This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Steve Kerber
Interviewee: Hal C. Batey
Date: November 7, 1979
K: Today is Wednesday, November 7, 1979. My name is Steve Kerber, and I am going
to be conducting an oral history interview with Mr. Hal C. Batey. This interview is for
the University of Florida Oral History Project and will take place in Mr. Batey's
residence at 604 NE 7th Avenue, Gainesville, at 8:00 p.m.
Mr. Batey, I would like to begin by asking you to tell me your full name.
B: My full name is Hal Crockett Batey.
K: When were you born, Mr. Batey?
B: I was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, March 12, 1883.
K: Let me see. That would make you ninety-six.
B: That is right.
K: What was your father's name?
B: Granville Crockett Batey.
K: And your mother's?
B: Lucy Haynes Batey.
K: Were they native Tennesseeans?
B: Yes, both of them were native Tennesseeans.
K: I see. Did you come from a large family?
B: I came from a family of eight--five girls and three boys.
K: What did your father do for a living?
B: My father had a farm, and he had sharecroppers on that farm. Then he and his
brother-in-law and cousin went into the general merchandise business. They had a
big old country story, and they sold everything from bonnets, shoes and boots,
clothes, overalls (they call them blue jeans today), some bolt goods, groceries, and
meat--not fresh meat but cured.
K: Did you attend school in Murfreesboro?
B: I attended school in Murfreesboro in the public school. They called it free school at
the time. I reckon they called it free school because there were so many private
schools there. Boys went to the free school, and girls had to go to the pay school.
K: How far along did you get?
B: I got into the first part of fifth grade.
K: How long did you stay in Tennessee, and when did you come to Florida?
B: Well, I was twenty-two years old when I came to Florida in 1905.
K: I see. So you worked with your father in the family business until then?
B: Well, the old firm went out of business, and my daddy and I took it over. We ran it
for a long time. Then when my brother got out of school I came down here just to
see Florida. I went broke, and I was a grown man and was ashamed to write home
for money, so I got a job. I thought I would work a little while and then go back
home. I got to working with a wholesale grocery company in Jacksonville, and I
liked them and they liked me, so I kept on there. I never did go back to Tennessee
K: I see. What was the name of that company that you went to work with in
B: C. W. Bottleson Company. The Bottlesons formerly came from Gainesville, Florida.
K: Really? How long did you stay in Jacksonville?
B: I stayed in Jacksonville till 1921. I worked for them till 1912, and then we--my daddy
and two brothers and a brother-in-law and I--went into business for ourselves in
Jacksonville. We formed the Batey-Fleming Company, a wholesale grocery
business, in 1912.
K: Now, your brother-in-law was named Fleming?
B: Yes. He was married to my sister.
K: What was your brother's name?
B: My own brother's name was Rufus Hans Batey. He was the one next to me. The
youngest was named Granville Emmett Batey. Emmett was the president of the
Batey-Fleming Company. He and his wife celebrated their sixty-ninth wedding
anniversary on March 22 of this year.
K: Oh, that's wonderful! That's great! Does he still live here in Florida?
B: He and his wife are keeping a home in Jacksonville. They can still get around if
somebody takes them. He is ninety-three, and I think she is ninety-one.
K: That's great.
K: They are still active in the Methodist church. At one time she was president of the
Jacksonville Woman's Club, and both of them are very active in the First United
Methodist Church there. But they have to be led about now.
K: Do you know if the Flemings were related to [former Florida] Governor [Francis P.]
B: No. This Fleming came from Kentucky.
K: I see.
B: He married my sister in Tennessee. In 1910 there were four of the family that were
married that same year. One sister was married in Korea (she was a missionary
there), two brothers were married in Jacksonville and Murfreesboro, and I was
married down here.
K: Did you meet your wife in Jacksonville?
B: Yes, I met her in Jacksonville. She was a schoolteacher. She taught school at
Duval High School. She made thirty dollars a month.
K: What made you decide to move to Gainesville from Jacksonville?
B: Well, we did pretty well in the wholesale grocery business, and we decided we
wanted to have another branch somewhere. We tried to go to Tallahassee, but we
couldn't buy anybody out up there. We tried Gainesville; we thought we were going
to buy somebody out here. We didn't, but we decided to go into business in
Gainesville anyway. I had been here in Gainesville once when I was working for the
C. W. Bottleson Company, so I had a little knowledge of the trade and the people
here. We went in business in 1921 here, the Batey-Fleming Company from
K: Okay. So where did you build your store?
B: We built a warehouse on the corner of what is now SW 2nd Avenue, at the T & J
railroad crossing. The building is still there, although it has been remodeled some.
We were there till 1932, when we sold out to the Central Grocery Company.
K: What did you sell? Did you deal just in groceries, or [did you sell other items as
B: Well, when I came to Gainesville I found out that there was a need for somebody to
buy the separate groceries that the farmers produced around here. Everybody
came to town with a basket of eggs, and if the four or five stores up on the square
couldn't use them, well, they had to take them back home. It was the same way
about a coop of chickens or bushels of sweet potatoes or other things that they
would have that they couldn't sell. They just left town, taking these things with them.
George Dell was one of the good merchants here in Gainesville, and he said he
would tell anybody, "Go down there to Hal Batey's. He'll buy it." I bought anything
they had. Of course, I bought it cheap, but a cheap market is better than none.
