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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Bernard McTigue
Interviewee: Sam Gowan
February 4, 1992
M: This is Bernard McTigue, and I am talking to Sam Gowan. Sam Gowan is the
associate University librarian for collection management in Special Collections at the
University of Florida Libraries in Gainesville. It is 1:20 on Tuesday, February 4,
1992. We are sitting in the sun outside of [George A.] Smathers Library, known to
most as Library East. Sam is going to talk about what it was like coming to
Gainesville for the first time and what his impressions were of this town back when
he first arrived as a graduate student. When did you first come to Gainesville as a
G: I first came in 1965 as a student, but I had been in Gainesville once before that. My
sister was in college between, I think, 1956 and 1960. We had moved to Florida in
1958; we all came down for Christmas that year. She was having to do a paper
over Christmas vacation, like most of us do, and needed access to a large library.
Having lived in Ormond Beach for about two and a half months, we discovered [that]
the only large library we could really get access to was at the University of Florida in
Gainesville. So we piled into the car, and my father drove us over to Gainesville.
That was the first time I was ever in Gainesville, and I am quite sure it was in 1958
or 1959. But I think it was really 1958, the first year we were down. We just came
for the day.
I remember driving in on University Avenue and finding Library East. Of course,
there was no Library West then. [I was] plodding around without any idea in the
entire world that I would ever end up in Gainesville and, even worse so, [that I would
end up] working at the library.
Almost seven years later I came to the University of Florida as a graduate assistant.
That has a little bit of a story, because I had almost finished a master's degree and
wanted to take a year off. I had a late acceptance from Columbia [University] for a
Ph.D. in English. My field was medieval [literature]. So I thought, Well, I would work
for a year. I had really not been with my family for a long, long time, having been
sent away to school in the sixth grade. In summer camp I decided that I would try to
find a job in Florida. My family knew me very well at a very young age. [laughter]
So I searched around in Florida--naturally too late--and found that there were no
jobs available at any of the junior colleges where I was planning to teach for one
academic year to get experience, because I had not taught. But someone
mentioned that there were indeed graduate assistantships available at the University
of Florida. So in late August I took my second trip to Gainesville, interviewed, and
received an assistantship.
I started teaching with more or less three days notice, because in those days we
were on a trimester plan. I found myself in my first class, a freshman English
comprehensive class. I remember that vividly, because trying to be casual [one
day], I leaned up against the desk, which was on wheels, and it went out from
underneath me, and I fell down flat on my ass in front of the first freshman class. I
do not know who was more horrified, the class or me. That was on the third floor of
Anderson Hall. That is the way my career began. [laughter]
I had found through my father a small apartment at 1824 NW 3rd Place, behind the
Catholic Student Center off of 3rd Place, slightly to the east of what is now known as
the Student Ghetto or College Park area. I loved the apartment. It was probably
only a year or two old. I remember being astounded--I had moved here from
Boston--that I could get a bedroom upstairs in a loft, a kitchen fully equipped with a
washing machine, and a living room with sort of a cathedral ceiling for $110 a
month. I thought, "Not bad!" since I was paying almost that much for a one-room
efficiency in a slummy part of Beacon Hill in Boston. So even then one of my first
impressions of Gainesville was there was a lot of space, that it was not terribly
expensive, and that it was relatively quiet. I was only three and one half blocks from
the University, and I had a huge oak tree out in front [that was covered] with Spanish
The town was exciting to me in that I had never lived in the South for any extended
period of time. It was at that time an exciting place, because the English graduate
students coming in were very interesting people. They came from all over the place,
so I did not find myself in a totally Floridian culture. I found there were people from
St. Louis, Chicago, and (like myself) from Boston. [There were] all sorts of people
that had come here because at that time Florida, with Aubrey Williams [Graduate
Research Professor of English; Director of Division of Humanities] and Mel[vyn] New
[Assistant Professor of English] and several other professors, was pretty well known
in eighteenth-century studies. I was, as I mentioned, in medieval [studies], but I had
at that point begun to try to get through the general master's exams, which required
a good deal of learning. Actually, the way it works is that when you went into the
master's orals, where I did my master's orals, they asked you broad questions that
