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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
December 12, 1976
J: Attorney Sigsbee Scruggs in his office in downtown Gainesville on December
15, 1976 at 3:30 in the afternoon. Mr. Scruggs?
S: My name is Sigsbee Lee Scruggs. I am seventy-eight years of age. I was born
on a farm in Jefferson County, Florida about thirty miles east of Tallahassee.
I was named after Captain Sigsbee of the battleship Maine who was blown up in
Havana harbor about the time I was born. The name is peculiar. Lee, of course,
no southerner needs to be told where that name comes from.
My people came to Florida about 1819 on my paternal side, from Georgia. The
original Scruggs had a grant of land in James City, Virginia about 1663. We
gradually moved south. My maternal grandparents came to Florida in 1832. I
was born in the same log house that my grandfather built in eighteen hundred
and thirty-eight and the same house in which my mother was born. None of us
have ever had money enough to leave the state of Florida, so we're all still
here. My father died when I was fourteen and I left home and went to work in
a sawmill for fifty cents a day. After working for a while, a friend gave me
a job driving a school wagon, which was two horses hitched to a wagon. I
drove this for two years and managed to secure two years of high school educa-
tion. I finished the tenth grade. I took a teacher's examination, received
a second grade certificate, taught school for five short terms, saved $300.00,
and came to the University of Florida Law School.
J: Did you do the teaching in Jefferson County?
S: Part of my teaching was done in Madison County and part of it was done in St.
Lucie County in south Florida near a little town called Wabasso. Another
little town near there was Indian Beach which at that time was Quay, Florida.
I taught in Gilchrist County near Gainesville when Gilchrist County was a part
of Alachua County, so I was teaching in Alachua County. While teaching out
there, I married. I came to the University of Florida in 1917 to enter law
school. I graduated from law school with a Bachelor of Law degree in 1922
and that degree has since been changed to a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree.
I started practicing law with a man with the name of E.G. Baxter, who was
an older lawyer, in February, 1922.
J: Was that here in Gainesville?
S: In Gainesville, Florida, and I've been here ever since.
J: Where was your office at that time?
S: My office was upstairs over what is now Woolworth's on the corner of University
Avenue and Main Street. After practicing with Mr. Baxter for six years, I
opened my own law office and have been here with different partners ever since.
J: Whey you opened your own law practice, was it in this location where you are
S: No, ma'am. When I opened my practice it was over Woolworth's. The location
where I am today was the store of H.M. Chitty. Mr. Chitty came into this
store in 1902 and his son left here in 1972. A men's clothing store was
located here for seventy years. When I came to Gainesville the back end of
Mr. Chitty's store had a well in the corner. That well had a pump in it and
it ran out to a "iron horse" trough on Main Street just outside of the back
door. Farmers and people coming to town watered their horses there.
Across the street from my office was a livery stable run by an old man,
J: Now, you said that Mr. Baxter's office was above the Woolworth's, so when
you opened your own office, you stayed in the same building.
S: I stayed in the same building. In 1941, with the war on, I was requested
by our judge to take a job as assistant United States attorney. I took that
job with the understanding that immediately upon the end of the war I would
no longer serve.
J: Now, who was the judge that made the request?
S: The judge at that time was Judge Augustus V. Long, who was circuit judge in
Gainesville when I started practicing law. As an attorney I have practiced
every type of law. For twelve years I was prosecuting attorney in the county
judge's court. For five and a half years I was prosecuting attorney in the
United States court, for the remainder of time I have defended criminal cases
in all courts, not only in Florida, but in five other southern states. I have
been city attorney for the towns of Archer, Waldo, Hawthorne, Newberry, Lake
Butler, Alachua and Trenton. I am no longer attorney for any of these towns.
For thirty-seven years I was vice-president and director of the Farmers' and
Merchants' Bank in Trenton, Florida. About three years ago I sold my stock
J: Okay. Let me go back to the practice that you opened. I guess that would be
1928, is that correct?
S: Nineteen hundred and nineteen, but I started practicing law in February of
J: I want to deal with your practice now. When you opened your practice was it
solely by yourself or did you have any partners?
S: By myself. I didn't even have money enough to hire a secretary. I did both
the law practice and my secretarial work.
J: And you did your own clerkship also? You did all of the necessary jobs?
S: We never heard of the word "law clerk" when I started practicing. That's
something new because lazy lawyers need somebody to look up the law for them.
We use three now.
J: At that particular period, in the '30s, what type of cases did you handle?
Was there a particular kind?
S: I handled every case that walked into the office: criminal, civil, of
every nature. I have seen the practice of law totally and completely change
three times in the fifty-five years I've been practicing. It has changed
again recently and I have made up my mind I'm going to quit studying law.
I've got a partnership firm here in which each member of the partnership is
a specialist in his own field, and my specialization is criminal and divorce
law. I don't have to know the law to practice those two.
J: When you say it's changed so much, you're referring to the knowledge of
all fields that a lawyer in the past had compared with the specialization
[a lawyer today has].