B: So I managed to hold it together. We were the first people that put Florida eggs in
cold storage. It used to be a regular business a long time ago. We had a surplus of
eggs in the spring, and we would have to put them in cold storage. Then we would
sell cold-storage eggs the next Thanksgiving Day. They would make it to fall
K: I see.
B: Of course, stores have a better arrangement than that now. They keep fresh eggs
all the time. We put 300 cases of eggs, with 30 dozen to a case, in a cold storage
place in Jacksonville--Wade, Farris & Wade said they could keep them. We paid
eight cents a dozen for the best ones we bought that went in there. Along
November, why, we sent over there for ten cases to sell to the people around here
that needed them. About that time there were a good many boarding houses
around the University, and the University itself used a lot of them.
[One fall we got our shipment from Jacksonville, and] almost all of the eggs were
cracked. I called Mr. Farris and said, "Jim said you could keep these eggs. Well,
you kept them, but they all froze." "No." I said, "Yes, they did. I'm coming over
there this afternoon, and we'll look at them and see if the others are frozen." He
said, "I believe those froze after they got there." Now, I had a cold storage plant, but
I was sure they did not freeze in that.
Well, I went over there, and we opened up eight or ten cases in the cold storage
plant, and there were all cracked up. He said, "Well, Hal, I'll tell you. I don't know
what to do." I said, "Well, you have to help me. I'm in trouble." I knew the bakers in
Jacksonville, and I went to all those bakers. I didn't have much luck getting rid of
those eggs. But there was a man that had just started a pastry business who didn't
make anything but cakes and pies. He said, "Mr. Batey, I can use all of these eggs.
These are good eggs. I can use all of them, but you'll have to put them in twenty-
five pound pails, break them open, mix them, and freeze them. Then I can take
them out as I need them. I can use all of them, but not all at once." Well, that is the
way we worked it out. I don't know how much we lost, or whether we lost anything
or not, but after that there was never any more trouble.
Swift & Company started taking them up themselves. Mr. Branch was the manager
of Swift & Company in Jacksonville, and he told me, "You are wasting your time
putting eggs in cold storage. Florida eggs won't keep." I said, "A good egg in
Florida is just as a good egg in Tennessee. A good egg is a good egg."
B: He started to put them in after that, so I didn't have to bother to fuss with eggs
At that time we were selling a good many. There were a good dairies around
Jacksonville [and] around Gainesville. They were selling milk from house to house
every morning, delivering milk. I found [that there was] a need for cow's milk [in
Florida]. I had a connection in Tennessee, and I [bought milk cows from there and]
shipped them down here and sold them to the dairymen. The cattle were full of
ticks, and they all had the mange. Each cow weighed about 350 to 400 pounds, and
most of them had long horns. They were good for eating. They would kill them,
grind them up some way, and eat them. But I kept bringing in a few [high-]grade
bulls. Somebody had to take care of them. They needed a dipping vat on their farm
to keep the ticks off, because the ticks would kill them. Florida cattle were immune
to ticks. Well, I got to trading with them on cows.
My brother-in-law Fleming made us buy him out in 1920, and he went back to
Tennessee. In 1926 he had lost what he had, and he wanted to come back to
Florida and join us again. We never changed the name of the firm. He was farming,
and he shipped me a carload of mules and some of his hand tools from the farm. I
sold them--the University bought some of the mules. After that I commenced
shipping in a few mules and horses from Tennessee. I don't know whether I made
any money or not, but I furnished people with good horses. I love horses myself. I
was raised with horses in the lot all the time.
One day George Dell sent a man down there with five little half-grown coons, and he
told me, "Mr. Dell told me you'd buy anything there was." I said, "Do you mean you
want me to buy those coons?" He said yes. I said, "Well, I'll buy them. I'll give you
so and so for them." I don't know what I gave him for them, but he was tickled to
death. Guy just went out there, and I paid fifty cents apiece for them.
I also had a connection in Mississippi where I used to send live foxes, live possums,
and other things from Tennessee down there to train the hounds.
K: The hounds?
B: They trained the hounds. I had this man's name, and I wrote him and told him about
the coons. He wrote back and said, "Yes, I want them. Send them to me." Then a
few days later somebody came in there with three fox cubs and said that Mr. Dell
had told them that I would buy those foxes. I said, "Sure, I will," and I did. I bought
things from them. That is how I became acquainted with the people in the county,
by buying and trading with them.
K: So you dealt not only in farm produce but also in livestock.
B: Yes, I sold livestock too.
K: And bought it.
B: And bought it. At that time the only place to sell fat stuff ready to butcher was either
to Swift & Company in Moultrie, Georgia, to Lykes Brothers in Tampa, or to Jones,
Chambliss & Company in Jacksonville. There was no place here; there was no
auction market here. There were plenty of times I bought stuff that I sold to the
same places. But I had trucks, and I could move it, see? The best load of hogs I
ever bought in my life I bought from the University of Florida at two and a half cents
K: From the Experiment Station?
