MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
James Perry Ramsey, Jr.
Mary Ann Cofrin
Ruth C. Marston
February 6, 2003
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 1
February 6, 2003
C: My name is Mary Ann Cofrin. I am interviewing James Perry Ramsey, Jr., for
the Matheson Museum at his home, 3421 S.W. Wacahoota Road, in Micanopy,
Alachua County, Florida. Will you please state your full name and birth date for
R: My name is James Perry Ramsey, Jr. I was born here on the farm December 30,
1923. That makes me 79 years old, and with the blessing of God, I am still able
to put one foot in front of the other!
C: That's very good. I'm proud of how you've done. Your family has been here a
real long time. We have a lot to talk about today. I think the best thing to do is to
start with your great-great-grandfather, who was the first one to come to Florida
R: Moses Ramsey came from North Carolina Wilmington, N.C. He was my great-
great-grandfather. He came here in 1845. He had been a resident of Wilmington
and was a Captain in the War of 1812 in the defense of Wilmington. He fannrmed
north of Wilmington.
C: What brought him to Florida?
R: Adventure, I guess.
C: Was he married at the time?
R: He was married. He was not a young man at the time, and his family came with
him. My great-grandfather, Thomas Green Ramsey, who was born almost exactly
100 years before me, was part of his family when they came down here.
C: What about his parents? Were they from North Carolina, too?
R: They were from North Carolina. I don't know too much about them. I do know
that his father was Thomas Ramsey, of Wilmington, but I know very little about
the Ramsey's before his time.
C: Now his wife, was she .
R: She was Letitia Evans, from Wilmington.
C: So they just picked up and came, and your great-grandfather, named Thomas,
came with him.
R: Yes. He was Thomas Greenberry Ramsey. He went by Thomas Green, but his
real name in the Bible was Thomas Greenberry.
C: Now, he was just a youngster?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 2
February 6, 2003
R: He would have been about 22.
C: Were there other children?
R: He had a number of children, among them Eli and Crogin and a number of others.
It was a large family.
C: Eli is mentioned in one of the books that we have, and he was one of the farmers
down here, also. We will talk a little bit about him. Your great-great grandfather
bought this property that we're on right now?
R: He did not buy this exact property. His property was a little bit south. My father
collected this farm together in the early 1930's. We still have part of Moses
Ramsey's farm. Thomas Greenberry later married and moved to Clinch County,
Georgia, in Homerville.
C: So he didn't stay here?
R: Not at the time. He farmed in Clinch County. He was a local judge in Clinch
County, and he was a member of the convention that seceded Georgia from the
Union in 1861. Then he came back after his father had died so his sons could
share his inheritance of his father's estate, and that's how we got the part of the
farm that goes back to Moses Ramsey. It was through Thomas Green giving part
of his share to my grandfather, Perry Gilbert Ramsey.
C: So it was all part of this particular piece of property, but bigger than this. So how
many acres do you think total that this property was to begin with?
R: Moses Ramsey's was 2 V2 sections, about 1500 acres.
C: But you have 2300 acres.
R: My father collected up additional property.
C: Now, P.G., he was also Perry, I guess.
R: Yes. Perry Gilbert.
C: With the property that he inherited from Thomas, did he add on to that?
R: He added on as well. My father inherited part, and he bought out another
brother's share and then he added on this particular property right here.
C: Okay, tell me a little about there's not a whole lot to tell about Thomas, but he
stayed in Gainesville or in Micanopy?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 3
February 6, 2003
R: He lived in Arredondo.
C: But he farmed over here? Or did he buy property over there, too?
R: He must have bought property there. I don't know what Ramsey's went to
Arredondo, but I do know that Eli had property where the Gainesville Regional
Utilities is. He farmed there. Moses is buried at the Wacahoota Baptist
Cemetery. I'm familiar with him because we go to that cemetery often to clean it
C: Tell me a little bit about P.G. He was the Sheriff?
R: P.G. was born in Georgia in 1856 and came down here in the 1880's, had a home
down on what is now the Williston Road.
C: Now he came with his father because his father came back because of his
R: His father came back and had a home in Arredondo, but he gave this property to
his son, P.G. That is part of our property. He had a home just off of what is now
the Williston Road. He was married to a girl who goes back to a family that came
to Florida long before the Ramsey's the Stafford's. That was the family that
lived on what is now the Rochelle Road on Paynes Prairie. They raised cattle on
Paynes Prairie. There are no more Stafford's around that I know of, but they were
an old family. P.G.'s wife, the mother of my father, had T.B. and died of
tuberculosis when my father was six years old.
C: But that wasn't the Stafford.
R: Her mother was a Stafford. She was a Swales. After she died, they abandoned
the house, and he built another house. At that time, T.B. was a prevalent disease
and they had to be very careful or someone else in the family would come down
with it. No one did. He married and had two children. They really had more
than two, but in those days they lost many of them. I think that two had died, and
my father had a sister. His wife's mother had come to help take care of her, and
she stayed to take care of her children, so the grandmother raised them for a
while. The story was that she picked out her second cousin for a second wife and
promoted her, so he remarried and had three other children.
C: But your father was from the first wife. He would be one of the older ones.