really could have covered any part of English literature. I had been very highly
specialized in a school known as the Medieval Institute. The first time I sat for my
master's orals, there first question (I remember this vividly) was to describe the
thematic development of the Rape of the Lock [poem, Alexander Pope, first
published in 1712]. Coming from the Medieval Institute, I more or less said, "What is
the Rape of the Lock?" [laughter] So they said that I had better go away and read
more broadly rather than simply Piers Plowman [English allegorical poem of the 14th
century] and come back when I could do the broad scope. So really this school is
I was intent on taking a broad selection [of courses]. There were interesting people
here at that time. One of the things that I remember about Gainesville was the
greenery. I think almost everybody is impressed by that, by all the trees. This was,
again, 1965. The [public] schools had recently been desegregated. There are a few
things that I can remember vividly. The first is that you could not get the New York
Times on Sunday; you could only get it on Tuesday afternoon when it finally came
in. A lot of people went in and out of town on the train, which always impressed me
because the passenger train came into the station on [NW] 6th Street. The Florida
Theater--not the one downtown [the Lyric Theater]--was a little movie house that
was almost like one in New York. It was a classic-film house, and they brought new
films in about every two or three days. So there were these dissonances in
Gainesville: you could not get the newspaper, but you really had a terrific selection
of foreign films or, at that time, New Wave films being shown.
There was no grocery store. I had learned to cook in Boston because I was actually
managing a boardinghouse on Beacon Hill, and I found I could make a lot of money
by cooking dinner for the few people that lived there and charging them for it. I
found that in Gainesville there was an A&P store. The Publix at the Gainesville
Shopping Center I think may have just opened, or was just about to open. But you
could not buy mushrooms except for two weeks out of the year. There were no
snow peas in the market. The food was extremely limited. You could not really buy
lamb chops. All we had was very basic kinds of food, and very little variety. Again,
these dissonances were always present. I think that they were somewhat shocking
because I was constantly anticipating being able to find things and then discovering
that I could not.
When I first came the only store that was really available that I knew of was Sears,
which was at that time still at the downtown plaza. I opened a charge [account] at
Sears so that I could buy a tablecloth and napkins. Very gradually I found that there
were amenities here, but you actually had to search for them. Mike's Bookstore was
well stocked. It was not the glory that Goerings' has become today, but it was
actually a pretty good bookstore. It was something that you could browse through.
They had remainder prices.
The bars were sort of fun. The 1960s had not gotten to Gainesville yet, so I
remember what was true around 1965 here was more like the late 1950s or up
through about 1961 or 1962 up North. I think the 1960s reached Boston around
1962 or 1963. The 1960s did not really reach Gainesville until 1968 or 1969. Even
at that point, the student body was essentially polite, except for the night of the Kent
massacre and stuff.
M: Could you summarize what happened here the night of the Kent State slaying in
G: I was sort of more of a geek than anything else. [laughter] I was not really part of
the 1960s. I remember candlelight marches. I remember students running around--
by that time I was teaching in Little Hall--trying to shut classes down. I am afraid
that my memory of these various things has sort of blended into events that may
have occurred over a year, and I really run them all together. Basically there was a
great deal of talk, intensity, anger, and a great deal of wanting to do something that
had a symbolic effect as well as some kind of practical effect.
To me the greatest fight was between those people who wanted to express a
reaction and those who actually wanted to do something harmful. By "harmful" I
mean shutting down classes, closing buildings, or causing a disruption. Those of us
who wanted to discuss and talk about something were seen as mildly committed or
as not really understanding the import of the event. Discussion was not in effect; [it
was not] something that people wanted. I remember being impressed by this. To
me, that is what a university was about--talking about things. They did not want to
talk. They wanted to shut down the function of the University and close it. So that
was my basic reaction; it was between the two [factions, between people who would
express a reaction and those who would cause harm].
At [the University of] Florida there was always a large core of people involved. By
that time the University had 16,000 or 17,000 students. The core may have been
1,000 or 2,000 activists, and then there was a large body of people who were
observing or really not engaged at all. Those are my memories of this.