S: No, a lawyer toady comes out with a knowledge of all the fields. The change
has been in the application of law to clients, the public, the jury, and the
courts. When I began practicing law, we brought a lawsuit completely differ-
ent from the way we bring one today. Today practically every phase of law
is governed entirely by statutes. When I started to practice law, eighty
percent of the law was under the old common law that we acquired from England
over the last 400 years.
J: When did the change begin to occur between that kind of system and what the
system is today?
S: The big change occurred during Roosevelt's first administration. The ideas
of the people in this country toward poor people and rich people, toward the
obligations owed by business to society and the ideas of banks and the govern-
ment toward society all began to change. They brought an entirely new concept
J: Did you keep abreast of this through constant reading or did you have to go
back and take workshops for further study?
S: They did not start workshops for lawyers until eighteen years ago. Now, there
must be twenty to forty put on every year. A lawyer can keep abreast with
everything new in law today if he's got money enough to go to the seminars
and can take the time out of his office to attend them.
J: What about reference books? Did you have your own set or did you use the
set that was housed in City Hall?
S: I used my own library as far as that goes. The library in the courthouse has
some books that we do not have here. My firm has a library with $35,000 worth
J: Did you have enough money to have that kind of library facility here in the
S: When I first started practicing we didn't have any library in the courthouse.
I went to the law library at the University of Florida. But a lawyer has to
start collecting a library when he starts practicing. Within ten years I had
a good library.
J: Is that ten years from when you started practicing or ten years when you had
your own firm?
S: Ten years from the time I owned my own office. Mr. Baxter had a good library
when I went with him. We still go to the University library for special
cases and that the courts haven't decided on very much. We still go there.
J: Did you handle cases for both blacks and whites?
S: There has never been any distinction between any lawyers as to whites
or blacks. Lawyers handle every kind of case. In the criminal field,
eighty percent of your practice is with black people while in the civil
field, ninety percent of your practice is with white people.
J: Your office then was open to either blacks or whites as early as the '30s?
S: There has never been at any time in the past history of the United States
a differentiation between blacks and whites in a law office.
J: In reference to the cost of certain cases, could you think of a particular
type of case that was handled then that would be handled differently today.
The first thing that comes to my mind is the difference in divorce cases.
S: When I started practicing law we received $35.00 for a divorce. Today the
minimum divorce is $350.00. That same generalization runs throughout the
law. But when I started to practice eggs were ten cents a dozen, bacon was
fifteen cents, and you didn't buy a frying-size chicken by the pound, you
paid a quarter for a frying-size chicken and thirty cents for a hen. Potatoes
were fifty cents a bushel. Today potatoes are five dollars and half a bushel.
Peanuts were fifty cents a bushel. Peanuts today are six dollars and a quarter
J: Would you say the increase has just gone along with everything else?
[Lawyer's fees have not] increased more?
S: it's balanced out almost entirely. I worked six years for a hundred dollars
a month. It's hard to get a young lawyer to work these days for eight
thousand a year.
J: This is when you were working for Mr. Baxter.
J: What kind of money did your firm make?
S: Beginning with the Depression, the bottom fell out of everything. There was
considerable work available but your clients had no money. One week in my
office in 1932, I had clients that brought me chickens, eggs, sweet potatoes,
meal, grits, ham and bacon. They brought twice as much of that as they did
cash. At that time I was paying my secretary eight dollars a week. That
same secretary is working today making $650.00 a month. When I opened my own
office my rent was fifteen dollars a month. So that gives you an idea about
cost. For the three years of 1930, '31 and 32, I'd go for as long as three
months without collecting enough cash to pay my rent, much less to eat on.
I had a very kind father-in-law who had farms and gardens and if he hadn't
fed me I don't know what I'd have done.
J: What was his name?
S: J.B. Stockman who lived out at Trenton, Florida. He was one of the finest
men I've ever known. He's now deceased.
J: Can you recall any interesting or unusual cases that you handled in the '30s
that you would be able to repeat?
S: You mean repeat the facts?
J: What I mean is that the cases would no longer be confidential at this time.
S: No, ma'am, because the confidentiality of attorney and client never ceases
until the mouth of the lawyer is closed.
J: Okay, can you remember any general things than?
S: Yes. We have worlds of them that were fun. Anything that's a matter of
public record, a lawyer can discuss. In the '30s most of our land litiga-
tion was what we called ejectmentt." That is, if a man did not hold legal
title to land, you filed an ejectment suit to get him off. Now then, under
the new rules of real estate you don't fool with ejectment, you've got a half
a dozen other remedies. They're less expensive and also easier to prove for
When I first started to practice law, you wouldn't get five divorce cases
a year. I would say one out of twenty to thirty people were divorced. Today,
seven out of every ten are divorced. When I first started to practice law
this matter of juvenile delinquency was almost entirely unheard of. The aver-
age young man, black or white, started stealing, when he was twenty-one and
away from home. Now, they start while they are living in the home with their
parents. When I started to practice law they had a term known as "lady and
gentleman." That term has ceased to exist in the South. I see very few
ladies, they're all elderly; I see very few gentlemen, and they're all elderly.