B: Oh, they were beautiful; they were beautiful boars. I think there were eight or ten of
them that filled that wagon, and I sent them to Moultrie, Georgia. I remember now. I
sent them to Swift & Company, and they gave me $375 a hundred for them. Of
course, that wasn't much profit to haul ninety miles away with a big truck. Gas was
about twelve cents a gallon, I reckon, at that time. We would bring back a load of
cottonseed meal and hulls, so we would save freight on that. Then I had an outlet in
Jacksonville for some of the country produce. Plenty of times I sent them ten bags
of sweet potatoes, and they would sell them. They had a pretty good business in
At that time there were lots of little independent stores all around, but they
commenced to closing up around 1930, and by around 1932 nearly all of them were
closed but a few big ones. That is when we sold out. But we had done pretty well. I
had raised a family, and all of them had gone to school some.
K: So you and your family sold out the business, then, during the Depression.
B: Yes. It was in about 1932 when we sold out--and we sold everything. We sold to
Jacksonville. By that time we also had a branch in Ocala, and we sold all the assets
of Batey-Fleming to Central Grocery Company. They rented the warehouse that we
had. They operated for a long time. They went into the building material business,
and they carried some sidelines. They got along, and they made a little money all
K: Mr. Batey, when did you first start dealing with the University of Florida? As soon as
you got into business here in Gainesville?
B: Yes. At that time the University of Florida did its own buying. They did not go
through Tallahassee. They tried to work with the farmers, the University did. They
did a lot for them. One of the nice things they did was they tried to have a feed lot,
and they would come out and pick out five or six cattle from me or somebody else.
They would weigh the cattle, they would feed them and finish them out, and pay you
the finish weight on the weights that you carried in there. The thing you would get
would be an increase in price. You wouldn't get any increase in the pound; you
would get the same pounds back. But your price was about double for a finished
beef. Well, that was very nice and cooperative, and also instructive to the farmer. It
let him know something about how much feed it took to put on so much meat on a
cow, which was very helpful.
K: Now, where was this feed lot you are referring to? Was it on the campus?
B: Yes, it was on the campus.
K: Was it part of the Experiment Station?
B: Yes. I don't know how long they ran that program, but I participated in it. I
remember Professor [Claude H.] Willoughby and Arthur Shealy [were both
professors of animal husbandry]. Wilmon Newell, I think, was the head of the
agriculture department. [Newell was dean of the College of Agriculture, director of
the Experiment Station, and director of the Agricultural Extension Service. Ed.] Dr.
[Harold] Hume was the horticulture man, and John Scott was the dairy man. [Hume
was the assistant dean of the College of Agriculture, Scott was chief inspector for
the Florida Department of Agriculture. Ed.] I bought diary cows from them, and
maybe I sold them some dairy cows, too. I don't know whether I did or not. I expect
I did. They [the University] had to run a dining room, and they had to buy a lot of
groceries. They favored us with a good part of their business, and we enjoyed it.
We tried to be cooperative.
To give you some idea of what the Experiment Station has helped us do, when I
came to Gainesville most all the corn was planted in five-foot rows, three feet in the
drill, and the farmer thought he had to plow it about four times. Sometimes he would
make eight or ten or twelve bushels to an acre. Well, they learned how to make
seventy-five to eighty bushels today--sometimes more than that. [Today the yield is
increased because] they put that corn in thirty- to thirty-two-inch rows and a little
thicker in the drill [and because they are] changing the variety of herbicides and the
way they handle them. They have cut out nearly all the work. Sometimes they don't
even work the corn, but most of the time they plow one time.
The same is true about peanuts. They thought if they had a good crop of peanuts
they would have 500 pounds to the acre, and it was all done by hand. They had to
hoe those peanuts two or three times maybe. Then when they dug them, why,
they'd have to shake them out by hand; they had to shake the dirt out by hand.
They weren't worth much anyway. They'd sell a few for seed. They weren't making
much peanut butter. They didn't know George Washington Carver had done so
much experimenting with them at that time. I remember that we bought peanuts
from Alabama and sold them for fifty cents a bushel. That's two cents a pound.
K: Yes, sir.
B: Then we bought them from North Carolina, too. North Carolina runs a little bit
higher, but they were cheaper, too. Well, instead of taking all the people in there
with hoes and all, they throw the hoes away; they don't use hoes anymore. They
don't plow those peanuts much at all. They plant them thick and spray them and
dust them. I don't know what my boys did this year, but last year they made nearly
three tons of peanuts to the acre.
K: That's amazing.
B: And the price of those seed peanuts (they grew seed peanuts) was over $400 a ton.
That's twenty cents a pound, right? That's one of the things that the Experiment
Station did. Of course, folks in Georgia did the same thing. But all of them worked
together to show the farmer what to do. The farmers used to refer to "those
educated fools at the University," but they found out that they were the fools.
K: Mr. Batey, did you sell feed or fertilizer to the University?
B: I sold fertilizer and feed to the University, yes. Well, I don't know that I sold them
any fertilizer, but I think I did.
K: And farm implements?
B: Well, I didn't sell them any farm implements, no. I don't think I sold them any farm
implements. Pretty soon they got into the tractor business. When they sold their
horses I helped. I didn't buy any of the horses, but I bought all the harnesses they
K: Did you?
B: When they had to change ROTC to motorized, why, I bought all those harnesses. I
remember I carried some of those harnesses down to an auction at Kissimmee, and
the auctioneer said, "Hal Batey, why did you bring those harnesses down here?
These people don't use that harness. They use saddles and bridles." Well, I said,
"Each one of these sets of harnesses has a saddle with it." "Yes, but that's a
fellentree saddle. They won't buy that." I said, "Well, I brought them down here.
