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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Hart Stringfellow
INTERVIEWER: Joyce Miller
DATE: January 13, 1976
M: Mr. Stringfellow, I would like to start by asking you to relate some of your
S: My grandfather was William Hall Stringfellow. He came down with his family
in about 1853. He was present at the meeting of the county commissioners
at Boulware Springs in 1854, when Gainesville was established as the county
seat and named Gainesville. He settled out at Fort Clark which is just
where the Newberry Road now crosses 1-75.
M: Did he have a plantation out there?
S: I don't know how big it was, but he had this plantation and he also had a
medical degree. As far as I know, he was a practicing physician.
M: They your father [T.B. Stringfellow] was born at that place?
S: I think my father was born in South Carolina, where they came from.
M: I see, he was already born when they moved down here.
S: No, he was born in 1860, after they had moved here, but he was born in
South Carolina. I guess they went back there for the occasion.
M: Where did your father move?
S: He lived here all of his life.
M: Did he stay at that home that your grandfather owned?
S: Well at some time during that period they moved to town. It wasn't a very
long period of time because he died in 1867. So, my father wasn't but seven
years old. My grandmother raised these four boys.
M: Do you know where they lived when they moved to town?
S: I think they lived right about where the city hall is now.
M: Your father grew up there.
S: He became a merchant. And Uncle Dogan, J.D. Stringfellow, I think he went
back to the farm, or stayed on the farm, because he eventually wound up with
the plantation. My father and an Uncle Robert Stringfellow were in business
in Gainesville together. Then they moved to Jacksonville in the wholesale
grocery business. I was born in 1897 and they moved in there around 1900.
I remember the Jacksonville fire of 1901. I was born in Gainesville and
then moved to Jacksonville, I'd say in.1901. I was four years old. And my
two younger brothers were born in Jacksonville.
M: What are your younger brothers' names?
S: Jack and Arthur. My older brother was named Fred. He died during the First
World War in the navy. He died during the flu epidemic of 1918.
M: Your two younger brothers, are they still surviving?
S: No, I'm the only one left now. When the University was established here
in 1905, removed back to Gainesville. He sold out his interest in the
wholesale business in Jacksonville and moved back largely, I think, because
the University came here that he thought it was a better place to raise a
family than Jacksonville.
M: Where did he open his business when he came back to Gainesville?
S: He was in the real estate business at that time. When he went out of the
grocery business, he was in the real estate business. He built rooming
houses, which was a predecessor of what are now apartments. In those days,
instead of everybody having apartments, they would just have a room. He
would build this rooming house and rent it out to the operator.
Also, during this time, he had an ice manufacturing business, the Diamond
Ice Company, with Mr. R.B. Livingston. He had Gainesville's first ice
manufacturing company. He and Mr. Livingston were partners, and Mr. Living-
ston ran the ice business. Then he built a stone-ground meal mill. They
were big stones about three feet in diameter, one ground on top of the other
one. It made what they called water-ground meal, or stone-ground meal. The
name of it was Sweetwater Mills. Over a period of time, the Diamond Ice
Company burned down and then the Sweetwater Mills eventually burned.
M: Do you recall about what time period this was, that either one of these
S: I'd say it was some time in the '20s. From then on he just continued in
the real estate.
M: Did he ever go back into the grocery business here in Gainesville?
S: Yes.' The Sweetwater Mills, after it burned, he continued it as a grain
business. Remember, this was the horse and buggy days. We would get in
maybe two or three carloads of hay a week, a car or two of horse feed and
dairy feed, chicken feed, and also meal and grits and flour and all sorts
of grain products. And 75 percent of the grocery business in those days
was in 100 pound bags, in bulk. The merchant would buy the 100 pound bag
and weigh out his retail sales in five and ten pound packages, in little
brown paper bags.
M: While your father was in these various businesses, you were going to Gaines-
ville High, and Professor Buchholz was there. Then you went to the University
and, as you said, you graduated in 1920. Then what? Did you get involved
in your father's businesses?