If you don't believe it, go out and say something to a young lady these days
and watch her give you what they call the shaft. No lady would even think of
that forty years ago.
Watch the boys and girls go into a room and see if they ever let older people
go in or out. They have absolutely none of the courtesy and manners that we
believed was inherent within the nature of a lady and gentleman when I was
practicing law. It's entirely a forgotten word. Now we just have men and
J: Were there any women attorneys in the '30s in Gainesville?
S: The first woman that I know of was a woman by the name of Mrs. Irma Vidal,
a sister to the Vidals who ran the drugstores in Gainesville for many years.
My last year in law school she became a law student in law school. When she
finished, she practiced for a short period of time and then I understood she
quit, and it was a good many years before we had any more women at all that
even attended law school.
J: Can you recall any reasons why she quit? I mean, was it a personal reason
or was it because she was a woman?
S: I can't say. I knew Irma but I was not that close to her. Off-hand, if I
ventured a guess, I would say it was because at that time, the average person
didn't consider women had sense enough to practice law.
J: Did you know another practicing attorney, Barton Douglas?
S: I didn't know that Barton started practicing law in the '30s. He had a
brother, Zach Douglas, who's now practicing in Jacksonville. Zach and
myself were in law school together and we practiced here in Gainesville
on opposite sides of the fence for many years until he moved to Jackson-
ville. I'm not sure when Barton finished law school. But [he continued
practicing law] until his failing health stopped him.
J: How about an attorney named Clayton?
S: E. A. Clayton and myself came from the same county. I've known him all of
his life. I helped Mr. Clayton get a job teaching school down here in this
county so that he could practice law. He's older than I am in years but I'm
older than he is in terms of years of practice.
J: Do you recall when he began his practice?
S: He began his practice, I think, about nineteen hundred and twenty-six in
Miami. When I left Baxter, I called him on the phone and told him that I
was leaving and I knew he wanted to come to Gainesville because his wife
was born and reared in Gainesville. He applied for my job and got it with
J: So, he went in with Baxter when you opened your own firm?
J: What kind of reaction or relationship was there?
S: Cut that off for a minute. (tape cuts off)
J: Can you recall any other attorneys that were practicing here?
S: Oh, Lord, yes. When I came here there were many old lawyers. The dean of
the lawyers was Colonel W.W. Hampton. His background was from the famous
Hamptons of Virginia. He's got a grandson, Wade Hampton, practicing here in
town. He had his two sons with him. There was an old lawyer here by the
name of Will Broom, a magnificent lawyer; an old lawyer by the name of Tom
Fielding, a marvelous lawyer; an old lawyer by the name of J.C. Adkins who
was state's attorney for about twenty-five years, the father of Jimmy Adkins
on the Supreme Court of Florida.
J: Now, were these attorneys here in the '20s and the '30s?
S: They were here when I started to practice.
J: Were they still here in the '30s?
S: Oh yes. Bob Davis, Williams, W.E. Baker, and about eight or ten more
attorneys were here.
J: So, there were quite a few attorneys here in the '30s then?
S: In the '30s there were about eighteen lawyers in Gainesville. There's
well over 200 now.
J: Gosh, I didn't realize the number was that high. What about the judges in
town in the '30s? Now, you mentioned one already.
S: We had one judge that took care of six counties. That was our circuit, the
Eighth Judicial Circuit. We had one county judge that took care of each
county. The county judge I started practicing uncer was Judge Hiers who was
not a lawyer. The circuit judge that I started practicing under was Judge
A.V. Long. He had been state's attorney before he became judge. He later
became the United States judge for the northern district of Florida.
J: Now, was Hiers still here in the '30s as county judge?
S: I don't remember whether Hiers was here in the '30s or not, but I think he
was. Harry McDonald became county judge when Hiers died. At that time we
had justices of the peace. We had about six justices of the peace around
the county who handled the little cases in the little towns where there were
J: Uh huh. That would be outside of Gainesville in the smaller towns?
S: Oh, yes. High Springs, Alachua, Newberry, Micanopy, Archer, Waldo, La Crosse,
J: Today we've done away with the whole system of justices of the peace and
recently reorganized the courts also. You mentioned that you worked in
these small cities around Gainesville. What years did you work in the smaller
cities as their attorneys?
S: Different years. Sometimes they'd come and hire you and you'd be city attorney
for four years or five years; then a new city commissioner would go in and
they'd have a friend and they'd let you go in and hire their friend for city
attorney, and then maybe fifteen years later you'd go back and be city attorney
again. It was entirely at the will of the city councilmen.
J: Do you recall which towns you represented specifically in the '30s?
S: I know I represented Trenton. I think I issued some bonds for the city of
Lake Butler. I'm almost positive I represented the city of Archer. I haven't
represented a city now in thirty years because it pays too little and you have
to travel at night.
