MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Ruth C. Marston
February 9, 2004
Interview with Billy Wolz 1
February 9, 2004
C: My name is Bob Clayton, and the date is February 9, 2004. I am conducting an
interview for the Matheson Historical Museum, and I have the pleasure of visiting
with Mr. Billy Wolz, who is really and truly a work of art and a master of old
Gainesville, real old Gainesville.
W: Oh boy!
C: Good morning, Billy Boy. Where were your parents from?
W: My parents came here from Eustis, Florida. My father was actually born in
Daytona Beach. My mother was born in Kentucky, around Lexington. She was
born in 1880, and he was six years older than she. Anyhow, they got here from
Eustis about 1918 or 1919. I was born in 1921.
C: Boy, you must be old!
W: Yes, I'm 82. We lived in an old house on the banks of the Sweetwater Branch,
just two blocks off of University Avenue. In fact, it's two blocks north of the
Matheson Museum. It was an old wooden building called the Tabernacle, or I
always heard of it as the Tabernacle. One night, when I was about five, maybe
six, the thing caught on fire that old building. I got up on the roof of our old
house and looked down the street there and watched it burn down. Of course, I
was too young to run down there then but I remember it very well. It must have
been four or five years later they built a brick building named for Haisley Lynch.
They built this thing, and it wound up being the American Legion Hall for 100
years or most of my life.
C: Quite a difference from now than when I was young. Yes, and Sweetwater
Branch, they're making some improvements on that now. What did your folks
W: My father was a painter. My mother was a housekeeper. He painted houses. One
time he painted what is now the Hippodrome. It was the Post Office then in my
youth. There is an old house that is still there around the Duck Pond that was
built back in the early 20's, and he painted that one time. I went with him on the
job one time up there. I can remember that well.
C: You were born here in Gainesville?
W: Oh yes. Right on the banks of the Sweetwater, that beautiful creek down there.
Mrs. W.S. Dorsey was the owner of the little house, and next to us was Margaret
Thompson and Hugh Thompson.
C: Was that Peggy Lou Thompson?
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February 9, 2004
W: Peggy Lou's mother was Lucretia, and she and Hugh Thompson were married,
and they lived there. There was a little old field between them and us, down
there. 603 East Orange, that's where I was born, right down the street from the
C: What street is that now?
W: Let's see. 3rd Avenue.
C: What's Thelma Boltin? It's across the street from where the Thelma Boltin
Recreation Center is now.
W: Yes, but it was a vacant field in my youth. It flooded one time from Sweetwater
Branch, and they had a heck of a storm in about 1926, I guess. It blew big old oak
trees up there in the schoolyard. It just snapped those trees and flooded that field
where Thelma Boltin's is. We flew kites and had a lot of fun out there in that old
C: But the house you were born in isn't there any more?
W: It is not there any longer. It's actually a parking lot for some lawyers in the
building there on the corner. Then there's that Melting Pot right next door. The
Melting Pot started out as a vacant lot. They had all kinds of things. They had
pony rides that would come there once a year. Then they built an outdoor
miniature golf course there. Then Preacher Biddlecome started coming there
every year with a big old tent and put up for the winter, to get out of the snow
wherever he was from. He had all the good folks with ten or fifteen cents to
support him every night.
C: Was he an evangelist?
W: Yes. Eventually he got to liking Gainesville so much that he built the building
that is still there and is the Melting Pot now. They built that fancy church, and he
was the head man there for a long time.
C: Is that close to where the Alford's had a restaurant?
W: Yes. That was right beside the First Christian Church, just west of the church.
Alford was in this wooden building. It was right next to the First Christian
Church on the corner where the old town clock is now. That wooden building
next to the church was T.V. McCall's home. They lived there. By that time, the
First Christians had bought the church from the Baptists. The Baptists moved up
there in the fancy brick building where they are now.
Right across the street from where the Melting Pot is now, right immediately
across the street, was the Gainesville Library, kind of up on a little knoll. Next to
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February 9, 2004
it was Sweetwater Branch, and next to it was the Matheson house. My sister
worked there in the library a year or two in her spare time or part-time, but
they've moved several times since then. They built a fancy new building,
outgrowing them and building a new one. The last one $26 million.