What I found very different about Gainesville, too, were the people. I had come from
Boston--I had lived in Boston for the previous two or three years--and I can
remember puzzling over interactions with people, especially people who had lived in
Gainesville for a good deal of time. I was not reading them correctly. I would react
in a certain way and find that they did not anticipate that kind of reaction. I think it
was much more pronounced at that time than is true now, or else I have mellowed.
The southern and northern communications went by each other. People would say,
"Come and see me." If I remember correctly, when that was said up North, people
really meant it. Down here, when you showed up, they looked at you somewhat
shocked. I found that really was almost an alternative way of saying good-bye or
something like that; they really did not mean these things. So I was constantly
running into and reacting to words and trying to assimilate them into a context that I
developed all of my life up North, not down here. So there was this cultural byplay.
What we found was that most of people I dealt with were not from Gainesville, or not
even from the South. We found that what we did have a lot of fun doing was talking
In Gainesville you seem to develop small coteries rather rapidly. This is probably
true of most graduate schools. Various different kinds of graduate students ended
up in different locations. Quite often graduate students in English would end up
drinking beer at the Windjammer, whereas graduate students from some other
department would be drinking beer at the ABC. I thought the Blue Laws in
Gainesville were not quite as oppressive as Boston's, but they were pretty
impressive. There was no liquor on Sunday. Actually, liquor had come to Alachua
County only two or three years before I did. It was 1963, I think, when it actually
went wet. So there were long, dry periods between twelve midnight on Saturday
and Monday. The restaurants all closed on Sunday. So weekend leisure activities
tended to become very personal; they tended to be at home. You could go out to a
bar on Saturday night.
But what I found different, too, was that you went to married student housing over in
Flavet, or you went to other apartments. A great deal of what went on in this town
went on in apartments and not in the public arena at all. That developed certain
kinds of intimacy that usually are not associated with larger cities where quite often
your median restaurants are bars, and a lot of your entertainment is outside. Well,
not in Gainesville; it was at home. So I began to entertain a great deal in the
apartment. People would drive up and stop in the apartment. We were always
going to different places and different people's apartments, rather than going out. I
went to the Thomas Center. I can remember eating peanut butter soup, [which is]
another instance of strange food.
Talking about the University itself, there was an aura of excitement about the
University, because, again, as has been true for, I guess, the past thirty years, there
was this feeling of development. During the mid 1960s the University was really
beginning to seriously contemplate turning itself into a research institution. I think
that thinking came to fruition in the 1972 Rollin Scope statement. I came was really
at a certain break where this University had achieved relative prominence as a
provincial teaching university and was at that point really beginning to make the
decision to try and become a research institution.
I can remember everybody being quite proud of the fact that each year the student
population increased rather dramatically. There was new building going on. The
new Library West was being built at that time.
There were tremendous problems and controversies over the change. Where I was
teaching in the University College, the graduate students were constantly getting
into battles over the highly structured curriculum. The texts for the classes were
prescribed. I remember getting into serious arguments representing graduate
students over the prescription that one had to grade on a bell curve. We were right
in this particular period of time, going from a comfortable structure that had
obviously been the product of consensus into a structure where the individual
freedom, the lack of cohesion between the faculties, and this idea of new teaching
was causing so much stress that it would not be a very long time before the
University College itself would be abolished. I can remember integrating songs by
[Bob] Dylan, the Beatles, and other pop heroes into the curriculum in some of the
English classes. So we were really going into alternative curriculum in a
comprehensive English class that probably three or four years prior to that would not
have even been thought about.
There was an intimacy in the classes that I think was quite special. The graduate
students taught in University College classes that had no more than twenty-two
students in them. I was probably two or three years older than the seniors and
probably four or five or six years older than most of the students in the classes. We
were on trimester, so we were in touch with these students for fourteen or fifteen
weeks. These classes developed an intimacy and a curriculum exposure that I had
never even seen in smaller schools. I had never been to a large university in my
life, but I remember being overwhelmingly impressed by the fact that the classes at
the University of Florida were smaller than the classes that I attended in college
which had a student population of 2,000. The curriculum of the traditional University
College comprehensive general education approach was broader than anything I
had ever run into in my life.