J: What kind of relationships did an attorney have in the '30s with the University?
You mentioned already the use of their library. Did you have a lot of interac-
tion with the University professors while you were practicing law?
S: Well, of course, back then if you were into the social life of Gainesville,
as most lawyers and professors were, you knew practically every professor out
there. Now, I don't know anybody out there.
J: Is that specifically law professors or were you very friendly with all the
S: No, ma'am, all the professors. Gainesville was a small enough town in the '30s
that the "group of 400" included all the professional men, all the professors,
and a good many of the tradesmen. They were all one group socially. There was
one golf club here, one Rotary Club, and one Kiwanis Club. None of the other
clubs were here yet. I organized the Gainesville Kiwanis Club in 1923. I'm
still a member.
J: You did not find any kind of antagonism between "town and gown?"
S: The antagonism between "town and gown" began to arise when we quit knowing
J: That was at a later period.
S: There's very few people that I've ever known in my life that I dislike.
The thing is to know everybody.
J: Do you feel that came after World War II when the University became so
S: Yes. Almost entirely. There are several reasons for that. For instance,
for about twelve years I served on the zoning and planning board of the city
of Gainesville. We would have a distinct agreement with the planning at the
University of Florida and suddenly, without any notice or consultation, they
would do something in the city off University grounds that they had agreed
not to do, and that was because there was no communication between "town
and gown." For many years here, Rudolph Weaver [Dean of the College of Archi-
tecture] was on the zoning board with me.
J: Was there an incident, I'm trying to recall if this concerns you in which you
kicked someone down the stairs one time in regards to a payment? Some kind
of incident involving that?
S: Lady, let me tell you something about stories concerning lawyers. Whenever
you've got a good story, you ascribe it to the lawyer in town that's well-
known. I've had thousands of things ascribed to me which were stories that
were seventy-five years ago. I'll just give you a typical example. I've
heard several times that I defended a man once charged with illegal fishing.
He caught mullet out of season and I won the case because I proved that a
mullet wasn't a fish. A mullet is the only fish that has a gizzard and so
they say that Sigsbee Scruggs proved that if it was a fish it couldn't have
had a gizzard and a mullet had a gizzard so a mullet wasn't a fish, therefore,
I won the case. When I was ten years old I heard that story. I never heard
that incident of kicking somebody down the stairs.
Now, I've run a client out of my office before.
J: Pardon me?
S: I ran a client out of my office. The client came in and said,
"Mr. Scruggs can I trust you? You won't sell out to the other side?
They can't buy you?" I said, "There's your five, go get a lawyer. If you
ask that question, you don't trust me. So go get a lawyer."
Now, I've had a fight take place right here. See that seal? I bought
that seal in May, 1922 after I started practicing law. That's a notary
seal. The sheriff in this county at the time was Bob Wells. Bob was one of
the best friends I ever had and he's one of the best sheriffs this county ever
had. But he wouldn't pay his bills and he played around with women. So he
was defeated for sheriff on those two grounds. He came into my office one day
right after he was beat and wanted me to endorse a note for $500.00. I said,
"Bob, I won't endorse your note. They beat you because you wouldn't pay your
bills." He said, "That's the way you are. You're a good friend of mine until
I need you. All I want you to do is to endorse my note. You were friends
with me just because I was the sheriff." I said, "Wait a minute Bob, do you
mean what you said?" He said, "Yes." I said, "You're a lying son of a bitch."
He come up out of his chair and when he did I knocked him down. Then, he hit
me right there and laid an inch and a half gash. He hit me right there and
laid another inch gash on me and I reached over and picked up that seal and
hit him in the head with it. Some people heard us and come running in there
and separated us. Blood was running all over me, of course. I went home,
patched it up, and put on another shirt. I'd cut Bob bad across his two
lips and he went to the doctor and the doctor put thirteen stitches in his
lips. The next morning I was coming downstairs and Bob was sitting in front
of the restaurant near my office on a bench and he looked at me and said,
"Come here." I went over there and he said "We were damn fools, weren't we?"
I said, "Yes, Bob, we've been friends many years so I want to shake hands with
you,okay? I knew better than to say what I said to you." We shook hands.
Later Bob became chief of police in Alachua and he sent me more business than
any man has ever sent me as a lawyer.
J: That is a true story?
S: Yes. I've had three or four fights as a lawyer. I don't take anything. I'm
a southerner and I don't take anything from anybody.
J: You mentioned this guy had run for sheriff. Who was the sheriff in the '30s
and what kind of law enforcement was there in Gainesville?
S: There was much better enforcement than there is now. Things here have entirely
gotten out of hand in the last twenty-five years and the sheriff's not to
blame. The people are to blame. We're going to have law violators in the
United States until I decide that it's my duty and my responsibility as a
citizen if I see the law violated, to get all the evidence I can on that man
and report that thing to the officers of the law and assist in the prosecution.
