andrew Harlan

Andrew Harlan

Andrew Harlan is the Editor of ilovetheburg.com. Follow him on Twitter @harlanyoungII and Instagram @harlanyoung. Send tips and potential stories to info@ilovetheburg.com.