S: Later on. While I was going to school in the spring of 1918 the war was going
on, and I had just entered what they called the advanced ROTC. I was called
directly from ROTC at the University to officer's training camp in Plattsburg,
New York. I was commissioned a second lieutenant and then was sent to Charlottes-
ville, Virginia, for duty. That was in about October. Well, then the war was
over by November so I didn't see much service, except that I was actually
enlisted in the service during that period.
M: When did you come back to Gainesville?
S: I came back to Gainesville about December and I was back in school in
January. I missed one semester in school and I made it up in summer
school and graduated in 1920.
M: Did you meet your wife before that time?
S: We were raised in the same town. She grew up in Gainesville too. Her
maiden name was Lillian Glass. I married her in '23.
M: During the '20s, what kind of business were you in?
S: Well, I graduated in civil engineering and I had several engineering
jobs. I worked for the county engineer down in South Florida. I worked
for the government out on the Mississippi River the Mississippi River
Commission, the Corps of Engineers. Then I was a city engineer for the city
of Natchez, Mississippi.
M: So you were gone from Gainesville for a few years.
S: We had the famous Florida boom in 1925, and they wrote me and said, "Whatever
you're doing, just drop it and come on back here because everything is booming
down here." So I came back home, and I really was glad to come back. I've
been here ever since.
M: When you came back in '25 and it was booming, what did you do at that time?
S: I did some engineering and surveying. They had a lot of these subdivisions
at that time.
M: Did you have anything to do with Golfview?
S: No, I didn't survey Golfview, but I surveyed other areas around the country.
In about 1927, the boom had busted and my father wanted to go out of the
business. He had Sweetwater Mills and my Uncle Robert had a branch in Gaines-
ville called the Stringfellow-Harmon Company, a wholesale grocery business,
and he died. So Mr. Harmon and my father and Mr. Livingston got together
and combined the two companies, and had me take it over; just, you might say,
started me up in it. In other words, they just combined the two and turned
them over to me. I went on from there in the wh61esale grocery business, and
I did pretty well in that until about 1929 when the world Depression began
developing. Also, the chain stores bought direct from the manufacturer.
See, the wholesaler bought from the manufacturer and then sold to the retailer.
That was the set-up. Well, the chain stores bought direct and that enabled
them to undersell our customers.
M: Did that include Piggly Wiggly?
S: Well, Piggly Wiggly, at that time, was a good customer of ours because it was
a franchise deal. Fred Borland ran it and he was one of the best customers
we ever had. He is still living here. He's retired, but lives in Gainesville.
Our business emphasized grain and grain products, and the horse and buggy days
were getting over. Back in those days, we had three or four big livery stables.
Now, this is prior to 1929. About 1920, the State Road came through Gainesville
going from Lake City on down through Micanopy to Ocala. It's now U.S. 441, but
it was called State Road 2 then. It went around the prairie before they
built the causeway across. As I say in the grain business, the horse and
buggy days were getting over, the chain stores were beating out the
independent merchants, and the good roads enabled the Jacksonville whole-
salers to run trucks to Gainesville. So all those things put together were
putting the squeeze on the local wholesalers.
M: Were you the only local wholesaler?
S: No, there were six wholesalers in Gainesville in 1929, and by 1932 there
were two of us 16ft--Central Grocery Company and myself.
M: Who ran Central Grocery Company?
S: Mr. A.C. Kirby. Mr. Kirby was a very fine person and a very fine operator.
I learned a lot from him. During that three years there was about a ninety
percent decrease in volume of business in the whole town. What the two of
us had left was about ten percent of what all six had before they started
going out of business.
By that time I khew it was over, so I started looking around, deciding what
I was going to do. I had graduated in engineering. I had a good knowledge
of mathematics, physics, materials, and I had some good experience in construc-
tion. So, I decided that rather than try to go into the construction business,
or back into engineering, I would go...I had the set-up. I had the sales
force, I had the office force, I had the warehouse and the trucks. So, all I
had to do was transfer the items. In other words, instead of sending out a
case of tomatoes, I could send out a roll of roofing. So, I started.in the
building materials business. By 1932, I was well into the building materials
So I ran the two businesses. I had different salesman, but I had the same
office and the same bookkeeping set-up, the same warehouse, and the same
trucks. The only additional costs I had of swinging over was the building
materials salesmen, to build up that end of the business while the grocery
end was falling off. So, 1935 was the first year that the building materials
carried the business--was the big profit end of the business. From then on,
the building material end went up and the grocery business went down, until
we closed it out.