C: Of your money.
W: You ain't kidding.
C: You mentioned your sister. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
W: I had two other brothers and two sisters and myself.
C: So five children. Did you start out in school in Gainesville?
W: First grade over there at Kirby-Smith. My first grade teacher was Alma Schwartz.
She is still living right now, out at the Atrium. When we had our 50th high school
anniversary, I found out that she was still alive and we went and got her and took
her to the reunion. She didn't remember any of us. I had a picture of my 1st grade
class, in 1928. She came, and we had a big time.
C: Do you mean to tell me that you have changed since the first grade?
W: Do you mean my hair? Is that what you're speaking of?
C: What hair? Anyway, moving right along, you started out at Kirby-Smith.
W: I went there six years and then moved over to G.H.S. on West University Avenue.
I went there until the 12th grade. I was enrolled in the 12th grade, but I was so far
behind in my studies and skipping school and that sort of thing, that I wasn't able
to graduate in 40 with the rest of my class. My sister jerked me out and took me
to Suwanee County, and I graduated up there.
C: That's in Live Oak?
C: Now you say you were skipping school, but you didn't skip school by yourself.
W: Oh no, there were friends. You were too young, but there was Donald Price. His
daddy ran Dave's Pool Room. I went there quite a bit.
C: Dave Price, was that his name?
W: Price, yes.
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February 9, 2004
C: I remember Dave's Pool Room. That was right above the Firestone station,
C: Now, when you were in school, other than Donald Price, who were some of your
cohorts, bad apples?
W: When I got in high school, there was Donald Carter. His folks were there on
West University Avenue. I was friends with them and spent a lot of time with
them. Right next door was Charles Pinkoson, and we were friends and still are.
His father had been the sheriff of Alachua County. I can remember going by the
old courthouse uptown and seeing Sheriff Pinkoson pull out the big old 5-gallon
demijohns of white lightning whiskey and pour it out in the gutter, you know. It
was stuff he had confiscated. He tore up somebody's personal still. Anyway,
Charles and I were friends. His daddy owned Pinkoson Springs up between here
and Alachua at Hague, and during the summer at noontime, several of us me
and Mazo and the Tidwell boys would hang around there at noontime when
Charles and his dad were fixing to go to the Springs for the afternoon and he
would take two or three of us along to spend the day up there at Pinkoson Springs,
swimming and having a big old time.
C: Is there still a Pinkoson Springs?
W: It's there, but it's grown over and they've built a house up there at what do you
call that project that is just before you get to Hague, on the left. Turkey Creek.
Just as you enter Turkey Creek, right on your right in the undergrowth is what
was a concrete pool. Rocks and concrete.
C: Is that Turkey Creek Forest or Turkey Creek Country Club?
W: Country Club. It's where you play golf. We'd go up there and spend the day and
have a big old time. They had an old Model A that ran about ten miles an hour,
and it would take quite a while to get eleven miles up there to that Springs. The
old man wouldn't change his speed at all. We had a big time doing that.
During football season, Zero and me and a few others would go out and hang
around the gym, the old wooden gym, waiting for the football team to dress.
C: On the campus.
W: Yes. Then they would go down the old dirt trail to a big old fence that went
around the stadium. It was all street level at that time. There was no upper part of
it. We would hang around there until the team came out. They would all march
down in a line. When they got to that gate, they would let us get in amongst
them, you know, and they would rush us right on through that gate. They had a
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February 9, 2004
guard there trying to pull us out. We would get in there in the stadium and then
scatter. You never heard of a full stadium, so there were plenty of seats. We
could sit anywhere we wanted to. I guess 3000 people, or 5000 at the very most,
in that stadium was a crowd.
C: Well, the enrollment at the University couldn't have been more than 5000
anyway. Now, who were some of your teachers back then that you remember?
W: High school?
C: Whenever you remember them. You mentioned Mrs. Schwartz.
W: Miss Cannon was 2nd grade. 3rd grade was Mrs. Miller. 4th grade was Tina Shaw.
Did you know her? Connected with Shaw & Keeter.
C: I didn't know that Shaw. I knew Wilbur Shaw.
