MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
James Malcolm Alday, Sr.
Sara Lynn McCrea
Ruth C. Marston
April 3, 2001
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 1
April 3, 2001
M: My name is Sara Lynn McCrea, and I am interviewing James Malcolm Alday,
Sr., for the Oral History Program at the Matheson Historical Museum, at 1802
N.W. 6h Avenue, Gainesville, Florida, on April 3, 2001. Please state your full
name and birth date for the tape.
A: My name is James Malcolm Alday, Sr., and my birth date is January 17, 1911.
M: I know that you have said that you weren't bom in Gainesville. Tell me where
you were bom and in what year you moved to Gainesville, and tell me a little bit
about your family, your brothers and sisters.
A: I was bom in Donaldsville, Georgia, but my family was living in Panama City,
Florida. My mother, when it was time for labor, went back to Donaldsville,
Georgia, and I was bom there. When I was six weeks old, we returned to her
home in Panama City and joined the other three children: a sister and two
brothers. Our family was complete with five boys and three girls.
M: When did you come to Gainesville?
A: In 1923 we moved to Gainesville, which was a small town and a nice place to
M: Did you live over on the northeast side of Gainesville?
A: The first place was on Main Street. In the 500 block, there were three 2-story
houses, and we lived in the first one. That's when the railroad track came down
the main street. Like I said, Gainesville was a small town and we enjoyed living
here. It was a very safe town. You didn't have to lock your house. You could
leave your key in your car. We used to leave our bicycles anywhere we wanted to
and it was there when we came back. It was a very good and easy town to live in,
and I enjoyed it.
I delivered the Gainesville Sun when I was a young boy, and it was easy to find a
job. No one seemed to have too much money, but we all seemed to get along,
especially since this was coming along in the 30's when they said we had a
Depression but we didn't notice that so much because there were always little
jobs you could pick up when you were young and if you wanted to work. We got
along very well.
M: Who were some of the people who lived close by in the neighborhood? I've
heard you mention a few names.
A: Norwood Hope lived in the house next to us. That's where his family grew up.
The Dukes. Their father had a grocery store down on the comer. Wilma was an
only sister, and there were two boys in their family. The Dukes liked to sing,
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 2
April 3, 2001
especially Mr. Duke, and on a Sunday afternoon, my aunt played the piano and
we would get together and sing songs at the house, which was really enjoyable.
M: That sounds like you all had a very close family, with some fun things for
everyone to share. Did your aunt live with you?
A: Yes. My aunt seemed like a sister to us because she lived with us most of our
adult life. She was in the millinery department at the clothing store downtown on
the square, Wilson's Department Store. It was very convenient for her, and it was
nice to have her with us.
M: You've mentioned that you spent some time in Melrose.
A: When we moved to Gainesville in '23, my grandfather and grandmother were
living in Melrose, so I went out there and lived with them for two years and went
to the 7th and 8th grades in school in Melrose. I enjoyed living out there, also,
with the lake nearby. I'm afraid sometimes maybe I had a good time rather than
study for school. I always had a little job out there on the weekends and at
different times when I was going to school.
M: What types of jobs did they have out there? I've heard you talk about collecting
moss and stuff for upholstery.
A: Yes. They had a gin out there that would make fiber out of the moss, so I drove a
truck during the summer and had me about three or four women to pull moss for
me. I could get three loads of moss a day and bring it in to the gin, and they
would gin it and let it dry and make fiber out of it. We would bale it out and haul
it to Waldo, where we would put it in a boxcar and send it to Michigan to be made
into padding for the Ford automobile seats. That was the padding for the seats.
M: That's interesting to think you were part of the early auto industry. You've talked
about school in Melrose and I guess in your later years you finished your
schooling in Gainesville. Was that at the Kirby-Smith school or was it at the
newer school that was built on University Avenue?
A: No. It was in Gainesville High School on University Avenue in the 700 block.