R: He was the oldest living one.
C: Well, P.G. stayed on in Gainesville then until he died, I guess.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 4
February 6, 2003
R: Yes, his home was on the corer where the First Presbyterian Church is now
C: Oh really? So he moved into town.
R: He moved to town when he was elected Sheriff. The children were in school. He
had an old Chevrolet car. I remember him coming back out here to the farm
C: So he retired here and lived longer than his wife?
R: No, his second wife outlived him by a number of years. He died in 1933 and she
lived until the middle 50's.
C: So you remember your grandfather coming out here to the farm and your
R: My step-grandmother I remember her well.
C: Some of the other brothers and sisters, uncles and the aunts that you had. You
had a lot of them around, so you had a big family.
C: Tell me, do you have any special stories to tell about your grandfather that would
be interesting of his time as Sheriff? How long was he Sheriff?
R: He was elected Sheriff in 1908 and served until 1924, so I wouldn't have any
active memory of that time.
C: He was well thought of?
R: He was well thought of and reelected three times.
C: Quite a few times! Do you remember much about your step-grandmother?
R: She was a fine lady.
C: And she was from this area?
R: Yes, from Morriston, in, Levy County.
C: So we're down to your dad. He farmed. Was that his main occupation?
R: Yes, and he loved it. I remember him, of course, better than any of the other
Ramsey's. His love was his farm. He collected it together during the time that he
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 5
February 6, 2003
was Sheriff. Back in those days, they had a terrible depression, if you remember,
and he bought additional property. During my time we tried to improve it.
Property was dirt cheap at that time.
C: If you had enough money to buy. You had to have money.
R: When you consider $2 or $3 an acre, that was kind of dirt cheap.
C: But he had a good job. That was part of it. He was being paid a salary. He didn't
have to worry about making the money on his farm, so it was a good time to
invest in land.
C: So you were small enough to remember some of that.
R: Oh yes. I think I was eight or turned nine just about the time we moved into
Gainesville when he was elected Sheriff.
C: But you lived out here.
R: Before that, I was born out here and raised out here.
C: In this very house?
R: No, it was the house that burned. The chimneys are still standing.
C: But that house burned in what year?
C: So the house you were born in is no longer there. When you were young, that
was fine to live that far out but when it was time to go to school ...
R: My mother was a teacher and she drove in to Micanopy and took me to school.
C: You had brothers and sisters?
R: No, I was an only child.
C: So she carried you to school with her. That worked out nicely.
R: When we moved to Gainesville, I started school at what was called the Eastside
School and now is Kirby-Smith.
C: How old were you when you moved to Kirby-Smith?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 6
February 6, 2003
R: Ten, and in the fifth grade.
C: Oh sure. I bet I could guess who your teacher was. No I can't. Who was your
teacher in fifth grade? Do you remember?
R: Yes, I remember Mrs. Wetmore.
C: Okay, so you stayed on at Kirby-Smith for the sixth grade.
R: Rodney L. Bishop was my sixth grade teacher. Her husband was later elected
Superintendent of Public Instruction.
C: Right. Then you moved to Westside School at the time?
C: G.H.S. it became. Now when you moved over there, they also had a grammar
R: Yes, but it was closed about that time. About the year or so after I moved there,
they closed the grammar school.
C: So you couldn't have gone to that grammar school.
C: When you went to school at Kirby-Smith, that was the only one.
R: That was the only grammar school in Gainesville.
C: I've interviewed a number of people who said they went to the Westside School.
When I went to school, it was all Eastside School. I'm one year younger than you
R: Oh, you are a kid.
C: One year. It doesn't amount to much! Anyway, you liked going to school at
R: Yes, I loved it.
C: Did you like school?
R: Oh yes. I liked school.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 7
February 6, 2003
C: Did you have a lot of friends?
R: Yes, I had a lot of friends. I'm sorry but I've lost track of almost every one. We
lived down the street on Franklin Street. It ran right into the back door of
C: That's right. You moved into town the year your dad was elected Sheriff, and
that was what year?
R: He was elected in 1932 and he took office the new year of 1933.
C: Did he give up farming?
R: At that time people were hunting jobs so he had plenty of help.
C: I never have asked you what kind of farming did he do?
R: He raised corn. He raised cabbage. He raised cucumbers and a few cows.
During the next ten years or so, he quit farming completely and went into only
C: That was the days before we had fences?
R: That was before we had fences, but we always had a fence around our property.
C: You didn't let your cows run free?
R: No, because they could get stolen or they could get hit by a car. We still are
dreadfully afraid that one of them will get out and we do everything to protect
them and keep them behind our fences.
C: Did they have milk cows, too, or just beef cattle?
R: We had a few milk cows to milk for milk drinking in our house, but no dairy. We
didn't sell any milk.
C: So the milk cows furnished your milk. Your dad would come out and get it. He
had somebody to milk the cows.
R: At that time he did not. Before we went to town we had to milk cows. When we
lived in town, we didn't have the milk cows. When we came back, we got
another milk cow, but we don't have one now.
C: When you stayed in town and lived over on Franklin Street, which is now N.E. 6th
you could walk to school.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 8
February 6, 2003
R: I walked to school. It wasn't but five or six blocks.