So I think that I learned a great deal from it, and it was a good experience. It was
the kind of environment where the graduate student and the teaching assistant,
which we all were at that time, could really move together. I found that there was a
good deal of interrelationship between not only the students and teachers, but also
the teachers and graduate students. Again, this kind of interrelationship worked
very much on a personal level in a residential environment rather than on the
The other thing I remember a great deal is the amalgamation, you might say, of
town and gown. The campus really was a cultural center to the city and really had
emphasized this. The community expected this from the University and helped the
University provide its culture. The Pittsburgh Symphony would come, and the town
would turn out for that. The various cultural things that went on at the University
were much more heavily advertised in the Gainesville Sun or on the local radio or
whatever it was. They expected the town people to come out. You could come on
campus at that time and park.
It was also during that period that they began to ban cars, or to control cars coming
on campus, that cut off the town from the University. As it grew larger and the
facilities were stressed more and more, the University became more and more of an
island. I think of it today very much as an island within a city that quite often really
does not have very much to do with the University at all, unless it happens to work
here, which of course is generally true. Most people do not even know what is going
on at the University anymore.
That was not true in the 1960s at all. There was a connection. Consequently, if you
did go to these things, there were actually opportunities to meet people who were
part of the town and not necessarily part of the University. I did not do very much of
that, but that was certainly true, I believe.
I think that those are mainly my first impressions. I do not know if I have been very
specific, but that is the way I think about it.
M: From what I am listening to and hearing, your first impressions as a northerner
moving to the South, for somebody from a big city and small school moving to a
small city and big school, were really rather positive. It sounds like a rather
engaging and diverting experience. Was there anything negative about the
experience that you recall, even something incidental that you might recall as being
G: The only negatives that I have mentioned is the lack of access to certain things.
The lack, for instance, of mushrooms. The lack of access to [a] newspaper. The
lack of access to a private telephone line. When I moved here to Gainesville you
dealt more or less like you deal with the telephone at the University; you dial 4-1-2-
3-4. It was almost impossible to get a private line; it took me over a year to get a
private line. They were all party lines. There were no exchanges in Gainesville.
You just dialed five digits, and you would hopefully get through.
I did not really take these things negatively. They were fascinating. Sure, they were
irritating, but it felt in many ways as if I had moved to a foreign land. In that sense it
I do know that, along with the growing University, there was this whole ambiance of
development in Gainesville. I can say now that it was sort of a Hollywood-esce kind
of thing. [There was a feeling that] just around the corner there would be a boom,
and everybody was rather positive and very excited about it. At least I was,
because we would have the advantages of the city being brought to the town, and
there was this sort of positivism that was a wonderful way to go. And yet, in my total
unconsciousness, it was exactly at this period of time when Gainesville was very
busy dreaming of skyscrapers and knocking down all of those [old] buildings that in
another two or three years I would be deeply involved in trying to save what
remained of them.
M: How did you come out of this University environment and get yourself involved in
what were really city issues, civic issues, like architectural preservation? Were you
trained in architectural history, or how did that happen?
G: That was a very simple thing. I did not talk about my next-door neighbor who I
finally married in 1969. When we got married, we began to search for an apartment
since neither of the apartments of the campus land were really large enough to hold
us. We wandered over to the northeast part of the city, in what is now historic
Gainesville, the Duck Pond area, and found an apartment which was even cheaper
than the apartment I had. [It was] eighty five dollars for almost 2,000 square feet;
[there were] three bedrooms, a living room, [and a] sleeping porch. It was
incredible. We took that. I only lived there for a short time. Jo was pregnant at that
time, and the landlord had promised to put heat in the place. When I called him in
July about putting in the heater before it began to get cold--actually it was probably
August--he reneged on it. I got quite angry, walked down the street, and bought a
house for $13,000. [laughter] This was in 1970.
It was very shortly thereafter that I happened to be living within the 400-foot area
that was notified because of rezoning action to turn an old house into an office
building. That is frankly the way I got in. No, I had no background or training. But
we did have here [professors of architecture] Carl Feiss and [Frank] Blair Reeves
and one of the better architectural preservation schools in the country. That is
another special thing about Gainesville. There is nonaccess to certain things, yet
tremendously deep sophistication in other areas. However, it is very uneven. But in
that particular area there was no lack of expertise.
M: Well, thank you very much.