Buchholz was the Principal. We called him Prof Buchholz. That's where I went
to high school. We had a nice group there and I enjoyed the friends I made there.
Some of them are still in Gainesville; so many of them from that time stayed in
Gainesville. Ben Franklin, Fred Cone, Angus Baird, and Clarence Beasley were
some of them. S.T. Dell. A number of them stayed here and continued to live in
Gainesville. It was nice growing up from high school on to old age with some of
the same people.
M: That's great, and not many people have that opportunity to know people from
childhood all the way through and stay in one spot, and I think that's one of the
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 3
April 3, 2001
nice things that Gainesville seems to attract people. Even if they have been away
for a while, they come back.
M: They realize what quality life is offered here. The social life in Gainesville. It
sounds like you all had a good time. I've heard you talk about parties and dances.
What was it like?
A: We had a social club in high school. We put on dances and usually we went out
to the old country club, the Gainesville Country Club the other side of the
University, and had dances. Angus Baird had a sound system hooked up on his
truck and he would have the music for us. We just had a big time dancing and
getting together on certain occasions.
Then, too, I worked for a fellow, Jim Chestnut, who had some property, just this
side of the Haile Plantation, just west of it, and Arredondo was a little town there.
They had a little grocery store there and a gas station. They had an old
Presbyterian Church there that was the first Presbyterian Church in the area.
M: This was at Arredondo?
M: I've seen that sign out on Archer Road.
A: Also, on the corer there was a big kettle that they would make syrup in. They
would grow cane and make syrup. That's the fellow that I worked for. He had a
2-story log cabin on his place. He grew corn and cane and things like that. We
would go out there for dances, which gave us an extra place that we could go and
have parties and enjoy that.
M: How would the people get out there? It sounds like it was pretty far outside of
A: By then we had the Model T's, the early cars. That would have been '26, '27 or
'28 -just before the 30's. Everybody had a means of transportation. I know my
family had a Model T Ford, and I would get that to ride out. Most families had
some kind of transportation which they let the children have at night when they
weren't using them. We got along very well. Most of the time we walked to
school, which we didn't think was very far, but now people don't want to walk so
much. They think it's a long way from Main Street to Gainesville High School.
M: The last time we talked, you were talking about some of the fun things to do in
Gainesville for the young people, with it being a small town, but it was still very
social. What were some of the things that you did?
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 4
April 3, 2001
A: One of the things we enjoyed doing was going boat riding on Newnan's Lake. It
was a nice lake at that time, and there was also a beach right at the end of
University Avenue that was good swimming. They had it cleaned out and it was
good for swimming. Families would come out. There was a picnic area there,
and they would have picnics and the children would swim. It was quite a place
for people to go. The young people used to like to go out there in the late
afternoon and early evening and go boat riding. Some high school groups. A
group of us went out there one afternoon, and Hal Batey and O.D. Morris each
had a boat and Hal was giving us a ride a couple at a time. When our time
came, he circled the buoy but when he came back by, he got too close and hit the
buoy and knocked a hole in the side of the boat. The girl that was with me
couldn't swim. I didn't know what was going to happen, whether she was going
to get excited or not when the boat sank. I told her to hold onto me, and as the
boat went down we stepped out in the water and she did very good. She had hold
of me and Hal got the boat turned upside down and we hung onto the edge until
O.D. came out and got us. That was quite an experience.
M: That does sound like an exciting time. I noticed when we talked before that you
married a girl from South Carolina. How did you meet her?
A: Yes. It was kind of unusual. Jim Chestnut had a grocery store when I was in high
school, and I would work for him on the weekends. He was connected someway,
and I never did know the connection, with a cousin of Rosa's in Jacksonville.