C: Yes, I remember walking to school from that same area. Did you come out to the
farm with your dad on the weekends? Was that the thing you liked to do? What
did you like to do the most when you were a little fellow in grade school?
R: Oh mercy, we did everything from building tree houses to digging caves.
C: Did you ride a bicycle?
R: Oh yes, riding bicycles. I got a bicycle a year or two after I moved to Gainesville.
I was limited to where I could ride because they didn't want me running into a car
or a car running into me. I could ride around the block on the other side of our
house and I just rode around and around and around that block!
C: I would have thought you would have been pretty safe all over that area of
Highlands. Do you remember the airport out that way?
R: Oh yes, I remember the airport and the airplanes that would go right over our
house when they would take off or land.
C: And that was right at the end of the street from Franklin and where the Eastside
Park is now. The park is off of 16th Avenue, I guess. I remember that airport, too.
I don't think a lot of people remember that there was an airport there. Was it
owned by the city, do you think?
R: I have no idea. The property must have been owned by the city.
C: That's interesting. So how many terms did your father serve?
R: Three terms.
C: So when he finished that, he decided to come back out to the farm and really put
his life into farming and raised just cows. Then where did you go to school?
What year was that?
R: I was out of high school and had had a year and a half of college.
C: At the University of Florida.
R: Yes. I came back and finished up my college education after the war.
C: After the war.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 9
February 6, 2003
C: Let's go back to high school. Tell me what you remember most about high school
days at Westside School.
R: Well, I imagine about the biggest thing I can remember is Mr. Buchholz, the
principal, the most important person around.
C: Everybody seems to remember him. Were you involved in any sports activities?
R: No, I was not involved in sports.
C: What was your main activity? Just to have a good time?
R: I guess so. That and studying. I liked to study.
C: Did you have a favorite subject?
R: At the time I enjoyed mathematics, and I enjoyed history. I thought before I went
into the service I would have liked to major in history at the University. When I
was in the service, I thought what good would history do me. I should have
something that would do me good, so I switched to mechanical engineering. I
couldn't have had a degree that would have helped me more in farming and in
what we have done out here on the farm than mechanical engineering.
C: Really? That was at the University. When you graduated from high school, did
you know Catherine then?
R: I had known the Ritchey's from way back, and I'll tell you a funny tale. When I
was real small, I got hold of a shovel and started digging a hole. I must have
gotten down three feet deep. My mother said to me, "You're going to dig a hole
to China. You'd better watch out." From then on, I was interested in China and I
tried to dig to China, but I never could do it. But we moved to Gainesville, and I
found the Ritchey's that had lived in China, and I was always interested in the
Ritchey's, and that was Catherine's name. I knew Catherine and Elizabeth.
C: Elizabeth would have been your age?
R: Elizabeth was a little older. She was almost a year older than me. After I got
back, I met up with Catherine. She worked at the Hotel Thomas. Fall Frolics was
coming up, so I called her to see if she would go to the Fall Frolics with me. We
worked it from there to where we got married. But I was interested in the Ritchey
family because of China.
C: Okay. We've got you through high school. Now World War II came along, so
you enlisted or were you drafted?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 10
February 6, 2003
R: I was drafted.
C: You went into what branch of the service?
R: I was an Infantry trainee.
C: Where did you have your training?
R: In Texas.
C: How old would you have been?
R: I was nineteen. I ended up in the 13th Airborne Division and the Provost
Marshall was having some kids that were over six feet tall and had done well
enough on the test go into the MP detail, and I was selected as Military Police of
the 13 Airborne Division.
C: But you were still in the Infantry?
R: Well, I had Infantry basic training.
C: But now you were in the Air Force?
R: Not the Air Force the Airborne. When I got into the 13th Airborne, I was put
into the MP team and from there, I could type and so I got to work in the Provost
Marshall's office. In Europe I was Chief Clerk and Investigator of the Provost
C: Did you take typing in high school? Is that how you happened to type?
R: Yes. I took two years of typing. That was one thing my father insisted on that I
know how to type. I can't type any more because of arthritis, but I could type
well enough then.
C: Do you have any other special image of your dad?
R: My father? Oh yes, I worked alongside of him from when I graduated from
college until he died twenty-five years or so later.
C: So you were very close. I haven't asked you a thing about your mother. What
was her maiden name?
R: My mother was a Rosenberger. She lived about three miles down the road, south
C: On the Wacahoota Road.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 11
February 6, 2003
R: Just off of the Wacahoota Road at a train stop called Kirkwood.
C: You mean there really was a Kirkwood? Is that where they got the name for the
R: I have no idea. I guess they got that from Kirkpatrick who founded it.
C: That may be. Tell me what was your mother's first name?
C: Bertha Rosenberger. Her parents and family were from this area?
R: They came here in the 1880's from Pennsylvania.
C: So they were around a good while.
R: The house that they lived in is still standing and has been remodeled.
C: So none of your relatives are there now.
R: No, but I should have bought that house when her grandfather died, but I didn't.
C: That's always a regret.
R: That is a terrible regret.