Let's try them." I had five or six or eight or so. They had level lines. They were
good harnesses, and traces and belly bands. So he put one up and asked, "How
much do you have to have for them?" I said, "Well, the more I can get for them the
less I'll lose. Just try them." He got to hammering on them, and they ran up to
nineteen dollars and something. That looked like it was as far as they were going to
go. I told him, "Well, that's cheap, but sell them, sell them, sell them. I brought
them down here to sell, so let's sell them." So he sold them. Then he said, "Now,
here's some more just like them." I had a burlap bag with the two sets in them, and
when we got to the last one some fellow said, "Don't sell that. Don't auction that off.
I'm going to take it myself." [laughter] So there's somebody who wants anything, if
you can find that somebody.
K: That's right. Mr. Batey, who did you deal with when you sold groceries to the
B: I believe it was Klein Graham. I think he was the business manager at the time. It
seems to me like he had a lot to do with it. But I think the heads of those
departments [had something to do with it]: John Scott bought for the dairy, and
[Aaron W.] Leland [farm manager, College of Agriculture] was the dairyman. Mr.
[Henry] Zeigler was the farmer [the farm foreman for the Agricultural Experiment
Station]. I don't know who bought this stuff out there. I imagine Klein Graham
bought it, because he was the business manager.
K: But who did you bring your groceries to? Who was in charge of the dining hall?
B: Well, the last one I remember was Mrs. McGara, but there was somebody in there
ahead of her. I forget who that was now, but she was there a good while, Mrs.
McGara was. While she was there they changed the system to send the orders to
Tallahassee; they would send out and ask bids in Tallahassee. After that, why, we
sold to the state. We bid on every sheet they sent out, and sometimes we got the
business, sometimes we didn't. But we tried.
K: Okay. But before they started bidding, the University just came to you, to your firm,
because they knew they could get what they wanted from you?
B: Yes, I think they called me. In fact, they told me one time they wanted a couple of
brood mares, and they knew I shipped some horses down here from Tennessee. I
said, "I can ship them for you. I think I can get them," and I got them. I don't know
whether I got them one or two, but I got them. One day Professor Willoughby called
me, and I think he had something to do with it. There was a doctor out there, too,
that made medicine drawing blood from horses to made a medicine to fight
leukemia. What was his name? He is dead and gone, but he has a son here that is
K: Dr. Shealy?
B: No. He was a veterinarian. This man might have been a veterinarian, too. I don't
know. He worked with that blood, though. He has a medical doctor son here. I
don't know why I can't think of his name now.
B: Anyway, he had to have a new horse every once in a while, because those horses
would get so jumpy that they couldn't get to them. Of course, I always would take
the horse back and give them another one for consideration. Professor Willoughby
called me one day and said, "Hal, you know this big bay mare?" I said yes. "Well,
we can't do anything with her now. They've had her for two or three years." I asked
what the matter was with her, and he said, "Nothing. She's just as fat as she can
be. But she won't work for anything. I'd love for you to buy her back from us. Will
you buy her?" I said, "Yes, I'll buy her. Is she hurt anywhere?" "No, she's fit as she
can be." I bought her--I forget what I paid for her--and sent Bill, my son, out there to
get her. He went out there to get her. He knew the mare, and he had delivered it [to
them in the first place], I expect. Professor Willoughby called me and said, "YOu
sent that boy out here to get that mare, and that mare will hurt him." I said, "No, I
don't think she will. She's gentle as a dog. She's just full of life because she's been
standing up in the stable eating, doing nothing." And Bill came back riding her
K: No problem?
B: No problem. She was a fine mare. She was really a nice one.
K: Mr. Batey, how did the University pay you? Did they pay in cash?
B: They paid in checks.
K: In checks?
B: Yes. I don't know whether the checks came from Tallahassee or from the
University. I believe they came from Tallahassee. The bills went to the University,
and they okayed them and sent them up there. But to their satisfaction, we never
had any trouble.
K: Those would definitely have gone through Mr. Graham's office, then.
B: Yes, that is exactly where they went.
K: All the checks?
B: Yes. That is where they had to be okayed. Then we would send them on to
Tallahassee, I reckon. I have forgotten now whether we got our checks from
Tallahassee or from the University. I believe we got them from Tallahassee, though.
K: Could you tell me a little bit about Mr. Graham? Did you know him very well?
B: I knew him mighty well. He was a mighty good man, and a mighty good friend of
mine--he was till he died. The last part of his life was kind of miserable. He was set
up at home and couldn't get around. He was deformed all the time I knew him. He
got hurt playing football and was bent over about halfway, and he kept getting worse
and worse. But he had a lot of tenacity. He also had a lot of kinfolk in Gainesville.
He was married twice, and both of his wives died. For the last part of his life he had
somebody stay with him. I think he lived to be eighty-five years old, or something
like that. But he was a keen businessman, and he was interested in the University
of Florida. He was a very efficient man for them, too. So were all those people I'm
talking about, like Albert Murphree, the president.
K: Did Dr. Graham have a family? Did he have children?
B: He had one daughter, and I think she's living in Tallahassee. That's all the children
he had. I don't know what happened. I reckon that place on 4th or 5th Avenue
belongs to her now.
