The Legacy of Two Tallahasssee Families
The Betton and Meginniss Families Are Part of the City’s History and Its Present
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The names of some of Tallahassee’s most familiar landmarks can be traced to two patriarchs who came here in the early 1800s. Betton Hills, Meginnis Arm (the road name is spelled with one “s”) Lively Area Vocational Technical School, the Meginniss-Munroe House (home of LeMoyne Art Foundation) and Leonard Wesson Elementary School are all namesakes of either one of the two men or their descendants.
Munroe children pose in front of their home at 133 N. Gadsden, ca. 1916.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
The men were Turbot R. Betton and George H. Meginniss, both from coastal Maryland. Both men were community leaders, wealthy merchants and probably the county’s largest landowners in their day. They were contemporaries, and the lives of their progeny would be intertwined through marriage, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins by the literal dozen. As one said, “I call them cousin, whether they may be kin to me or not, for fear of offending a relative.” Together or separately, for several generations the two families would produce some of Leon County’s leaders in education, law, medicine, land and real estate development, and the retail business. A list of the names of the descendants sounds like a roll call of Old Tallahassee: Meginniss, Oven, Munroe, Lively, Carraway, Skelton … but no Bettons. The last ones who lived here moved away years ago.
The story of how Turbot R. Betton and his first wife, Eliza, came to Tallahassee sounds daring, when told by granddaughter Emily Lively: “They joined several other adventurous young couples from Maryland who came to the new territory, looking for an exciting new life on the Florida frontier. (Historian Bertram Groene puts the date at about 1825, saying Turbot Betton and his father, George, opened a general store here in February of 1826.) “They landed at St. Marks, where my grandfather later had a large general store near the docks. The couples came overland to Tallahassee by horse-drawn coach.”
For some of the happy group, the adventurous new life would end tragically. Eliza Betton would die of yellow fever in the epidemic of 1841 that struck the capital. Turbot would make a fortune, lose much of it in the fire that followed the yellow fever plague two years later and regain it, only to lose it again during the Civil War. But first he would help start the territory’s first bank, the first railroad (a mule-drawn affair), the first learning institution (The Leon Academy) and the first Episcopal church, St. John’s.
After Eliza died, Turbot married again. He had only one child by his second wife, Sarah Ann, a daughter, Griselle, who married a druggist from Milledgeville, Matt Lively. Lively later bought a drugstore from Cheever Lewis, who sold his business to go into banking. (Lewis State Bank, now First Florida, was Florida’s oldest bank, and the Lewises are among the old banking families.) Matt and Griselle’s only child was a son, Lewis M. Lively, for whom the vocational school is named.