C: Well, tell me a little bit about your experience as an MP. You were always in
R: Oh no. I was in Europe. That was when I was Chief Clerk and Investigator. The
MP platoon had to look into all sorts of things. When soldiers got into trouble,
they had to look into that. It was my job to get the report written up and the report
went to the captain of the company. We were a busy outfit over there.
C: Where were you stationed?
R: At that time, I was in Auxerre, France, south of Paris. Several towns south I
would say ninety miles south of Paris.
C: Was that a big base there?
R: We were stationed there and we were on the alert to take missions. On one of our
missions, we were all in the airport ready to fly across the Rhine, and bless Patton,
we were ready to go. General Patton got a railroad bridge across, and he took his
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 12
February 6, 2003
troops across so they canceled that mission. That was the most dangerous one
that we had.
Right at the end of the war, we were at Paris at an airport ready to go into Bavaria
somewhere where Hitler had a hideout. We were supposed to capture Hitler.
C: Aren't you glad you didn't have to do that!
R: Yes. The war ended right there.
C: Now you were in the area of Paris after D-Day then, I guess.
C: Paris was already liberated by the time you got there. You were not in Europe at
all before D-Day?
R: No, we went in soon after they got into France and soon after D-Day.
C: You were part of the cleanup?
R: I guess you might say that.
C: So you had some interesting experiences. Were you ever in a dangerous
R: Nothing really dangerous.
C: You weren't being fired on?
R: No, I was not fired on. We did have a combat star.
C: Well, you were in an interesting area. So you stayed until the war was over.
Were you still kept around there for a little while.
R: For a little while.
C: Then you were shipped back, and that's when you hooked up with Catherine.
R: I got shipped back and then discharged.
C: Then you came back to the University?
R: I came back to the University and then I met up with Catherine.
C: What were you doing in the Hotel Thomas to even find her?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 13
February 6, 2003
R: We were going to make arrangements for a Homecoming banquet at the Hotel
C: You were in a fraternity?
R: Oh yes. Theta Chi.
C: Did you join that when you were here in the beginning or when you came back?
R: When I came back.
C: There were a lot of veterans back then?
C: So this would have been sort of the middle of your Sophomore year, your second
year at the University?
R: I was accepted into my Junior year when I got back, so I had two more years. I
had two years crowded into a year and a half.
C: So you joined a fraternity and you were planning a dance at the Thomas Hotel.
R: It was later that I invited her to a party.
C: Sure, but you met her at that time. Well, Fall Frolic was a big thing on campus.
R: Oh yes.
C: Girls were beginning to come to the University about that time, too.
R: No. They still went to Tallahassee at that time. We had one girl in mechanical
C: Just one. Well, the University was growing but it was still not a big school.
R: No. I can't conceive of the number of students that they have there now.
C: Do you know how many were there? I always thought that when you and I would
have been in high school in the early 40's 41 or 42 that the University was
about 3,000 students. Then when you came back ...
R: I think it was slightly under 3,000 when I came back and then it flew right up to
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 14
February 6, 2003
C: In no time. They had a lot of married students and started building the married
students housing. But you enjoyed your college days.
C: Did you live in town?
R: I drove back and forth.
C: You lived out here with your parents.
R: My mother had died. She died just about that time.
C: She died after you came back and you came back in '45?
C: Soon after the war was over.
C: Then you started dating Catherine. When did you get married?
R: In 1950.
C: And you've been married now ...
R: For 52 years.
C: You have how many children?
R: Three children.
C: Their names are?
R: James Perry III, who goes by "Chip", Kathleen, and Lisa.
C: Tell me where they are.
R: They're right here on the farm.
C: All three of them.
R: Lisa teaches in Williston. She and her husband both teach in Williston. They
have a home on the south end of the property.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 15
February 6, 2003
Kathleen lives next door. She lived in the house that burned.
Chip lives across the road.
C: Now, the one that lived in the house that burned, what did they do after it burned
in 1992? Did they rebuild? What caused the house to catch on fire? Do they
know the cause?
R: Well, I speculate that it was the refrigerator. I have heard that sometimes the
compressor goes bad, heats up, and starts a fire. It had to have started in the
kitchen. The article says that it started from unattended cooking, but we don't
think that was it.
C: Your daughter was living there, but they weren't home?
R: She was living there, but she was at the barn and saw smoke coming out of the
window. She dashed up there and it was just all in flames. She couldn't even get
in there. She had been in there less than half an hour before.
C: Pretty awful.
R: The insurance company lent her a trailer and gave her money to live in it and they
suggested that she buy a mobile home. She did buy a mobile home within the
month. They lived in our house for a while and then they got the mobile home set
up and they lived in it while they were building. In less than a year they were in
their new home.
C: Now she and her husband what's his name?
R: Larry Eubanks.
C: They farm here?
R: No, Larry works at the University as manager of the Meat Plant. That's in the
College of Agriculture.
C: So he's been there a long time? Does she like to help with the farm?
R: She loves it. She takes right after my father. She loves to have anything to do
with the farm.
C: Do Kathleen and Larry have children?
