The quaint Village of Highland Park is just south of Lake Wales on Scenic Highway 17. The hamlet is surrounded by orange groves and anchored by its crown jewel Casa de Josefina.
The home, often mistaken for a hotel, was built in 1923. Developer Irwin Yarnell constructed the sprawling Spanish/Mediterranean castle for his wife, Josephine. It was his ultimate love letter. The Yarnells first came to Florida in 1907, and they purchased 3,000 acres north of Crooked Lake in 1919.
The grounds were once much more extensive, including a lavish botanical garden with thousands of species of plants. Parcels of the estate have been sold off over the years. It was originally more than 25 acres.
Josephine’s name is carved into the entry gate. You find it in the ironwork above a stained-glass window. Her profile is sculpted into a parapet wall.
The house is constructed of stucco over coquina walls. It featured decorative tile, stonework, and a two-story library with an elaborately painted ceiling. It was furnished with exquisite imported antiques and art.
The Yarnells hosted lavish parties there during the Great Land Boom but came crashing back down to earth after the crash, and the ensuing Great Depression wiped out much of their fortune.
Irwin died in 1936, and Josephine lived in the home until she died in 1967. After that, the house was vacant for a while. It has served as a boarding house, recovery center, and community center.
The Yarnell heirs sold the property in the 1970s. The back section became condominiums and the Casa de Josefina became its clubhouse. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
After falling into some disrepair as a teenage party spot, it was purchased by Louis and Jean Louwsma in 1981. Jean had fallen in love with the home and painstakingly restored and updated it. She died in 2006 and left the 10,000-square-foot mansion to her heirs, who held on to it for a while but never lived there again.
Many stories tell about friendly ghosts walking its long halls looking, never leaving their beloved home. One of those ghosts is reported to be Josephine, some claim to have seen the apirition dusting. The Yarnell heirs think it’s laughable; they joke that she never dusted in life, so they doubt she’d do it in death. Still, former owner Jean Louwsma is a believer and claims to have seen her.
The house has 10 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms, two kitchens, a swimming pool, a very spacious living room, a formal dining room, a great room/entertainment center with a full bar, a family room, sitting rooms, screened porch, and an outdoor kitchen with brick pavers.
Its former outbuildings and servant quarters have been torn down.
It was sold in 2021 for $1.1 million, with land of just 2.4 acres. This is less than the $1.5 million it originally cost to build Josephine’s grand vision in 1923.