M: What year was that?
S: In 1945 I closed out the wholesale grocery business, and I organized three
businesses. The building materials business was going well, and it had been
a combination of wholesale and retail. Then I divided it into three businesses.
I kept the Stringfellow Supply Company, and I organized a new corporation called
the Stringfellow Supply Company, which was 100 percent wholesale building
materials, no groceries. And I organized Striton Hardware, with Fred Clayton,
to take over all of our retail business. We just turned over to them all the
retail customers and all the business. The Stringfellow Supply didn't sell
anything at retail. We didn't make any retail sales tax report. If you didn't
have a retail license and weren't in the business, you couldn't buy from us.
The Striton Hardware had the retail business. Then I took the paint and glass
part of the business and got another fellow that had a very high qualification,
Joe Liddel, and I organized the Liddel Paint and Glass Company.
M: It was under his name; he was manager, in other words, and you were
the real owner?
S: I was the silent, well...Each one had stock. For instance, in Striton
Hardware, Fred Clayton and I had fifty percent stock each. That was a
fifty percent deal. Now, in the Liddel Paint and Glass Company, Joe
Liddel had forty percent stock and Fred Clayton and I had thirty per-
cent each. I later bought Fred Clayton's stock so that I had sixty
percent of Liddel and he had forty percent, and he made a big go of it.
He eventually bought me out, and he still has the business and is doing
well. Fred Clayton and I didn't do as well in the Striton Hardware,
but we did exceedingly well in real estate. We started buying property
here and there to tie in with our building material and hardware bus-
iness. We hadn't done very well with Striton Hardware, and when we
closed it out and divided it up in 1954, we had made more money in
real estate than we had in operating the business.
M: Let's go back to the '30's, prior to your going into the building mat-
erials area. When you were just in the grocery business and it was
losing so much, how did that directly affect your family?
S: Now wait a minute. I didn't lose money but one year. I didn't lose
money because I cut down to what I had to cut down to to keep from
losing money. But when you have to do that, you start to look for
M: So, at no time was the business a loss.
S: At no time did I ever lose money. And I never did buy any property
during the boom that I've lost money on later.
M: My family should have known you years ago.
S: I was always very conservative.
M: Was there a great effect of the Depression on your family, or did your
family manage to not have to really change lifestyles at all?
S: We had to cut down to the bare minimum. Fortunately, my farther fur-
nished me a house to live in.
M: What that his house?
S: No, it was another one. In fact, he gave it to me. He had a lot of
property and he gave me a house to live in. So my living costs didn't
amount to anything.
M: Where was that house?
S: It was where City Hall is now. I owned the north halfiiof that block and
sold it to the city to build City Hall on. At one time, when things
were just at the bottom you might say, at about the time the banks were
closing--incidentally, I might tell you one little instance. One day
the Phifer Bank closed, ahead of the moratorium. When the Phifer Bank
closed, they had a run on the First National Bank. I had to stand in
line to get to the window to make my deposit that day.
M: When everybody was pulling out money.
S: When everybody else was pulling it out. I remember the amount I deposited-
M: And that bank never closed?
S: No, they never closed.
M: So, you did your business with First National Bank rather than the Phifer
S: Yes, that's right.
M: Did you know Mr. Phifer [Gus], though?
S: Yes, we were all good friends.
M: And you knew Mr. Lee Graham at First National.
S: As a matter of fact, I went over to his desk and I said, "Is everything all
right?" And he said, "Your money will be there when you want it."
M: And it was?
M: That bank was much stabler than the others. So then, generally, you would
cut back to essentials.