R: They have two children. The eldest, John, is married and soon going to have a
child, next month, I think. I'll be a great-grandfather. The youngest is Scot, who
is in college.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 16
February 6, 2003
C: Perry doesn't look old enough to be a great-grandfather. Now your son who lives
across the road, that you call "Chip", he farms.
R: Yes. He keeps the farm going.
C: He's married?
R: Yes, he's married and has three children. His wife's name is Linda Stineman, and
the children are James Perry IV, Sarah, and Jenny.
C: He has always farmed? You taught him everything he knows.
R: I don't know if I taught him everything he knows. He probably learned some
things himself. He majored in agriculture, as did each of our three children. After
his graduation from U.F., all of his time working has been here on our farm.
C: The farm is all cattle?
R: It is now. I'll tell you a funny tale. Catherine's father came here in 1927 to the
C: That's George Ritchey.
R: He wrote an article that was published in some magazine that all cattle farms
should have permanent pasture, and he named some grasses that were acceptable.
One of them was centipede grass. My father was sheriff, and he spotted some
centipede lawns and he asked the people who had them if when they trimmed they
would give him some runners and he planted centipede grass out here. Much
better grasses came out after that.
C: Better than centipede.
R: Yes, so my father tried to get rid of it. He plowed it, ditched it up, and everything
he did, it just flourished. It did better than it was before. So he just didn't know
what he was going to do to get rid of that centipede grass. Finally he found that a
friend down south of here had sold some of the centipede in sods to a nursery in
Jacksonville. They came over and cut the sod and took it and paid him a cent a
foot. So he said, "Maybe we can have a nursery come over here and cut it and get
rid of it that way." So we had a nursery come over and they cut several semi-
loads of grass. It lifted nicely, so we thought maybe we could cut the grass
ourselves and sell it. About 1960, we started selling sod. We were selling cattle
and then we started selling sod as well. It got to where the sod was bringing in
much more income than the cattle, so for 40 years up until about 2000 we sold
sod. We kind of cut out everything by that time and were having dry weather.
Sod has to be irrigated, and we had irrigation that pumped out of the ditch, and all
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 17
February 6, 2003
the ditches were dry and we had no water to irrigate so we just had to stop cutting.
Sod put us on our feet much better, and we were able to buy a drag line and put
C: Buy what?
R: A drag line, a large piece of equipment that digs up dirt a piece of machinery.
My father had always dreamed of putting a dike around part of our property so
that in putting a pump would control the water because Levy Lake is like Paynes
Prairie. It fills up into being a lake sometimes, and sometimes it's dry. It makes
wonderful pasture when it's dry, but you couldn't count on it being dry because
the time we did, it would get wet. With that extra income that we had, we were
able to put a dike around part of our holdings in Levy Lake.
C: That way you could control the water.
R: We could control the water. We could pump the water out when it got too wet,
and we could maintain our pasture adequately and raise a lot more cattle in the
dike area. We were able to more than double the number of cattle that we had.
C: Now, did your cows graze on this grass and it didn't hurt the sod? You could still
R: No, we had to get the cows off. They would put their piles on it and trample on it
and destroy it. We had special tires that we had to put on the tractor to mow it.
They were split tires. We called them golf course tires. We had to mow it once a
week. After a field was cut, cows could graze on the grass for about two years
until it was ready to be cut again.
C: Then it just replenished itself?
R: We would cut a foot-wide strip and we would leave four inches and then cut
another foot-wide strip. It would spread right out again. We had to roll it.
C: Did you have to put top soil on it or anything?
C: But you had to water it.
C: In those days we weren't having so much trouble with the rain though, were we?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 18
February 6, 2003
C: We had a lot more rain.
R: In May you would always have to water it. For forty years, there was one spring,
one May, that we didn't have to water it. We would always have to irrigate in
April and May.
C: Did you have an irrigation system or was it a makeshift system, something you
put in yourself?
R: It was aluminum pipe that we would put together and take apart and move from
field to field.
C: So you could move it wherever you wanted and then you would pump the water
from the lake.
C: We haven't talked about Levy Lake. I didn't even know Levy Lake existed, so
you need to tell people about it. It is out here on this property of 2,300 acres. It's
a little bit like Paynes Prairie.
R: It's very much like Paynes Prairie.
C: It's not as big, of course.
R: No, it's about one-fourth the size. It goes almost to 1-75 and it's 2-4 miles wide
and about 10 miles long.
C: Part of it is on your property.
C: It's yours. You can do what you want with it.
R: Under the Spanish Land Grant, it has been surveyed. It has limited people
hunting. People would go out there hunting on our property duck hunting and
so forth and they interested the state in suing us. All they wanted us to do was
to take down our dikes. We won the lawsuit in Circuit Court, and they appealed
this to the Appeals Court. They upheld the Circuit Court's decision, so then they
appealed it again to the State Supreme Court, and the State Supreme Court upheld
the Circuit Court's decision, so our right to have the dike was upheld all the way
to the Florida Supreme Court.
C: The purpose of this dike was so you could control the water in Levy Lake inside
of the dikes?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 19
February 6, 2003
R: Yes, inside the dikes.
C: Has Paynes Prairie ever had another name or was it always called that? That was
Alachua Lake, wasn't it? In fact, I think my mother used to say they took boat
rides on Alachua Lake. Did your parents, too?