K: Did he belong to any organizations, or was he active in a church here in town?
B: Well, I think he belonged to First Presbyterian Church. Maybe it was [Holy Trinity]
Episcopal. Yes, it was the Episcopal church. He used to sing in the choir. He had a
good voice. And he was very active in the Rotary Club. He was the life of the
K: Was he?
B: They asked me into the Rotary Club when I first came to Gainesville. There were
about twenty or twenty-five Rotarians, I reckon. John Scott was one. Wilmon
Newell was one. Albert Murphree was one. And Klein Graham.
K: Would you tell me what you remember about President Murphree? What was he
B: He was an all-around good man. He was an efficient man. He knew what he was
doing, and he went and did it. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody. He
was a wonderful person, and he made you feel easy and at home with him
anywhere. He was easy to talk to.
[Albert Murphree was a practical jokster, too.] One day there were a couple of old
men over there . We called them old, but they weren't old. They were older than
we were. They owned that hotel in Melrose.
B: They asked the Rotary Club to come over there one Tuesday--I think we met on
Tuesday--and they wanted to entertain us, to take us boat riding after the meal.
Albert was along, and Brannan Ogletree and [C.] Addison Pound and Moorman
Parrish and Otto Stock and Wilmon Newell. Well, I don't know if Wilmon was there
or not, but he belonged to the Rotary Club at that time. There were some more;
there were about eighteen or twenty of us who went over there. After we had this
sumptuous meal, they said, "You all go down on the dock now. We'll be down in a
few minutes, and we'll go boat riding." At that time they had a pretty good-sized
launch there on the lake.
Now, when we were going through the town [on our way to this hotel we noticed
that] there weren't any [paved] roads in Melrose--just sand roads about halfa knee
deep. Right in the middle of the main street in the town there was a little place that
looked like a toilet, but it had "jail" written up there in scrawled-out pen.
B: There was a great big lock and a great big chain on it. Well, we saw it, but we didn't
pay any attention to it.
We went on the dock after dinner, as I was telling you. Directly one of those men
came down there. I cannot think of their names now. I knew them both well. They
are both gone now. This old man had a linen duster, a double-billed cap, and a
great big star on his lapel, and he was calling out, "Police! Wait! Wait! Don't get on
board yet! Don't get on board yet!" He said, "I'm just as embarrassed as I can be.
Somebody has taken some silver out of the hotel. The silver isn't worth that much,
but it's an heirloom, and we want it back." Then he said, "There hasn't been
anybody in there but my brother and I and you gentlemen, and we haven't got it, so
one of you must have it. I want you all to submit to a search."
They lined us all up. I didn't know what they were doing, but I lined up right with
them. The man came along patting our pockets. He got to me, patted my pockets,
and heard ding-a-ling-a-ling. He said, "Here's our man! He's our man!" I reached in
my pocket and pulled out a knife and a fork that somebody had slipped in there.
Well, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He said, "I'm taking you right off to jail."
[Somebody said,] "Oh, don't take him to jail. You got your silver back." "No, I'm
going to make an example out of him," and he carried me off to jail. I still wasn't
able to laugh because I didn't know what to laugh about. We got to the jail door, and
he began to struggle with the lock. Then somebody came out with the story, and I
knew it was a practical joke. [laughter]
Well, there was a man named Wallace overthere, and I told him that story one time,
and I bet I told it to him half a dozen times, because every time he'd see me he'd
want me to tell him that story. [laughter] But that was a true story. Albert had as
much humor as a bull puppy. I mean, he enjoyed himself. And he was a wonderful
K: Did he know much about livestock or about the farm activities at the University?
B: Well, I've had to deal with farmers all my life, although I never did farm for a living.
But as I told you, my daddy had a pig farm there in Tennessee--we called it a pig
farm. It had about 260 acres, and he had sharecroppers. At that time everything
was short cotton there in middle Tennessee, and I reckon it still is. I don't know. My
daddy thought I was grown when I was ten years old. See, I was the oldest boy,
and I had been going with him to the store ever since I was big enough to walk that
K: Yes, sir.
B: He thought, Hally could get it done. He sent me out on a man's job, and I would go
out and do the best I could. I had a good deal to do with getting the cotton choppers
out there to chop the cotton and pick the peas in the fall. We would always have
plenty of peas planted--sometimes white peas, sometimes clay peas, sometimes
whippoorwills. We paid these pea pickers half. They would pick them out, and if
they didn't want the peas, well, we'd give them so much a pound for them; we'd buy
them back. I would bring a load of black people--most of them were black, I think--
and they'd pick the peas and lay them out loosely in a bag in the sun where there
was no shade at all. That sun was hot! Then when they got as many bags as they
thought they could beat out, they'd walk on those bags and frail them out. Then I
would settle with all of them--l'd give them half the peas if they wanted them, or I'd
pay them for the half, whichever they wanted. And as I said, my daddy thought I
was a grown man when I was ten years old.
K: Mr. Batey, when you came to Gainesville, was your firm involved in the cotton
business at all here in Alachua County, or was the cotton business already gone by
B: Cotton was trying to go, but there were a few people that still tried to have cotton.