S: I'll tell you another instance that happened about that time. My whole
outfit was less than a dozen people. I got them together one day and I
said, "Things are bad. We are doing a certain amount of business a month
and our gross profit is so much a month. I can give all of you a job, and
pay you so much a week each, and we can just rock along. We can just hang
on this basis until things look better, or else you can all look for another
job. Now take your pick." So they said, "Well, we'll stick it out."
M: So no one had to be fired from your business?
S: No one. But the lowest man got as low as nine dollars a week. I was drawing
thirty-five dollars a week to run the business. That's all I could take out
of it to run it. I was giving my wife fifteen dollars a week to run the house
and to buy the groceries. But think about what groceries were worth. I
remember buying a carload of dry salt bacon out of Chicago at two and three
quarters cents a pound delivered to Gainesville.
M: How would that compare with today?
S: I would say today it's seventy-five cents a pound, retail. The wholesalers
probably have a market in Jacksonville. The paper used to show it, I don't
know whether it does now or not. I bought corn products, like meal and grits
as low as a dollar for 100 pounds delivered to Gainesville. I bought flour
at less than three dollars a barrel, which is about 200 pounds. Rice was
four and five cents a pound. I bought sugar at two and a half cents a pound.
M: That's quite a difference.
S: A staple item, back in those days, was a one pound can of salmon. It
retailed for ten cents.
We sold supplies to the camps, and during this time, I was developing the
building materials business. Building remained good in Gainesville.
Gainesville and Houston, Texas, I understand, led the country out of
the Depression in growth and building.
M: Really? Gainesville and Houston!
S: Yes. These college professors who were making three or four thousand dollars
a year were saving up to build a house. They found that they could build a
house for three or four thousand dollars, so they all built houses. We had a
booming building business during the Depression right here in Gainesville.
Those were very fine houses and some of them were around in this neighborhood.
M: When did you move to this neighborhood?
S: I'd say about '33 or '34. I think '32 to '33 was the bottom, the bust year,
and most everything hinges on the year 1932.
M: When you moved to this neighborhood, was it mostly all houses like this house?
S: No, this neighborhood was a back area. I think this had been a garden, and it
had some of the rows in it. You have your plants in a row, and the little
rows were still showing in the ground. This was all just a swamp back here
that nobody paid any attention to, until my father just picked it up.
M: Were you the only people living in the area?
S: We were the only ones here at that time. But he built all these brick houses
in this area.
M: When did people start moving in? By the late '30s?
S: Oh, he had them rented before he built them. This is all within three or
four years, in the early '30s.
M: So, within just a couple of years this neighborhood did develop?
S: Yes. In other words, he would build a house for someone. For instance, the
house on the corner, he always called it the Mead house because he built it
for Dr. [Arthur R.] Mead [Professor of Education]. Everything in here was
faculty and ROTC officers. They have all moved out now, and we are the only
ones left. Everything now is students. George Thornton [Professor of Soils,
University of Florida] was the last one who moved from across the street. He
retired and he now lives down in Venice.
M: But you felt that you wanted to stay in the neighborhood?
S: We didn't have any reason to move. My wife wanted to move from time to time,
but I always followed the easy way. And this is the easy way, to just stay here.
M: Your sons grew up in this house.
S: That's one reason I moved here. I had four boys growing up, and I figured
that if I lived here they could walk to school. I figured that having the
four of them go to school while living at home would save me at least fifty
thousand dollars. All four went to P.K. Yonge, and all four went to the
University. But one of them, the oldest one, only had a year and he went in
the army-- Hart, Jr. He went in the army, and he was sent to officer's
training camp in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was commissioned a second
lieutenant. Then he was appointed to Annapolis, and he went from the
army over to Annapolis.
M: That's a big change.
S: Well, the army was his first choice, but he had this appointment, and he
thought it was worth the opportunity. So, he went on and finished Annapolis
and he spent twenty years in the Navy.
M: When was he born?
S: He was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1923 or 4.
M: And when was your second son born?
S: He was born about '25-- William T. We call him Buddy. He is the artist.
M: He is the one that did all of these paintings. Beautiful.
S: My third son was born in the late '20s, and the fourth one was born when we
were out here.
M: You were already in this house when the fourth one was born.