C: Were there ever boats on Levy Lake?
R: Oh yes. Small boats.
C: Row boats.
R: Yes, no big boats.
C: Have you ever fished there?
R: Me? I couldn't catch fish if I tried.
C: You're not a fisherman.
R: I took Catherine fishing one time. She caught one fish and I didn't catch any.
C: Were there fish in Levy Lake?
C: Even though it would dry up.
R: It would dry up and stay dry for several years, but the fish would come back.
C: How amazing! How about swimming?
R: No. There's a mud bottom.
C: What about your children.
R: Oh they fished. They loved to fish.
C: But you didn't have to worry about them drowning in the lake? It was not that
close to the house really.
R: No, it's not that close. They would go fishing, but they were old enough. My
father took them fishing since I never fished. He did, and he taught the children
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 20
February 6, 2003
how to fish, and they loved it. But we're too busy now to think about going out
C: Is it a pretty lake?
R: Not like the lakes in eastern Alachua County. It was kind of grown up with saw
grass, water lilies, hyacinths, and other water weeds, and it wasn't what you
would call a pretty lake suitable for swimming.
C: Are there homes around the lake at all?
C: The part that you don't own what is it used for? Is it just there? Do people live
near it and farm on it when it's dry? Do they put cattle on it?
R: Woods and some farmland borders the lake. Did I say anything about the
C: That's one of the main things we want to talk about because of the article in the
"Gainesville Sun", which I'll attach to this interview. It tells about what they're
trying to do to the Ramsey farm, so you go ahead and tell us about that.
R: The comprehensive plan was planned and promoted by the environmentalists with
little consideration for us landowners and farmers. We have been able to keep our
bills paid and have not had to sell, but we are experiencing such drastic changes
so quickly in the past few years that we might be forced into selling. It appears
that we may be punished instead of being praised for holding on to our property.
We have about five miles of border onto wetlands. The Levy Lake area has been
the basis of a study made several years ago, known as the KBN Study, and our
property is almost completely in the KBN Study area. No one ever came onto our
property to make the study it was only made by theories, but the KBN Study is
an important part of the comprehensive plan. This plan has the capability of
lowering property values and taking away the most desirable building sites even
to the point of not being able to use all of the promised units. Our property is in
the flood zone because they use a preliminary FEMA map. They require a buffer,
which will divide the uplands and the wetlands. This will take away quite a few
acres of our prime acreage.
They have made all the rules with little consideration for our rights as property
owners. They are the judges and jurors. All rules and regulations result in a
financial hardship to us property owners, and there is no incentive for good
stewardship. It doesn't seem fair to us. It almost seems as if they are punishing
us for not having sold out before.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 21
February 6, 2003
C: All the other subdivisions in the area probably had the same type of land and
some of it wetlands, too, but they were able to fill in or do whatever they wanted
to, to build and have these nice subdivisions.
R: Kanapaha is almost a city. Several years ago, Kanapaha, over toward
Arrendondo, was developed. Now, Levy Lake has a stream and the excess water
comes into Levy Lake from another lake, Leadwith Lake. That's just south of
Levy Lake. It drains excess water into Levy Lake and then another stream takes
the excess water from Levy Lake into Kanapaha Prairie, and there's a sinkhole
over there that takes off the water. But when it gets real wet, and that sinkhole
stops up, it floods over in that area.
C: You mean the Kanapaha subdivision?
R: It's at the mercy of the water of Levy Lake and Leadwith Lake, and this is an
isolated area. There is no outlet except that sinkhole over at Kanapaha Prairie.
C: Where's Kanapaha Prairie?
R: It's three miles west of us.
C: Oh, west of you?
R: Yes. They get into that subdivision off of the Archer Road, just beyond
C: Where that little church is.
R: Yes. That's where they are.
C: There's a sinkhole back in there?
R: Yes. It takes off all the excess water. Most times Kanapaha Prairie is completely
C: Would it endanger that subdivision, do you think?
R: It did about four or five years, in 1998, when we had all that El Nino flooding.
They stopped up the stream. On our property we have a bridge that goes across it,
and they put down an iron wall across that bridge and stopped the flow over there.
C: And what happened to your property? Did it hurt it?
R: It flooded.
C: It didn't hurt your property though?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 22
February 6, 2003
R: No, but it was most inconvenient to retain the water and boggy pastures for longer
than the normal time for the excess, and we had to feed our cows longer.
C: You gave them permission to do that?
R: Yes, we almost had to. They paid us, but we really spent that money and more on
the extra feed we had to buy. Before we had it, it was gone!
C: Yes, because your cows had to have more feed than pasture.
R: We didn't run our pump.
C: You couldn't run your pump.
R: They didn't say we couldn't, but we didn't run them because we were afraid to.
We wanted to cooperate with them as much as we could. Then we pumped it all
off after the rains were over and got our pasture back.
C: It sounds like farming is not an easy job.
R: It isn't, but it's very rewarding. I don't know that I would rather have done
C: You said your mechanical engineering helped you in farming. Exactly how?
R: In building those dikes, running the pump, and repairs of all kinds.