The British people do that. We're going to have violation of the law until I
become a policeman and everybody in the United States becomes a policeman.
That is what it is going to take.
J: Do you feel that was done in the '30s?
S: No, it was not done but we didn't have this kind of criminal. The criminal
now has no background of morals, teaching, church, Sunday school or prayer
at mother's knee.
I'll just give you a splendid example of what I'm talking about. Where I
live, I sold twenty-acres of land to the University of Florida and they built
The P.K. Yonge school on it. The year before last I was down there at the
grape arbor that I own and a teacher was standing there with some third grade
pupils while they reached through the fence and stole my grapes. She was
watching them steal my grapes through the fence! Now having heard me here in
this office, you can imagine the tongue lashing she received. I told her she
was a disgrace to the profession and I was an old school teacher. Instead of
teaching children morals, she taught them how to steal.
Last year I built a fence between me and P.K. Yonge and I had a lot of fruit
on my property. I caught two boys over there stealing oranges because they
couldn't get back over that fen-e. They'd gotten over there by pushing one
another up, catching a limb of a tree and climbing up the limb, and coming
over inside. They couldn't get back that way and we caught them. They were
about fourteen years old. I got their names, carried them over, and told
the teacher. The teacher never did a single thing about it. I came back
home, called their mothers, told them who I was and said, "Now these boys
were stealing, they're thieves. I want you to know it but I do not intend
to press any charges against them but I am going to ask you to punish them
for stealing. One mother said, "Mr. Scruggs, I divorced my husband and I
appreciate you calling me. I've had trouble with the boy. What would you
suggest that I do?" I said, "If Iwereyou, I'd make him come home from
school Friday afternoon and I wouldn't let him go outside of my yard until
Monday morning for two weekends. That's what I'd do. You don't have to
whoop children or beat them." She said, "Mr. Scruggs, I'll do that and I
I called the other woman and she said, "What do you want me to do?" I said,
"I think you ought to punish your child if you don't want me to ge the law
to punish him." She said, "Well, my child is my own business." I picked
up the phone, called juvenile authorities, and sent them out to her house.
Then I fixed me a sign, about this big, and wrote on it, "Joey is a thief,
ask him," and went down there and stuck it up in the ground on my side of
the fence where everybody over at P.K. could see it. The teachers at P.K.
raised hell about me putting a sign up down there saying the boy was a thief.
What was I gonna do? Let him go? That stayed there for about six months,
until school was out, and then I moved it. I did the best I could. I
branded him as a thief where all of his mates could see that he was a
thief. I walked down there one day and the coach was helping a boy up in
the tree to come over in my side. The coach of athletics!
J: He was helping somebody?
S: Yes, to come over to my side. Now you talk about a tongue lashing, he got
one. He told me, "I don't like the way you talk. I don't like what you
call me." I said, "Mr. I'm not going to come on the school grounds and
you won't come on mine, but if you meet me right over here on somebody else's
ground I'll cut your god damn guts out, you good-for-nothing-son-of-a-bitch.
I don't play around!" He said, "No, I'm not going over there." I said, "No,
you don't have guts enough and you sure aren't over there teaching morals to
these children." Now, that is what is wrong and we're not going to stop it
until we become policeman. Every citizen must be a policeman.
J: I'm going to change the subject a minute. You mentioned that you had quite
a bit of land. We've just been talking about your land around what's now
the P.K. Yonge School. Did you own land around Gainesville or just in that
particular area? When did you begin to acquire land?
S: I'm going to tell you what I tell all the young lawyers. Whenever I can get
a young lawyer to come and sit down and talk to me I tell him this: A profes-
sional man eats his fees. It will take all you make as a lawyer to feed your
family. You'll never create an estate and leave a good estate when you die
unless you find some outside interest to create an estate.
In the six months I was with Baxter he was the highest priced lawyer in
Gainesville. He had a good income and yet he hadn't saved a dime towards
his house. He still had a mortgage on it. That's because he spent too much
and he never did anything out of the law office. After watching him for six
months, I went over to the bank and borrowed fifty dollars, paid it back at
five dollars a month, and I bought a little lot. On Saturdays and Sundays
I hired me a carpenter for a dollar and a half a day, not an hour, and the
carpenter and I started building a house on that. When I got through with
that house I sold it. I made $800. I took my contract, sold it to the bank
and got enough money to buy another lot.
When I became seventy years of age, my wife said to me, "Sigsbee, if you die
I can't put anybody out of the house and I am not going to go out and clean
up a house after them. You like to do that. I'm going to ask you to sell
your houses." I sold thirty-seven rental houses. I sold this building
right here to my firm when I became seventy years of age. I own my home and
a little place out here in Cross Creek and that's all.
Over the years I've owned three farms. I simply take them in the fall of the
year, bulldoze the fence row out good and clear, put up a nice new fence with
new posts, break up the land, plant crops that rise looking beautiful and
green, then sell it and make a profit. And I practice law right on.
