Designed by Jacksonville architect, Mellen C. Greeley in 1927, the Neff House is located at 11435 Fort George Road near the Kinglsey Plantation on Fort George Island. It was to be the winter home of Chicago businessman Nettleton Neff. Greeley at the time was considered to be the “Dean of Jacksonville Architects.”
Located on the side of Mount Cornelia, the highest point in Duval County, the Tudor-Revival style home was considered by Greeley, his “most unique home.” Not his favorite though. The worthiest feature of the home is the circular entry tower with its semi-circular wrought iron balcony above the front door.
Unfortunately, the family was struck by tragedy about six months into the project when his wife Katherine died in August 1926, in what was called “a mysterious fire” at their summer home in Roaring Brook, Michigan by The Chicago Daily Tribune.
Neff’s 21-year-old son William disappeared from Harvard in June 1928 only to be found two weeks later having hung himself in an apple tree outside Stonington, Connecticut.
Having never set foot in the winter mansion he had built, Neff shot himself in the right temple with a .45 caliber revolver in his Chicago office. He was 50 years old.
Sitting vacant for many years, until Kenneth Merrill of Merrill Ship Building Co., the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Co. and the Merrill Dynamite Co. purchased the property as a holiday retreat. In 1967, Merrill sold the home to the Betz family.
The Betz family became the first family to live in the home year-round and made numerous upgrades by adding a wing with a kitchen, a garage, a swimming pool and had the house completely rewired.
In 1974, the Betz family while inspecting the damage done by a small brush fire near the property, they stumbled upon a shiny metal ball with a small triangle imprinted on its surface sitting in the grass. They thought it was an old cannonball and took it home.
One of the Betz’s sons was playing his guitar one day when the family reported that the ball began resonating with the music like a tuning fork. And according to an article by Sandy Stricklen of the Jacksonville Journal, in October 1975, that the house had an “aura of mystery.” One could hear organ music in the seven-level 21-room mansion, but no organ could be found in the house. Mysterious phone calls, voices, and banging doors were heard in the house, and glass from closed cupboards would sometimes crash on the floor.
After being contacted by all kinds of conspiracy theorists regarding the sphere, they hid. The location is now unknown. In 1985 the Betz family sold the home to Fairfield Communities and they used it as housing during archaeological projects. Then in 1989, the Florida Park Service bought the property for Park staff and ranger residence. Due to structural problems, the wing added by the Betz family was torn down in 2002 and the house was sealed shut.