C: You knew how to do that. How about your son? Did he go to the University of
R: Yes, he went through Agriculture.
C: That was smart. And your one daughter that teaches school, named Lisa
Hamilton. She and her husband, Drue, live out here but they don't really work on
the farm? The other daughter works full time on the farm?
R: Both daughters got degrees in agriculture. Kathleen Eubanks works on the farm,
and her husband, Larry, works at the University of Florida.
C: Smart girls. You've written some notes down. I want to see what you have to say
that we maybe haven't touched on.
R: You've covered most of it except one thing that is of interest this other trail
right beside our property. It is my understanding from way back that there was a
possibility that that DeSoto Trail went through our property. Now, the road
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 23
February 6, 2003
follows the section line and I'm sure the DeSoto Trail did not exactly follow the
section line. It followed the higher ground. There are some ponds in there that
I'm sure they would have avoided, and that would have brought it out to an area
where there are signs of a roadway. There's really no reason that a road would
have been through there, so I just think that it came through our property, and I'm
real proud of those tracks in there.
C: What kind of tracks do you mean?
R: Probably wagon tracks. You can see where they went through.
C: Now did they mark the DeSoto Trail? Was that the idea?
R: No, they just marked the approximate trail. It's at the Williston Road. I'm sure
that it turned off of the Williston Road before it got up to Wacahoota Road. I am
sure it turned off there because the old road did not come up to Wacahoota train
station over there. The old DeSoto Trail went up to Arredondo. That road is
considerably west of the Williston Road and it forks off. The old road now has
been fenced and you can't travel it, but it went from that stream I was talking
about that goes over to Kanapaha. It branched off of the road that went up to
Wacahoota Station and it went on up to Arredondo and from there by the old
cemetery and on up to Newnanville. It is interesting to me.
C: The DeSoto Trail was probably right out here. Nobody has ever come to talk to
you about it or to look at it?
R: No. They think it went right down the Williston Road, which is fine with me.
C: No, it would be nice if somebody would really investigate that. I noticed coming
out here to get to Wacahoota Road you come 3 V2 miles from the Interstate on the
Williston Road and then you take the curve that says Wacahoota Road, but there's
a sign there that says Wacahoota Station.
R: That was on the T&J Railroad. The T&J Railroad came from Jacksonville, but it
never got up to Jacksonville and it didn't go down as far as Tampa. It went
almost to Starke and went just west of Ocala.
C: That's all it did?
R: That's all it went. Back before there were cars, my mother's family would want
to go to Gainesville and they would take the train into Gainesville, spend the night
at a hotel the Magnolia Hotel and then come back the next day on the train.
C: You mean they would catch the train in Ocala?
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 24
February 6, 2003
R: No. They would catch it at the Kirkwood Station. There were lots of little
stations. This station right here was called Lismon. Up there at the curve was
C: Why wouldn't they go there? Was the Kirkwood closer?
R: My maternal grandparents lived down there in the Kirkwood area.
C: Okay, so they could get on the train and go to Gainesville.
R: They would stop in Gainesville and get off and do their shopping and then spend
the night at the Magnolia Hotel.
C: Where was that?
R: It was on Main Street, just north of First Union Bank, just across the street to the
C: Do you remember that hotel?
R: Oh yes, I remember it well. It was a big old wooden building 3-story building.
The dormers made a third floor, and it was about a block long. It was on the west
side of Main Street, directly across from present-day First Union Bank.
C: Did you ever get on that railroad or was it gone by the time you were around?
R: No, I never got on it. I saw it and wished that I had the chance to ride down to my
cousin's down the road, but I never got a chance. At that time, way back in those
days, they had a passenger car that they pulled, but in my memory it was just
C: So your mother and friends or the rest of the family would go down there. Was it
after she was married or are you talking about before she was married?
R: When she was a child.
C: What did they think of Gainesville?
R: Oh, they thought it was lovely, wonderful.
C: When you were a little kid living in Gainesville, you probably went to the Lyric
R: And the Florida Theater. We thought it was wonderful.
C: We had those Saturday morning shows.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 25
February 6, 2003
R: Yes, I went to the Saturday shows.
C: Were they a nickel or a dime?
R: Nickel. We got into the theater for a dime.
C: Cowboy shows and what all. Your parents let you go in? Were you living out
C: Oh, you would have been in town at Kirby-Smith, or Eastside School. That was a
big thing in those days. And playing in the creek on the Boulevard probably. Did
you play in the creek?
R: Oh yes, we even got a boat sometimes and went out on the Duck Pond.
C: Did you really? The Duck Pond they're working on that. It looks pretty awful.
Have you been in that area lately? They're trying to clean it up. But Gainesville
was a great place to grow up, wasn't it.
R: Yes, it was. I don't know whether it would be now or not.
C: I don't know either. It has gotten so big. Well, have we covered everything? I
don't want to leave anything out that I think would be interesting to other people
about your life and this farm. You did ask me one thing about your grandfather,
Perry G. Ramsey, told you that his uncle built the Tebeau School.
R: He built the house that later became the Tebeau School.
C: I tried to find out at the Matheson Center, and there's not a word about who built
that house, so I wasn't able to prove anything.