Rosa would come down to visit the cousin and Jim Chestnut knew the cousin's
family. He wanted me to go with him over to Jacksonville as I usually did the
driving for him and pick them up and take them to Gainesville for a few days. So
we did one weekend, and they were supposed to stay about two or three days, but
when we got back the afternoon that we picked them up, I got Tom Fagan to go
with me to pick the two girls up and carry them out for that night. We went to the
house, the Chestnut's house over by the Kirby-Smith school. He lived on
Franklin Street just a few houses north of the school. When the two girls came
out, Tom just happened to get with Betty and I happened to get with Rosa. I had a
Model A Ford with a rumble seat in it, so, of course, Tom and Betty sat in the
rumble seat and we went to ride to several places in town, out at Split Rock. That
was a place that Jim Chestnut had and he grew corn out there, and he had a little
cabin on it. We went out there and sat around and talked. It was a nice place to
M: Was that north of Gainesville?
A: It was west of Gainesville, from the Beville's place where 8th Avenue and
University Avenue comes in, we would take a left right there in front of the old
Beville House and where that nursery is now, go back there about a mile. Part of
the Prairie came up to that area that they called Split Rock. There was a nice area
out there to visit and sit around and talk.
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 5
April 3, 2001
M: So you all hit it off. Then you were making trips back and forth to South
A: Yes. The next summer Chestnut had a house up there in Charleston that needed
some repair. It was right in the old historical part of Charleston. They could only
do certain things. You had to have the same roof and things like that; you had to
be particular what you did on the outside especially. I helped him on that project
for almost three months, for the summer, and, of course, Rosa and I would get
M: For three months. That sort of sealed it.
A: She had just finished school. There was a hotel down on what they called the
Battery area. That was a nice hotel and Rosa worked in the office there. I guess
that's when we did most of our courting, and I guess right on with it for about five
years this went on and I would go to South Carolina to see her.
M: You finally married and brought her to Gainesville.
M: You were married for fifty some years?
A: Fifty-two years. During that time, I changed from the grocery business into
wholesale foods. I had to work pretty hard for several years to get the business
going, but things worked out. Rosa was a good mother and she took care of the
house and the children. I was gone a good bit because it took so many hours to
make the business go until it got started. Then, of course, it built up and I got a
warehouse going in Gainesville so I could keep merchandise on hand here and
deliver daily, so that's how the business grew from one truck to ten trucks.
M: That sounds good. You served the University of Florida and some of the grocery
stores in town before they became chains, before the days of Publix and those big
A: Yes. The grocery stores were part of our main business, and the schools and
restaurants and hotels and the University. I was here when Shands was built and
also when the V.A. Hospital was built. The grocery stores phased out but then it
came down to being an institutional business.
M: You mentioned your children. You have three children.
A: Yes, a boy and two girls. All of them have done real well. They went to school,
got an education. My boy is a doctor in Gainesville, Georgia, an orthopedic
surgeon. One of the girls is Mary Keitt. She stayed in Gainesville and worked in
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April 3, 2001
accounting office until she retired. Sara Lynn went to St. Petersburg for about 26
years and taught school and was in real estate. She finally came back to
Gainesville, which I was happy to see. Her husband got ajob with the University
of Florida Foundation, so they are here.
M: Do you have grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
A: Yes. I am fortunate that each of the children had two children, so I ended up with
six grandchildren (four boys and two girls), and they have all grown up and done
well, except it was unfortunate that we did lose one grandchild, but the others
have done well. We have three great-grandchildren and another on the way.
M: You talked to us a lot about Gainesville years ago. What was it like during World
A: It was a deserted town. Over half of the University was in service. The
attendance was about half of what it had been.
M: Especially since the University was all male at that time.
A: That's right. Then foods, particularly potatoes and onions, began to get scarce. It
seemed like the Army wanted potatoes and onions more than anything else and it
made them short. You couldn't just go buy a bag of onions. They were scarce
and were rationed out really. Just like gasoline. They rationed gasoline. If you
were in business and needed gasoline to operate, they would allot you so many
M: I know you've been involved in the First United Methodist Church it seems like
forever. Can you tell me a little bit about the early years there and what you've
been doing recently?