S: Well, it was in the house next door. We built that one first and then this
one later. So, we were in this area when Jimmy was born.
M: Let's talk about some of the businesses that were in town. You have mentioned
some of the other grocers in town and some of the other businesses, but
earlier we were talking about, for instance, your father-in-law's business.
He had a soda fountain?
S: No, that was my brother-in-law, Martin Glass. My father-in-law was Mr. A.
[Arthur] L. Glass. He was superintendent of this division of the Atlantic
M: I see. What period was this?
S: He died around 1915 so it was prior to that.
M: So, then Henry Turner must have worked...
S: Well, Henry Turner was the local station agent. Mr. Glass was the division
superintendent. I don't know how big the area was. The whole time that
I was in business in Gainesville I was on the railroad and I could look out
my window and see any train go by. I knew all the fellows personally because
I had dealings with them practically every day. I remember there were several
before Turner. Henry Truner was here a long time and Henry and I were
always on very good terms, but the oldest one that I remember, this is
going back almost to 1900, is old man Jack Goodwin. He was quite a
M: Mr. Turner didn't come until '34.
S: Henry Turner was there for many years. 'He was a very fine agent.
M: You mentioned that you could look out and see the railroad. Where exactly
was your business?
S: The Diamond Ice Company, the first ice factory, was where the First National
Bank is now. I used one of their buildings in my wholesale business after
they had closed up this factory and moved out on the Seaboard. The Diamond
Ice Company, the last factory, the one that burned, was down where the
Atlantic Ice Company is now. It's at the foot of Third Street, where Third
Street crosses Depot. That was right where Denny Concrete is.
M: What about the grocery business and the hardware warehouses?
S: The grocery business was where the First National Bank is. We moved over
to where the Trailways Bus Station is. That was the old T & J Railroad Depot.
We bought that from the Coastline, and when we quit the grocery business and
separated the three businesses, we moved the building materials over to the
old T & J Depot, until we built down where it is now.
Remember, back in those days, there weren't a dozen houses west of the T & J
Railroad, where the Coastline is now, so everybody lived within eight or ten
blocks of the Courthouse Square. All business was centered around the Court-
house. The wholesale and industrial-type business were usually along the
railroad somewhere, in that area. For instance, Eighth Avenue, on the north,
was the extreme outer limits of downtown, and out around Ninth Street was the
extreme limits going east. The T & J Railroad was about the extreme limits
going west. But they were building out this way fast; building it fast. There
was practically nothing south of the Seaboard Railroad but a swamp down in there.
So everybody walked to town.
That was the beginning of the moving pictures. We had two or three little
moving picture theatres around town. We had live road shows at that time in
the Baird Theatre, and we had baseball games in what they call the Oak Hall
baseball field. It's down west of Main Street and south of Mrs. Lou Lynch's
place, and just north of the Diamond Ice Company. That was the baseball field.
I remember the first U.niversity football game that I ever saV. They played
the College of Charleston and they marked the football field in the outfiled
of the baseball park. They marked the football field off and erected the goal
posts out of some two-by-fours, with a cross-bar, and that was the first Univer-
sity game I ever saw in 1911.
In the morning, you could look out and see the men going down to work. Then,
maybe they would walk home to lunch, and then walk back to work. A lot of them
would close their business for lunch. I used to close mine and go home for
lunch. Occasionally we used to have a city band. Dr. [Gordon B.] Tyson, I
remember he was identified with the city band. We had a bandstand on the Court-
house Square. We would have concerts. Sometimes, when the football team was
playing away somewhere, we would get telegraphic play-by-play reports.
People would sit around this bandstand and get these reports. Later on
they did the same thing from the Gainesville Sun office. But this was
before the Gainesville Sun. This is when [H.H.] McCreary had the Sun,
down on South Main Street.
So, practically all activities were centered around the Square, and Miller's
was the center of that. Everybody, when they would go to the Square, would
wind up going to Miller's. As I say, it was a dry county, and back in those
days the soda fountain was a big thing. Yet, they don't seem to amount to
anything anymore. I see Wise's has one, but I don't think of it as being
important to his business.