W: 5th grade was Shirley Bishop. 6th grade was Rodney Layton. She married
Howard Bishop. He was the school board chairman at one time.
C: And football coach.
W: 7th grade was a single woman, Winifred Metcalf.
C: Miss Gresham?
W: No. I had her eventually, too. But there was Miss Baker in the 10th
C: Roxy Baker.
W: Yes. She lived in O'Brien, Florida. Her parents had a farm up there on the
outskirts of O'Brien, and weekends she would go home. She used to let me ride
with her because my sister and brother-in-law were in O'Brien teaching at that
time, so I remember her well. The young Metcalf, Winifred Metcalf. She was
my 7th grade teacher.
C: You've got a pretty good list of teachers, I'll say that. Did you play any sports?
W: No. I was just a spectator, a cheerleader. Not a cheerleader. Elmo Beville was a
C: I was a cheerleader, too.
W: Were you? Elmo and I were friends from the time we were three years old and
still are. We exchange birthday cards every year and I fish with him whenever he
needs a helper to go along and paddle the boat.
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February 9, 2004
C: I don't know whether Elmo has been interviewed for the Matheson Historical
Museum or not, but he would be a good subject.
W: Yes, he would.
C: I'll ask about him.
W: We all lived in the neighborhood, two blocks apart. I spent more time up there in
his neighborhood than I did in mine.
C: Back then what sports did G.H.S. play?
W: G.H.S. had baseball and they had basketball and football. I don't believe they had
C: Did they have baseball? They didn't have baseball when I was there.
W: They didn't? Maybe they didn't in my time. I know Tuffy Davis, and G.M. He
was always a catcher. I think Haisley Lynch had a park, a softball park, west of
C: Well, they played all the sports that were available to them the Davis boys did.
W: Oh gosh, yes.
C: Some of the other athletes were who?
W: All the Davis boys from Coolidge right on up to Tuffy, G.M., and Clayton. There
was Jack Perry and Harry Wooten come to mind right now. Of course, they're all
gone. Jack Perry and his brother Glenn were athletes.
C: Was Pookie Waits there?
W: Yes, Marvin Waits and Louis Waits, too. I guess Marvin and I were in class, and
I was also in class with Louis, too, but he was a little bit older, I think. B.L.
Burton and the boys from Waldo came over here when they got in the 10th grade,
and they played sports. W.P. and Theodore Harden.
C: The Harden boys? Let me ask you this. Did you win any ballgames?
W: G.H.S.? Very few. Gordon Green and Ronnie Green. I don't want to forget
them. They were friends. Billy Green was the oldest. Harris was younger, and
Leslie was even younger.
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February 9, 2004
C: Going to G.H.S., you and I were talking earlier before the interview started about
study hall and the things we used to do there and you mentioned those crystal
radio sets. Tell me about that.
W: Oh, crystal radio sets. I don't know how we acquired it because the only person
in my family. My father would rather fish and stay in the woods hunting than do
much painting, but anyhow, my two sisters worked. Catherine worked at
McCrory's at one time, Woolworth's at one time. Then they both married college
people. One of them was a schoolteacher, and that sort of thing. When I was, I
guess, in grammar school, we acquired this little crystal set. It was a round thing
with a couple of little screw things on it that you plugged in wires, one for the
headset and one for the antenna. Well, I got up in the tree, way down by the
Sweetwater Branch, and put me a copper wire from that tree to the house and then
into the crystal set, and man, we could get WRUF every time we moved that little
crystal a little bit and it would come in just as clear. There was only one ear thing
on the headset so only one person could listen to it at a time, but it was quite a rig
and it didn't take a nickel's worth of electricity. We didn't have electricity. We
had running water but no electricity. We had kerosene lamps. So that's how old I
C: But you did have running water. Did you have indoor plumbing?
W: Running water and indoor plumbing.
C: All right. You were uptown! Now during the time that you were growing up
there, you mentioned sneaking in the Gator football games. What else did you
guys do for devilment?
W: Like I say, in the summertime we would go with Charlie Pinkoson to go
swimming and then Glen Springs was in full swing. They had an old wooden
bathhouse down on the southeast corner of the pool. It cost you a dime to get in
C: I remember that when you went in there you had to step in this pool of water with
Clorox to keep you from getting athlete's foot or ground itch, or whatever it was.