My estate that I own today was created outside of the practice of law and I
tell every young lawyer that now. I tell my son that. I have my grandson
right now who's working. I had an old house that was turned back to me. I
told him, "You take the old house, paint it, and sell it. What you make
is yours." I've tried to start him at twenty-three years old.
J: Is he also going to law school?
S: No. Neither of my children nor grandchildren would take law because you
have to study and neither of them wanted to study. Now I have one grand-
daughter that has one more year before graduating and she wants to be a
veterinarian. I may have to send her to Germany because she can't get into
veterinary school here. They took a little over forty out of 4000 applications.
They took the top group. She is the only ambitious one out of the four grand-
children. One works in the Florida National Bank and one works at the Univer-
sity. My son owns the third interest in West Coast Seafood restaurant on
Waldo road. I have another son in Mobile, Alabama who graduated from college.
He's:manager of a big bakery out there. I have another son who never went to
school. He finished high school, went for two different terms at the Univer-
sity of Alabama, and never passed ten per cent of his work.
J: What does he do?
S: He owns a real estate business here in town. He does the spotting for the
J: He just ran for office, didn't he?
S: Yes. That's Lee Scruggs. He wasn't interested in studying at all.
J: You mentioned that you started the Kiwanis Club. Do you recall any particular
activities of the Kiwanis Club in the '30s?
S: The Kiwanis Club has always had activities but they've been varied. One of
their prime activities has always been sponsoring Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
J: Did you know J. Francis Cooper?
S: Oh, Francis is one of my close personal friends.
J: Were your children in his scout troop or was he out of scouting by the time
they were old enough?
S: Neither one of my children ever wanted to be a Boy Scout because in order
to do it they had to regulate their lives.
J: Well, if Cooper wasn't exactly the scout leader what was he then?
S: I don't know. He worked at all sorts of things. But Francis and myself
have been good friends. I don't know whether you know it or not but he
writes for three farm magazines although he's retired. I take two of his
farm magazines. I told him theother day, "I never seen anybody like you,
Francis." He said, "What's that?" I said, "Everytime it gets close to
Christmas, you write all these articles and the magazine gives you Christmas
money. Why in the hell can't I do that?" [laughter] How do you know Francis?
J: I've interviewed him and we talked quite a bit about the Boy Scouts. In
fact, he had more information about the Boy Scouts than anybody else.
S: He has remarried. He had a nice wife. Well, his first wife was a mongrel.
J: You belonged to a riding club?
S: Yes ma'am.
J: Where was that and when did that begin?
S: The riding club began about thirty years ago and we've got forty acres of land
out near the airport. It's called the Riding Horse Association. I'll tell you
a strange thing. I belong to the riding club and I don't own a horse. I
belong to the boat club and I don't own a boat. I belong to the golf club
but I don't play golf. I belong to the American Legion but I never go.
J: Is that for professional reasons?
J: Were you in all of those organizations as early as the '30s?
S: No. The riding club was not that early. The riding club started in the late
'40s. The American Legion, of course, has been here ever since World War I.
I belonged to the last man's club of the American Legion and I belonged to
Jessie's birthday party. Two-thirds of us must be over seventy and one-third
of us must be over sixty. Have you ever talked to Jess Davis?
J: No, but I've read both his books and the reason I haven't talked to him is
because he's been ill.
S: Well, he's one of the finest men you've ever seen in your life and he'd
like to meet you.
J: Tell me about this club. I'm curious.
S: Jess Davis started it about eighteen years ago and he invited a bunch of us
to Jessie's birthday party and when we got there, Jess said, "This is going
to be an annual event from now on. There's enough of us here that six will
be hosts every year. The hosts for next year will be so and so." I'm one of
the hosts this coming year. It makes you a host about every seven years.
So, we immediately named it the Jess Davis birthday club.
J: When does it meet?
S: It's usually in June of each year. We meet there, sit around, and tell
stories, and the oldest man in the club is ninety-three.
J: Who is that?
S: A man who used to be mayor of the city of Gainesville. I can't think of
his name now.
J: But it's all old-time Gainesville people?
S: You don't have to be an old-timer. No, we have some younger people in there
too. For instance, I don't know whether you ever knew Preacher Gordon or not.
J: I didn't know him personally but I've heard of him, yes.
S: Well, Preacher Gordon was one of the most loved characters in Gainesville.
Preacher Gordon and old Dr. Thomas were two of the most loved characters
in the city of Gainesville.
J: Just about everybody has mentioned Dr. Thomas or Preacher Gordon.
S: My uncle, Dr. Bishop, brought Dr. Thomas here as his partner in 1921 and my
uncle died nine months later and left his practice to Dr. Thomas. Until
Dr. Thomas died he was the family physician. I'm in contactwith all of
these old-timers. They're dying off pretty fast. Bill Shands, Charlie
Brooking and Hal Batey, that's the old one.
J: Hal Batey, he was mayor in the '30s.