M: No, in fact most drug stores now-a-days that have had them, have closed them
and just allowed the ice cream places to do soda fountain-type business.
S: Back in those days, Miller's had these little cane tables scattered around.
A group of us would go in there and sit around a table like you do in a
cocktail lounge or a restaurant. Instead of ordering food or coffee, they
would order Coca-Cola or ice cream soda. Miller made his own home-made ice
cream back in those days. Martin Glass went to work for him, and when Miller
retired, he bought the business out.
M: How long did he run the business for?
S: I don't know how many years. It could have been five to ten years.
M: But he still owned. it by the '30s?
S: Oh, yes, he was still in there in the '30s.
M: So, Mr. [Louis] Pennisi never sold them ice cream, because they made their own.
S: I didn't know Pennisi sold ice cream.
M: He sold ice cream back in the '20s before he ever went into the hamburger
business. In fact, Barton Douglas used to sell ice cream for him.
S: Did he sell to the ice cream parlors, or did he sell it-direct?
M: Mostly on the street, and then he opened up his own hamburgers. He used
his own home-made ice cream, and then found that the hamburgers were more
profitable than the ice cream. Barton used to sell to the railroads, too.
He used to run along the cars.
S: We had wholesale ice cream producers here in town. Oscar Thomas, the University
City Dairy, had an ice cream factory, if you want to call it a factory. [Carl E.]
"Tootie" Perry, the famous All-American waterboy, had an ice cream business.
But theirs was the wholesale business and they sold to the ice cream vendor;
they called the retailer the vendor.
M: What about the barber shop? Did you go to Tom Martin for your haircuts?
S: Oh, yes. I went to Tom Martin's and Mac Alderman when they were in about
the middle of the block where Woolworth is, on Main Street. That was my
barber shop. Mac Alderman died, and I now go to Tom Martin. He's with
another shop now. I didn't see Tom Martin for many years. Living out here,
I went to the more convenient shop. But I went back to Tom's in recent
M: You're a town's person. What was the relationship between the townspeople
and the University, say, in the '30s when John Tigert [president of the
University of Florida] was here?
S: Well, in the '30s it had changed. Prior to the '30s in [Albert Alexander]
Murphree's [president of the University of Florida] day, for instance when
I went to school, the University grew from 300 to 600. One day, one of the
deans was addressing the student body. I guess he thought he would give
them a pep talk, and he said, "Some day we will have 1,000 students." He
sat back down and the dean sitting next to him, I think it was Dr. [James]
Farr, [vice-president of the University of Florida] turned to him and he said,
"What did you want to tell that damned lie for?"
M: I guess by the time Dr. Farr was president, they must have had that many.
S: Dr. Murphree died in '27. I graduated in '20. By '27, they probably had a
couple of thousand-- 3,000 maybe.
M: And Farr was in for a short period.
S: Tigert came here in '28, Farr was a temporary between them. It kept growing
from then on. But back in this 300 to 600 days, the townspeople and the
faculty and the students all knew each other and there were no girls in
school, so the students socially were the boys in town. The town girls were
the only girls the students had, except when they would bring a bunch in
from Tampa or Tallahassee for some special occasion --a big dance or some big
weekend. It was just the most friendly, cordial relationship you could imagine.
The boys used to have a Sunday night custom. Boys in little groups, usually
a group from the same fraternity, would go around what they called "pop
calling." They would call on a family that had one or more daughters that
were of their age, and stay maybe fifteen minutes. At a lot of the places,
they would serve them ice cream or cookies or cake or something like that.
But they didn't have to, they weren't expected to. But those boys always
loved to eat if you offered them something. But this pop calling was a very
Another thing we used to have was called "pop dances." They didn't pair off,
one on one, like they do now. They went in little groups, and ordinarily
there would not be any serious situations between any two people. It was
just kind of a congenial group, like a bunch of friends only. Maybe some
of the boys would be downtown, and we would get up a little dance. There
were two black men, one of them played the piano and one played the drums.