The first money we lost on that account was when somebody here wanted to put in
seventy-five acres of cotton--Sam Dell, or Sam T. Dell's daddy, the attorney here
now. His daddy worked for us. He said he thought that man would pay us but that
he had to have about $400 worth of stuff to finish his cotton crop. Well, we went
along with him. But his cotton crop was a failure, and he didn't make anything at all,
and he didn't pay us. After that the government still had men come in here. They
had Mordecai Gibson down here at Mclntosh, and I think Colin Ginn, too, probably
had something to do with it. A man named Fillings was up there in Union County;
Fillings and Roberts were up there in Worthington Springs. They kept trying to grow
cotton, but they finally quit. I think all of them have quit now.
For a while they struggled around trying to figure out what they could plant to take
the place of that cotton that they had been planting all these years, and they decided
tobacco would be a good thing. They got a tobacco expert down here from North
Carolina named Granly. He lived over here at Newberry; he lived and died there.
He showed the people how to grow tobacco, from the seed bed to the finished
product, through cured tobacco. It was very profitable for a while. But not many of
them grow that anymore. Some of them still do, and they have an allotment on it,
like they do on peanuts. Most all farmers got a little allotment of tobacco. It got to
where they could trade it with their neighbors if they didn't want to plant it. My boys
planted it one year; they planted some mighty fine tobacco there, and they made
money on it, too. I don't know why they quit.
K: Let me ask you if you knew Dr. James Farr, who was vice-president [of the
University of Florida].
B: Yes, I knew him. Not as well as Albert Murphree, though.
K: Can you tell me what sort of a person he was?
B: Well, I didn't know him that well.
K: How about Dr. Newell? You mentioned Dr. Newell a while ago.
B: I knew him mighty well. He was a good man, a very capable man. He was always
on business. He never had any time for frolic. He was always very intent on what
he was doing, and he was very efficient, I think, at his job. I believe he did play golf,
although he didn't play much. Klein [Graham] also played some. I didn't play much
K: Was Dr. Newell active in any of these civic organizations?
B: He was very active in the Rotary Club, but, as I said, he paid most attention to his
business out there at the University of Florida. And he was a very capable man.
K: Do you remember Dr. [Wilbur L.] Floyd [assistant dean of the College of
B: Yes, I knew him well. We belonged to the same church. He was a mighty good
man, too. He and Professor Willoughby were both Methodists. I think Albert
Murphree was a Baptist.
K: What can you tell me about Willoughby? Can you tell me anything about his
B: Well, he was a good country boy. He knew a good deal about farming. I think he
worked in their department. I don't know what kind of job he had. They called him
Professor Willoughby, so I imagine he was teaching. I don't know. But I knew him
quite well. He helped me with the livestock. He knew something about mules and
horses and cows, and so did John Scott and Arthur Shealy. He got very active in
the hog business; I think Arthur had charge of the hogs.
At that time we had lots of trouble in Florida with hog cholera, which has ben
eradicated now; we don't have it anymore. But is used to be an awful thing. You
would go up to a man's lot and see five or six great big nice hogs laying out there
dead, and some were almost dead. And there wasn't anything we could do forthem
but kill them. But they kept working on it, and they got it eliminated.
K: Mr. Batey, back in 1923 there was a very big Ku Klux Klan parade in Gainesville,
and then there were a couple of beatings of people in Gainesville after that by
[members of] the Klan. Do you remember if the Klan was very active around
B: I don't know remember a thing about that; I don't know we had ever had any trouble
with the Ku Klux Klan here in Gainesville. I don't remember at all.
K: Okay. I wanted to ask you about the movement to start a city commission form of
government in Gainesville. I think they tried in 1925 [and failed], and then they tried
again in 1927 and succeeded.
B: That's right.
K: Now, you were one of the first commissioners.
B: That's right.
K: Were you active in the movement to set up that form of government?
B: No, I wasn't active in politics at all. I never thought about being a city commissioner.
I didn't feel like I was. I felt like I was still a boy while I was forty years old or more
about that time. But some representative citizens of Gainesville came down here,
and they said, "We want you to run for the city commission." I said, "Go get some
grown person. I'm just a boy. I don't know anything about the government." They
said, "Yes, you do too. You're just what we need." They kept on, and I said, "Now,
listen. I am not going to run. I am not going to put on a campaign. If I get elected
I'll serve. I'll just say that." "Well, that's good enough. That's what we want." So
they went and got me elected. I don't know how many years I was elected for,
maybe one or two or three, but I stayed on for ten years. I never did campaign, but
my friends kept pushing me and kept putting me on there. In 1929 I was elected
chairman, which carried the title of mayor, but it was just a city commissioner. He
"was" the mayor, and he signed the papers and bid people welcome to the city.
K: Yes, sir.
B: In 1930 they re-elected me, which they weren't supposed to do at all. They were
supposed to change. Then in 1931 they re-elected me as commissioner again. I
think I'm the only mayor-commissioner that ever succeeded himself. After I served
that ten years, I thought that was long enough, and I told them that I would back off
then. That was 1937. At that time there wasn't any salary to it; it was an honorary
job. We did the best we could. At that time we got an airport, which [City
Commissioner] Lee Graham and I didn't think we'd ever have any use for. He was
president of the First National Bank, and I was a wholesale grocery merchant. But
the deal was that if we [the government] furnished the land, they'd fix the airport.
That's when [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt came in.
K: Yes, sir.