W: It was supposed to keep other people from getting it from you, theoretically.
Anyhow, it was certainly part of it.
C: There was the Florida Theater. What other theaters did you have?
W: We had the Lyric, the State, and the Florida Theater. In football season, the
University "rats", the freshmen, always had a parade before the game or after the
game at night. They would march from the University uptown and around the
square and then they would have a free movie at the Florida Theater for all the
students. Well, I wasn't a student, but a bunch of us would try to sneak in there to
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February 9, 2004
see the movie and be with that bunch of rowdy college students. When they
would get in there, they would throw toilet paper up on the chandeliers and make
a mess of the place. Every once in a while, somebody would light up a cigarette
and try to smoke in there. Anyhow, I'm sure it was Charles Pinkoson, Zero, me,
and Billy Harlan, back when it was 100 and 350, a couple of us in our early teens,
we managed to lie to the ticket taker and say we were eleven, so we would buy a
100 -- or one of us would and he would go into the theater and look around. To
the back of the theater up high, there were two exit doors, safety doors, and above
that level was the projectionist. There was a hall just outside those doors that
went by Dr. Morrison's dentist's office and then some steps there going down to
the avenue. Well, we would all run upstairs and stand around that door and when
it cracked a little by the one who had sneaked in for 100, we'd peek in there and
see if any of the ushers were looking around and we would slip into the theater.
We've done that many times but we've been caught many times, too.
C: Well, you mentioned the Lyric and the State and the Florida Theater. Wasn't
there another theater?
W: Before your time. When I was a very young person, Billy Evans, Dr. Evans'
daddy, and mother ran a little old soda fountain on East Main Street, on the east
side of the street. Right across from the Lyric. Well, Elmer McRae worked for
the "Gainesville Sun" or Pepper Printing, or whatever it was at that time, and he
ran that little old place, the Rialto Theater. I don't believe I can remember going
into it, but it was there. Later on, a few years later, Evans moved over
immediately next to the Lyric Theater.
C: The Evans did.
W: Yes, the Evans. Just next to that was the original fire station, uptown on East
C: There was a fire that burned down the theater. Is that the one over there where
Harry's is now? There was another theater that burned down. It was up on the
second floor. Wasn't it called the Baird Theater?
W: That was above where Harry's is. Bodiford Drug Store was right on the very
corner, and above it was this theater. I don't know whether they ever had films or
not, but I know I went up there to see Silas Green from New Orleans. It was a
C: Of course, at your age, I can understand being forgetful? Do you understand?
But you're forgetting the Ritz?
W: Where would it have been?
C: Seminary Lane.
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February 9, 2004
W: Oh, over there There was one when I moved up on Main Street in maybe '34.
Over on N.W. 1st Avenue, there was a colored theater. What was his name? He
had a son that I've seen in later years, but yes, I've been to that. Albert McIntyre,
he and his brother ran a little old battery shop. They built batteries, automobile
batteries, and tinkered with mechanics. Oscar McIntyre was the projectionist for
that colored theater and he would let me go up there and climb up the ladder he
had to climb up the ladder to carry those canisters of films up there and he
would let me sit up there and peep through the peepholes and watch the movie.
C: Yes, it seems like there used to be one on what's 5th Avenue now.
C: Rabbit Robbins owned it, I believe.
W: Anyway, it was a Robbins who ran the Ritz Theater.
C: I think it was the Ritz that was the colored theater down there. Is that all the
devilment that you all got into?
W: Oh lord no, we don't talk about the other things.
C: Oh, I see. You never have mentioned, was it a coed school at the time?
C: You haven't mentioned one single girl.
W: Oh, I've been in love hundreds of times but secretly. The girls never knew. We
still have these high school reunions and half a dozen of us get together.
C: Who were some of them, even if they aren't with us any longer, who were in your
W: Okay, I thought you were going to say that I was in love with! There's Bernice
Vitatoe and Betty Boring. Betty was at the University. Minnie Rita Garris, and
the Givens girl.
C: Flossie Jean. I remember her.