S: I'll tell you a good story on Hal and Bill Shands. The year before Bill
Shands died, he and Hal Batey were at the birthday party. Bill was in his
eighties and Hal had just edged up into the nineties. Somebody was up
telling a story. Bill Shands said, "I wish ya'll would hurry up. Quick as
this meeting is over, Hal Batey and myself got a date with a couple of young
girls." [laughter] Then we got the last man's club of the American Legion.
Originally started out with about $230. It's down now to less than $100.
They've got fifty dollars over in the bank and the last man is going to buy
a bottle of champagne if he can drink it with that fifty dollars. They're
dying off pretty fast.
J: I think I read about that in the newspaper recently.
S: We meet on November eleventh of every year.
J: Did you know Hal Batey when he was mayor?
S: I knew him when he was mayor. I'll tell you a funny thing happened to him
when he was mayor. The president of the University at that time was John J.
Tigert. Tigert had just come here as mayor and had been here about three
weeks when we had ladies' night at the Kiwanis Club. Being the president of
the University, he and his wife were.invited. Hal Batey and his wife were
invited. Well, they put on a skit that year and it was the funniest skit you
have ever seen in your life. Dean ~Norman, a very religious man, was St.
Peter. Deacon Cotey, a regular devil, was the devil. When the curtain
went up, there was St. Peter and the devil at the gates. Different members
of the club and their guests were brought up and they were deciding whether
or not they should go to hell or go to heaven. Each one of them had a book
with the names of those that were going to their particular place. Dean
Norman's book was little and Deacon Cotey's book was about like this. [chuckle]
Of course, as the imp would come up and announce Kiwanian so and so our guest
so and so is here, they'd discuss the relative faults of those people and
where they wanted them.
Now, Clayton's name come up and the devil said, "Pete, you can have him."
Pete said, "Hey, I don't want him." He said, "Why don't you want him? Has
he ever done anything bad?" He said, "No. If he's ever done anything good
I don't know it." The devil said, "Well, I don't want him. I don't want him
down there. He talks too much." Besides that.he said, "He tells jokes and
he never has gotten to the point of a joke yet. He forgets the point before
he gets to the end." And that's Clayton's bad faults, see. So they finally
decided they'd put him out on a cloud for 10,000 years and let him
I'll tell you about'myself in a minute. Pretty soon in came the imp and he
said, "John J. Tigert, the president of the University, has just come up
outside and Hal Batey, the mayor, has just come up outside." Well, Hal Batey
had a reputation of being just a shark in his trading.
J: What kind of a business did he have?
S: He had a feed business here in town. His brother owned a grocery business.
I thought this was one of the best ones I ever heard. St. Peter turned
around and said to the imp, "Will you go get Dr. Tigert a shirt and give it
to him and let both of them come in. Hal traded him out of his shirt."
[laughter] I thought that was a good one.
I came up. The devil said, "Pete, you can have him." Pete said, "Nick, I
wouldn't have him for anything in the world." He said, "Not Sigsbee Scruggs.
There wouldn't be any peace in heaven with him up there at all, none." He
said, "You can have him, Nick." Nick said, "I wouldn't have him. My god,
hell would be in an uproar in two hours after he got down there." I've
always been an outspoken person. So they thought over it a while and then
said, "Well, I'll tell you what let's do, let's send him back to earth.
Maybe somebody can get him straightened out down there." So I come back.
I'm still here.
J: Right, and you still are here. Do you remember any of the other mayors?
S: Oh yes, I remember. I'll tell you a funny thing about old man Tench. He
ran against Oscar Thomas for county commission and he beat Oscar. Oscar
wanted to bring a suit to set the election aside and I told Oscar not to
bring it, but he insisted so we filed a suit. While the suit was going on
somebody broke into the ballot boxes up there and destroyed a lot of them
so we had to drop the suit. Nothing could be done. But old man Tench got
mad and would never speak to me after that. For fifteen years here, old
Tench wouldn't speak to me. He had a shoe store right over there. But I
always voted for him. When he ran for city commission I voted for him. I
voted for him because he was a conservative and he said what he thought,
and I thought we needed a man like that on the city council.
I was on the city planning board and we were trying to change University
Avenue from where the railroad track is to Thirteenth Street, which was
all residential. We wanted to change it to 150 feet deep on either side
for business. And Addison Pound and Gus Cox of Cox Furniture Company were
objecting because Cox didn'twant a furniture store going in there and Addison
didn't want a hardware store going in there. Addison was a small fellow.
M. Parrish was on the board with me. Addison got up and said, "I wonder
what personal interest Sigsbee and M. have in University Avenue that they want
to change it of their own accord without anybody asking for change? I wonder
what their personal motive is?" Well,M.got up (he was a kind gentleman) and
said, "Addison, let me tell you something; when you want something you are
the most obsequious person I've ever known and when you're against it you
always ascribe ulterior motives. You're one of the worst citizens Gainesville
has and one of the richest. You don't believe in development because you're
afraid somebody's going to put in a hardware store. Now I'm going to tell
you what interest I have. I own the restaurant called 'Humpty-Dumpty' on
Thirteenth Street. If they change the zoning there will be half a dozen
restaurants that'll go in on that area and it will reduce the rental value
of my property that I have on Thirteenth because it's high rental right now.