A: They were having church in the fellowship hall, what is the fellowship hall now,
when I came here. They had theater seats. They had some great ministers back
then. One in particular was Preacher Myers. His parsonage was right there on the
corner, in front of the Scout house. Of course, it has been torn down now, but
they were the last ones that lived in that parsonage. He had so many children in
his family they needed all the room. There were two boys and they went to
Gainesville High School; the girls, also. The church later built another sanctuary,
so they converted the old church into the fellowship hall. They redid it. It has
been very serviceable and we have enjoyed having it. We have a kitchen there so
we can have meals and it comes in very handy. Later on, another building was
built which was an office building and a Sunday School room. The old East
Florida Seminary was in that area. We bought that, but they stopped using it as
the University got large enough that they went out there.
M: That's where the University started.
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 7
April 3, 2001
A: Yes. The East Florida Seminary did go to the University of Florida when it was
moved over from Lake City. We bought that and that would fit right in with our
complex because that was between Bell Hall and the huge sanctuary we built and
then the fellowship hall, so that gave us four buildings right there close together.
We had plenty of Sunday School room and office space, so it was real nice.
M: You all had a real active Sunday School back then. It seems like I've seen
pictures of a lot of people from around Gainesville.
A: Yes, when I was in high school, we had a young men's Sunday School class.
E.A. Clayton, an attorney here, taught us for so many years and then Alton Morris
came here and was in the English Department. He took over and taught us for a
long time, and we'd have anywhere from 50 to 65 boys in our class.
M: That was a lot of people back then when Gainesville was so small. Who were
some of the people?
A: Of course, me, and I had two brothers so there were three in my family that were
there. We were all in high school, from freshmen to seniors at the same time.
The Fagan boys and there were three of them. J.R. Fowler, the one who had the
garage way back then in the late 20's and early 30's. There was S.T. Dell and
M: Sounds like you all had a good group.
A: A big group. We sure did.
M: I know you've remained active. I hear people all the time make comments to me
about all the work you do there and the roses and the Altar Guild and helping with
A: Well, the children, of course, grew up, and Rosa was teaching Sunday School
class, so we were quite a big part of the church. We took advantage of it and later
on, the children had kind of gotten out and Rosa put in a lot of time with the Altar
Guild. That was one part of the service that she liked. I retired in '75 so I would
help her. She had emphysema and couldn't do too much so I got involved in the
Altar Guild. I was the only man with about 35 women who served in the Altar
Guild with all of the things that we had to do. I usually found plenty that I could
do and put enough candle sets to the pews. We used to have the ones that hooked
to the pews but later we got the ones that we put on the wall. I enjoyed the work
and, too, when one of the ministers said we needed some trusty engineers so we
formed a group of ten or twelve of us to fix things around the church, do painting
and carpenter work and things like that to keep the church looking nice. That was
John Rooks, and he would work with us one morning a week. We would all go
Interview with James Malcolm Alday, Sr. 8
April 3, 2001
down and do things that needed to be done. It was thoroughly enjoyable and a
good fellowship way to get the work done.
M: That's great. We've been talking for quite a while, and I think we've covered
most things. Anything else on your mind that we haven't covered?
A: I should have mentioned the Boy Scouts. We had a real good Boy Scout group
and we built the log cabin for the Boy Scouts. We had a nice log cabin that Bert
Ames was the one we called the father of it. He put in a lot of time to be with the
boys and take them on trips. He had a little farm and they would go out there and
camp out. The boys enjoyed it because they could get out and camp out. With
the encouragement and help of Jim Bishop, he sees that we keep that Scout group
going. We still have a good Boy Scout group as well as Girl Scouts and then the
M: That's quite a legacy. It's been interesting to talk to you. What we'll do is make
a copy and then we'll sit down and talk through it and once we've edited it, we'll
give you a copy and have one stored at the Matheson Museum. Thank you so
much. I'll be getting back with you.