W: Florence Glass. I never knew her sister. I do now. Frank Spain's wife also.
C: Oh, Ann Laird.
W: Ann Laird, yes. We used to play tennis. That's just a few of them.
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February 9, 2004
C: From the time you remember Gainesville until today, what are some of the
biggest changes that you've seen in the town other than just the overall size?
What do you think has affected the town more than anything else?
W: It affected it, but I don't know whether you call it, but it's become a coed
educational college out at the University there.
C: That affected it. Otherwise, I wouldn't be married today. I'm a testimony to that.
W: Back to the 3rd grade, the Eastside School, Kirby-Smith, burned. The old big
white building. You know there were two buildings, the red brick building which
was the original, and my 1st grade was right in the corner of that one. Anyhow,
the 3rd grade it caught on fire during the night, and it burned. I ran up there, Elmo
and I, and watched it. His dad was up there. He was chief of the firemen, fire
chief, and they were running around up there trying to put out the fire and all that
kind of stuff, but it burned. The rest of the year we had to go to Epworth Hall up
there at the Methodist Church.
C: That's where I went. I was in the 6th grade when I went there half a day. Jeff
Davis's wife, Helen Davis, was my first teacher in the 6th grade in Gainesville,
and she's still alive today. She is still in love with me.
W: Her brother, Lucian, and I were friends all the way through school.
C: What was her maiden name?
W: Gray. Their daddy, Lucian and Helen's daddy, was a road builder, engineer. He
built all these highways around here, the old ones. Lucian and I were friends. He
died during the war or was killed during the war.
C: You mentioned the road builders. I guess 1-75 had to have a big effect on
W: I'm sure it did. That came along in what, the 50's? The early 50's?
C: It was an Eisenhower project.
W: I don't know how it happened, but he was instrumental in the thing. Mr. Powers.
C: Earl Powers?
W: Oh yes. He was a friend of yours and mine. Yes, that certainly had an effect on
Gainesville. Let's see, Magnesia Springs. That was during our younger days.
We had forgotten about that.
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February 9, 2004
C: And that was located?
W: Eight miles out Palatka Highway.
C: Hawthorne Road.
W: Elmo and I used to hitchhike from our house out there and then they would put us
off at the turn out there, and we would walk the dirt road all the way down to the
Springs and then hoped we would catch a ride with somebody that was leaving
from there to come back home.
C: And it was some kind of cold. Oh man, that was freezing cold. And it's not
active now and neither is Glen Springs.
W: They're both gone.
C: And I've always wondered why someone didn't do something. This bottled water
is a craze now. They could take one of those springs and just go into the bottled
water business, but nobody has, so it's none of my business.
Well, Billy Wolz, I want to thank you so much for taking the time today.
W: Now, we've just gotten started. I was about forty years old.
C: Well, come on. I've got nothing but time.
W: Heck no, there's nothing else. It was a beautiful town during my youth, but it's a
little crowded now.
C: Yes, particularly if you're trying to drive.
W: I tried to find a place yesterday and I couldn't find it. I had been there the day
before in an area that had grown up off of 13th Street there. I got back in there by
mistake and I ran into these big apartments. Maybe ten or twenty years old, but I
tried to take Mary Nell back there yesterday and we couldn't find it. It's over in
there somewhere, but there's all kinds of things that I don't know about.
C: My daddy always said, "When it will rain on one side of town and not rain on the
other, it's getting too big."
W: That's just about the size of it. That's the truth.
After high school I spent 35 months in the army (anti-aircraft artillery), 18 months
of which were in the ETO. I was in three campaigns Northern France,
Rhineland, and Central Europe.
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February 9, 2004
After the army, I worked for 33 years for Central Truck Lines, Inc., here in
Gainesville. Central Truck Lines is no longer in existence.
C: Again, thanks a lot. I appreciate it, and you've given us a lot to check on. We're
going to check on you, you know that.
W: I appreciate it, and I wish Mary Nell had been here so she could have touched up
our complexion a little bit before we got into this interview.
C: I'm sure we'll be able to handle that. You'll be getting a copy of this once it's
edited. You can edit it anywhere you want to. Again, thank you very much.
W: You're welcome.