But I think I'm a better citizen than you, Addison. I'm willing to hurt my
pocketbook for the good fo my town and you're not." And he apologized.
J: Where was the Humpty-Dumpty?
S: Right were the Krispy Kreme doughnut place is. I used to own that block
J: When was that restaurant there?
S: It was there for about twenty years. I rented it out for about fourteen years.
J: Right in the '40s and '50s, about that time period?
S: Somewhere along in there. The next morning I was coming down the street and
old man Tench walked right up to me and said, "I heard what you said to
Addison. Only person I've ever seen that could tell Addison what kind of
a man he was. I want to shake hands with you." So I shook hands with him
and he said, "Now, I'll never speak to you again," and walked off and he
never spoke to me again. [laughter] His son and I were good friends.
J: You certainly knew everybody in town. I know Mr. Pound owned quite a bit
of the town, even as early as the '30s.
S: He bought a lot that he never developed.
J: Did he develop the Glenn Springs as a spring area.
S: He developed the spring, but it went broke so he traded it off to
the Elks Club for the old Elks Club where the telephone exchange is now.
I have to tell you this on old man Tench because I think it's one of the
best take-offs I ever heard. One year a man ran for city commission here in
town by the name of Deaton, and Tench worked for Deaton. He really worked
for him. There used to be a bunch of businessmen here in town that
would meet at John Powell's office here. Every morning they'd meet there
and have coffee. John would make a pot of coffee and they'd sit around
and discuss politics and what was going on in the town. Bill Shands, Jim
Butler, Bev Bevele, a whole bunch like that. We were all around there one
morning talking and somebody said, "John,what do you think Deaton's chances
are?" He said, "He's not going to make it. He's going to lose. I don't
think he can overcome that malady that he's got." They said, "Malady? We
didn't know he was sick. What's wrong with him." John, without cracking
a smile, said, "You know, he's got the Tench mouth." [laughter]
J: That's a cute story. Is there something else about the '30s that you'd
like to tell about?
S: Well, we've been here a long time. I've never been a person that said keep
the town where it was. Nothing ever stays the same, it stagnates or grows.
The town has grown. I like it's growth. Formerly, I could pick a jury of
twelve people and I'd know personally eleven of them. Now, I go over to pick
the jury of twelve people and I don't know a single one. Not one. Again,
you reach thechange in law. Previously, if you knew the man you picked him
for his prejudice or anger or something. Now, you simply look at him and
say, "Can you give the defendant a fair trial?" "Yes." "Swear him." You
see the difference it's made?
S: I told a young lawyer that the other day. He came over here and said, "How
do you pick a jury?" You can't anymore. I've seen the town grow. We've
got three bad things. We've got an overzealous idea that every person here
in the United States thinks they can get to Heaven if they are just charit-
able and are always giving something to somebody whether they need it or not.
That's bad. We have people who think that if you are a governmental agency
you've got to do something for the poor people. To Hell with those who pay
taxes, and taxes have gotten completely beyond any reason. I had thirty-
eight acres of land when I built my house and with the land and my house my
taxes were $281.00.
J: What year was that?
S: In nineteen hundred and forty-seven. I sold thirty-six of my thirty-eight
acres and have two acres left. I have a house twenty-eight years old and
my taxes on it this yearwere $1,328. That's over $100 a month to live in
my own house. Being over seventy years of age, I have a $10,000 homestead
exemption, and if I hadn't got that I think I would have had to move out of
That's what has happened and they'reigiving it away. The Hotel Thomas is not
an ancient building. We threw that money away. Where the computer system is,
where the old A&P Store was on Fourth Avenue, that was a beautiful brick
building. They put wood on the outside of it to the extent of many thousands
of dollars and painted it black. It looks like Hell. They had to have more
room for a courthouse. They could have had the courthouse with no difference
in price for land. As it was, they took six blocks of our most valuable property,
destroyed it, and put a park out there, saying they were helping the downtown.
What they did to the downtown was to destroy what business there was downtown
by cutting out an additional amount of traffic.
So they destroyed it. Pretty? Yes. Nice to look at? Yes. But that's
my taxes they're spending and they're spending it without asking me about
it, and I don't think they have a right to do that. So crime, the waste
of public money, and increased taxes is going to lead to a revolutionary
stage. I don't mean we're going to have an armed revolution. But in five
states in the United States today, they've had to close their public schools
because taxpayers have refused to vote enough taxes to keep the schools open.
That ought to be a warning to the public, to the teachers, and for the future.
I appreciate you coming by.
J: I was going to make one other comment. In the state we have quite a few
retirees who have their children educated in other places and they certainly
resent paying taxes toward the schools, and they vote down bond issues and
payment for the schools. Now, is it okay with you that I use this material
in my research?
S: Do anything you want to with it.