B: So we bought the land, finally. We tried several pieces, and we finally bought some
[land] out there where the first airport was for ten dollars an acre. And they fixed us
an airport. Lee said, "We don't need an airport. We might need one in fifty years,
because Gainesville's just like it was fifty years ago." Well, I knew it wasn't, because
it had changed a lot since I had been here, in 1921.
K: That's right.
B: But there is a massive airport out there now, and a beautiful one. I mean, it's lovely.
And there's lots of money spent out there, and lots of traffic, too.
K: Can you remember anything else that you're particularly proud of that happened
while you were on the commission? Anything like the airport?
B: Well, when John Seagle died, he owned that Seagle Building down there on
K: The Dixie Hotel?
B: It was just a skeleton at that time. It wasn't finished. It was just standing there, and
had been standing there since the boom in 1925. But he owned it, and when he
died his sister (she was an old maid) said that if the county or the city would buy that
building for $20,000 and give it to the University of Florida and call it the Seagle
Building, she'd sell it for $20,000. Well, we knew that was a good deal, and there
was some way to get that skeleton fixed up. We negotiated with the county
commissioners and with the state about taking that place. The county paid $10,000,
and we paid $10,000, and we gave it to the state, to the University of Florida. They
went on and spent a lot of money on it and fixed it up, and they have been using it
ever since. I don't know whether it is being used now or not. I reckon it is.
K: I think it is still being used for storage.
B: Yes. But it belongs to the University of Florida.
K: Yes, sir. Did you know Mr. [W. McKey] Kelly, the promoter who started that hotel?
B: I knew him mighty well.
K: What was he like?
K: He was fair. He was a wheeler-dealer. [laughter] He had several real estate
projects around here. He did all right with the first two or three, but they got
stagnant at the last, and he traded too long. That's why the Kelly Hotel did not last
long--he ran out of money. I think he and Charlie Woodbridge did a lot of good
around here, but Charlie held his money together. Charlie Woodbridge was another
financier who came down here from Boston, or Lynn, Massachusetts. He had been
interested in real estate in Gainesville and north towards Alachua. But Charlie kept
his [money] together; he didn't lose any money. He made his money, and then he
went back up to Boston after the trading was up.
K: Do you remember where Mr. Kelly went after he left Gainesville? Did he go back to
B: I think that's where he went, but I never heard of him after he left. That's where he
K: Now, about the same time, Mayor [William R.] Thomas was converting his home into
a hotel, also. Did you know Mayor Thomas?
B: Yes, sir. He was one of the best businessmen Gainesville ever had. He was one of
the main men that brought the University of Florida here to Gainesville. [He was
mayor at the time.] When I came to Gainesville, he had a dairy barn down there on
the branch, on what is now called Sweetwater Branch. He had a dairy business
there, and he had the White House Hotel that ran from one Main Street to the other
Main Street. At that time we had two Main Streets running parallel to each other:
they called them East Main and West Main. It was very confusing to somebody
coming in--they would think you were talking about one end of the street to the
other. But we're talking about two different streets. Mayor [Thomas] lived then
where the Thomas Hotel is now.
K: Yes, sir.
B: I don't remember exactly when it was--sometime in the 1920s--he took a notion to
make a big, huge hotel out of it, his house. He did, and it's a beautiful place. But he
got mighty hard up for cash money. He had lots of assets, but cash money he didn't
have. Nobody else had any. He had a tough time there for a while. But he outlived
it all, and when he died he was in good financial shape. And he left his children in
good financial shape, too. They're still all in good shape now. Mayor Thomas was
one of the best businessmen Gainesville ever had.
Moorman Parrish was an outstanding man in the real estate business here in
Gainesville. He and his uncle and his daddy perfected this plan for Highlands. They
perfected that plan by putting that creek into a conduit that ran through the park and
made it beautiful. They tore down that dairy barn, and I bought some of Mayor
Thomas's cows. Somebody else bought some of them, and he got rid of the rest of
them. They made two houses out of that dairy barn, with added lumber. And
they're still over there. Jim Adkins bought one of them, and Mac Tucker bought the
other one--I think it was Mac Tucker. Anyway, they're still there now.
K: I didn't know that.
B: Mayor [Thomas] ran that White House Hotel for a long time. I don't know just when
the bank bought that property and tore down that hotel down. At that time the bank
was called Citizen's Bank, I think.
K: Yes, sir.
B: That Sun Bank.
K: That's right.
B: Yes, he was very active, and very helpful. Then I think it was in the middle of the
1920s when the State Road Department wanted to pave 9th Street, which is now
13th Street. Up to that time all the traveling from the north, from Alachua and up
that way, came down Alabama Street [now NW 6th Street] to the square in
Gainesville. Well, the merchants downtown, the good merchants, the good
businessmen, including Mayor Thomas and Benmont Tench and Thomas Hardware
Company and I think Lee Graham, all fought the thing. And they carried it up
[through the courts]. It took them two years to get through the courts up to
Tallahassee, trying to keep them from building that road, but they finally built it.
They claimed they were going to run all the business around Gainesville. They
found out how wrong they were after a while. It ought to be eight lanes now, but it
isn't but four. But how far ahead of your nose can you see?
K: Mr. Batey, what was the hardest [part], the deepest part of the Depression here in
Gainesville? About what time would you say was the worst part of the Depression in
B: I think it was about 1930. I don't know exactly whether that's the right date or not,
but I think it was. There were plenty of good people that couldn't pay, and a heap of
the banks had closed and frozen the assets, if any had been in there. I think it was
about that time when the president came in and they had this "holiday" on banks.
