Once in Florida, Alfred and Jessie set about building a new mansion. She helped in the design of the house and selected the furnishings; he designed the formal gardens. The result was a stunning Mediterranean Revival estate by architects Marsh & Saxelbye. Jessie named the estate Epping Forest after the Virginia plantation of Mary Ball, George Washington’s mother and Jessie’s ancestor.
For his part, Alfred began looking around for new business opportunities. Alfred hired Jessie’s brother, Edward Ball, to assist him in any new ventures. At the time, Florida was in the midst of a real estate boom, as properties changed hands at higher and higher prices. Alfred and Jessie invested in South Florida real estate, making a profit buying and selling a few properties. But sensing the boom was sure to bust, Alfred stayed clear of making any major investments.
Sure enough, by 1926 the Florida real estate market crashed. Property values plunged. Thousands of families lost everything, as millions in paper wealth vanished. Florida banks began failing. With real estate and bank prices depressed, Alfred began looking for possible acquisitions of banks and large tracts of land.
Alfred and Ed Ball began buying shares of several Florida banks before setting their sights on Florida National Bank of Jacksonville. They gained control of the bank in 1929 and subsequently opened six other Florida National Banks throughout Florida.