R: I think it was Crogin Ramsey that built the house and then he moved to Louisiana.
C: Now, Crogin was P.G.'s uncle, the brother of Thomas Greenberry Ramsey.
R: That's right. I have nothing but my grandfather and his sister telling me that. His
sister told me a lot of tales about the old times.
C: Well tell us some more if you can remember more.
R: I've covered most of them that I remember.
C: Well, they were interesting.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 26
February 6, 2003
R: It has always been interesting to me.
C: We skipped over about your father getting killed. That was a terrible thing.
R: In 1972, he saw somebody going into our property across the road from our
house. He went down to check and came upon a graduate student who we found
later had marijuana planted back behind a couple tenant houses across the road.
C: Your father owned those houses.
R: Our property goes across the road.
C: Was anybody living in those houses?
R: No. Nobody had lived in there for 50 years. That's when they used to have help.
He went down and started telling him to get on off of there. They found he was a
karate expert and he just beat him up. He lived two weeks.
C: Did somebody go looking for him when he didn't come back?
R: No. He was knocked out and the kid left although my father got his name.
C: How did he get his name?
R: He asked for his driver's license. He was a little bit incorrect in the name, but he
was able to give that to the sheriff. When he came to, he came across the street
and hollered to Catherine, and Catherine took him into town right away. He was
all bloody. They got the police and started searching for the boy.
C: Your father was in the hospital for a while?
R: No, he came home. He wanted to go home. He didn't want to stay in the
hospital, so he came home and didn't get any worse. In about a week he did get
desperately worse and they took him to the hospital and his brain hemorrhaged
and he died in about two or three days. They did an operation on the brain but it
was not successful and he died about three days later. Then they really went to
work and hunted the boy.
C: Was there just one man?
R: One boy, college age. The undercover agency found a girl who was bragging that
her boyfriend had killed a former sheriff in Alachua County, so they caught him
with that undercover report. They tried him and he got one year.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 27
February 6, 2003
C: How could he only get one year? I thought when you murdered somebody, you
R: That's all he got. These days and times!
C: That was when?
R: 1972. He was tried in 1975, I think. All that time they had been hunting him.
They found him, I think, out in west Florida. A couple deputies went out to get
him and just before they got into Gainesville, he lunged across the back seat and
grabbed the steering wheel and headed the car toward a semi. It was all that the
deputy could do to keep from hitting the semi and he went in the ditch on the
other side. The boy got five years for that, but he got only one year for my father.
C: That's a pretty wild story. But now your father went over there and confronted
him and got his name or looked at his license probably before he knew what
he was doing and when he discovered it, did he recognize that it was marijuana?
R: No, the deputies found that out.
C: What made him beat your dad up? Do you think just because your dad said he
was on private property and get off and tried to tell him to leave?
R: Yes, because he told him to leave, "You're on private property and I don't want
you in here." People had been dumping stuff over there and we had been trying
to keep people off of there.
C: Was he living with you and Catherine at that time?
R: No, he had his own home. He had remarried.
C: That's right.
R: He lived in the house that burned.
C: It was after that that your daughter and her husband moved into that house.
R: Yes. My stepmother moved back to North Carolina, and we bought the house.
When Kathleen got married, the house was available so she moved in. We finally
gave it to her.
There's another interesting thing. When that house burned, we couldn't even go
in. There were two dogs in the house and they died in the house. They were
hunting around for debris just to see what they could find, and Kathleen's
husband Larry's grandfather had given him a diamond ring. And bless them, they
found that diamond ring in the ashes. It didn't melt, didn't bur. All the family
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 28
February 6, 2003
pictures were right there in the ashes. The book was scorched a little bit but the
family pictures were saved, and those were about the only two things they got out
of the ashes.
C: Two very valuable things.
R: God was looking out for both of them.
C: That's an interesting story. Well, you've had some tragedies around here. That
must have been very hard on everybody to lose your dad that way.
R: It was.
C: He was how old?
R: He was 77, two years younger than I am. I've lived a little bit longer life than
him. But he was still active and in good health.
C: Well, I can't think of anything else to ask you, but I do want to tell you this. In
1990 the State of Florida and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services presented this certificate, and I will read it:
"Takes great pleasure in presenting this certificate to Ramsey
Stock Farm, Inc., for qualifying with 100 years of continuous
farm ownership as a century pioneer farm family. This award
is given in recognition of the endurance and stability this family
has contributed to farm life and to the rich heritage of Florida
agriculture over the past century."
It is signed by Doyle Conner, Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, State of
Florida, November 3, 1990. I will take it and make a copy of it and attach it to
this interview so people can see it. That's quite an honor to know a family that's
been around that many years. It's a wonderful story.
I hope things work out with the Comprehensive Plan.
R: Well, we hope so, too. We don't plan to sell but we need to keep the option open
because you never know when you'll need it.
C: I've enjoyed it very much and thank you so much. We'll make a copy of this for
you and you can read it over and add or change any mistakes we've made. We
really do appreciate it.
R: It's nice to get to know you again after all these many years.
C: Yes, we were neighbors at one time. Okay, thank you.
Interview with James Perry Ramsey 29
February 6, 2003