K: Yes, sir.
B: It really helped the situation. It stagnated for a while. I mean, it paralyzed
everything. Most all of us had a little money in some of these banks, you know. I
remember that Ed Turner and [William M.] Pepper were trustees to close out the
assets of two or three of these banks. I think one of them was the Gainesville
Guarantee and Trust Company, of which Morgan Fennel was a fine president. And
there was one in Trenton and, it seems to me, one in alachua. They finally got it
One day Bill Pepper said, "Hal, we sold you out today." I said, "What do you
mean?" He said, "You bought a piece of property down there that belonged to Mrs.
Tucker, Bev Beville's mother." I said, "Yes, we paid for it." He said, "Well, the
mortgage never was recorded as having been paid. We still have the mortgage on
it, and we sold it today."
In the meantime, Harvey Robinson was in that Gainesville Guarantee Bank, and he
had already been sentenced to the penitentiary for embezzlement. He [Bill Pepper]
said, "You better find out something. I think you paid for it, all right, but you don't
have any title to it." Of course, Bill was a friend of mine, too. So I went to see
Harvey, and I thought I'd find him in stripes and back in a dingy dungeon
somewhere, you know. But he was sitting in the office all dressed up like he was
down there at the bank. I said, "Harvey, they tell me you never recorded that
satisfaction on that piece of property we bought from Mrs. Tucker." [inaudible] He
said, "Well, listen, Hal. If nobody has bothered the papers, they'd be right on the top
of my desk and ready to record. I just never did get over there to do it." So I came
back and told Bill Pepper what he said. He said, "Well, let's go down there and
see." We went down there to see, and we found it. He said, "Well, that's all right.
You go ahead and have it recorded. We just figured because we were dealing with
the bank that we would be safe, that there wasn't any need to check behind them.
But we were wrong. [laughter]
K: Mr. Batey, after you sold your business, did you open any other kind of business
here in Gainesville?
B: No. My oldest boy had a Pontiac dealership up there by the old post office. In fact,
his estate still owns that property there. I helped around there a little bit. Then
when World War II came, it got to where it was hard to get any automobiles to sell.
But that didn't last too long, and we kept the business. The government then
commenced to selling surplus stuff, and we bought lots of that. He had about ten
acres of land down there on the south end of town, and we built a little shed down
there and had different parts and things down there. I stayed around there and
helped him. At that time the social security law didn't allow a family to pay the family
to work, to pay social security, so I couldn't pay social security. But I could work.
One time he went up to Camp Rucker, somewhere close to Dothan, Alabama, and
bought ninety-one of those amphibious crafts [ducks]. He called me and said,
"Daddy, bring up some drivers to help move this stuff." I got some hands, and we
went up there. My goodness! Those things looked like a box car to me, they were
so big. At that time I could see better than I can now, but, even so, I wasn't titled to
drive. He said, "Drive that one on up there to the gate and wait till some other get in
behind you." I said, "I can't drive that thing. It's too big." "Oh," he said, "it's as easy
to drive as a Chevrolet. It has a big Chevrolet engine in it." I don't remember
whether I drove it or not, but somebody did. Well, we commenced moving those
things down here to Gainesville, and they filled up that lot down there. Then he went
over to Birmingham orto Montgomery, somewhere over there, and bought five or six
of those big transport Mack trucks. High-priced stuff, great goodness! I stayed
down there with that stuff. He made a lot of money on it; he made a lot of money. If
he had bought more of those ducks, he would have gotten rich, I reckon.
B: I think he paid $420 apiece for them, and they had lots of equipment on them. They
had a winch on them that was worth $350, and they had a compressor on there and
spare tires and cable and snatch blocks and a tool box and a hydraulic jack. Oh, it
was equipped! He knew right away that there was so much stuff there that if you
couldn't sell the whole thing you could sell all the stuff off it and make money. We
sold them all, though, and made some money. I had big fun doing that.
He sold out the Pontiac business in 1952, 1 think it was. He had made a good deal
of money, and he sold it out for a mighty nice price, too. He rented the building that
he had bought in the meantime to the people that bought the Pontiac dealership.
He's done mighty well. I helped him along.
K: I see. Well, Mr. Batey, before I go would you please, for the tape, give me the
names of your children? I don't think we went over the names of your children.
B: Well, the oldest boy is Hal Crockett Batey, Jr.; the next one is Marguerite Batey, who
is now Mrs. Joe Wise; the next one is William Dobbs Batey, who lives in Archer now,
right close; and Robert E. Batey lives in Gainesville. Hal C. Batey, Jr., the oldest
boy, died suddenly about 1963. I think he was sixty-three when he died. They have
given me seventeen grandchildren.
K: That's wonderful!
B: And twenty-five great-grandchildren.
B: And one great-great-grandchild.
K: That must keep you busy.
B: [laughter] Well, I enjoy them. Every time I can get to see them, I try to see them. I
have not seen my great-great-grandchild yet.
K: Well, that's all the prepared questions I had for you, so I won't keep you any longer.
I really appreciate your taking time to share some of your life and early history of
Gainesville with me today.
B: It has been a pleasure. I have enjoyed talking with you.