They would play for a dance for five dollars. All of the fraternity houses
and rooms had a piano, so anytime a group got up five dollars, they could
have a dance. They would call it a pop dance. When they had a pop dance,
they invited everybody that they got in touch with to come.
M: Then after the '30s there was a change in this kind of relationship?
S: Well, everything changed from then on.
M: Do you think it was a negative relationship in the '30s between the
town and the University?
S: As far as knowing people and close relationships, it just completely
M: How did you get to know Dr. Tigert?
S: I attended the civic club meeting that welcomed him to Gainesville.
That's when I first knew him. Then I knew him just as the president of
the University. Remember, I have been an alumnus since 1920. Then, during
the Depression, I found myself in a foursome with Dr. Tigert very frequently
on the golf course. That was the Gainesville Golf Course that we sold later
to the University. He and I were very congenial. Henry Gray, an attorney
here, used to play frequently with us, and Hugh Chandler, Marie Chandler's
husband. We played a lot of golf together. That's where I got to know him
better than any other time.
M: You were a pallbearer at his funeral, is that correct?
M: Do you recall the tung oil festivals in the thirties?
S: Oh, yes.
M: What was your reaction to those?
S: Well, the University experiment station, incidentally, the agricultural
department out there have done an amazing job in research and development,
they found that tung oil would grow in this area. Tung oil is the finest
natural vehicle for varnish. It's a natural varnish and it's also a paint
additive that makes it a better paint. It's a very fine product and had a
very big demand. I was in the paint business at that time, and it was
promoted or somebody got the idea that it would be a good thing. They
started planting trees here. My Uncle Dogan's plantation was the biggest
tung oil grove in this area.
M: And where was that located?
S: Within a mile around Fort Clark was the tung oil grove. They had a machine
out there to process it, and tanks. They used to ship tankcars. They used
to use my siding down there just south of University Avenue.
Before the '20s, some of the merchants got together and called it the Board
of Trade. Later on, we changed it to the Chamber of Commerce. Then, during
the '20s and '30s, they built a little house on the Courthouse Square, that
was the Chamber of Commerce building. The Chamber of Commerce has always
been growth-oriented and promotion-oriented. The tung oil people and the
Chamber of Commerce got together and decided to have a festival, kind of
like they have festivals in other places. During harvest times they would
have festivals all over the world, you know. So they decided to have a tung
oil festival. It probably started with a big bang, and in two or three years
it was over. It just lasted a few years. I think the tung oil business, the
whole deal, didn't last very long because something about it didn't materialize.
They tell me that one tree on the University produced so heavily
that none of these other trees ever produced like that one tree.
There was something different about that tree.
M: What about the restaurants in town that you ate in? Did you ever eat in
Louis'sLunch, or the Primrose, or Tony's Lunch Room, or the College Inn?
S: The Primrose started in the old Dutton residence, south of University
Avenue. Where the Great Southern Music Hall and Penney's are, that whole
block was the Dutton House. The Dutton House was on that whole lot. The
Primrose Grill started in the Dutton House, and we used to eat there
occasionally. That was about 1925. Then they moved over across the street.
M: Do you know when they moved across the street?
S: Byron Winn could tell you, but I would say it was in the late '20s or early '30s.
M: Did you ever eat at the College Inn, because it was so close?
S: Oh, yes. The first College Inn, and I've seen a picture of it around here
somewhere, was a little rock building. It was run by Dudley Williams-
M: This is before Mr. Hammond?
S: Oh, many years before. Uncle Dudley opened the College Inn. It wasn't a full
restaurant, not much more than a snack bar for a long time. For several years,
Sam Harn and a fellow named J.B. Gracy used to run it. I don't know whether
Sam sold it to Hammond, or whether there was anyone in between them. After
he had the College Inn, Sam was a city tax collector and assessor, and later
on he was the executive secretary for the Chamber of Commerce.
M: What about the 1938 fire around the west side of the Courthouse?
S: I remember that one. The Cox Furniture -Gainesville Furniture, they
called it at that time.
M: Were you there, watching the fire?
S: Yes. That fire put Thomas Hardware out of business. Thomas Hardware was one
of the big old firms in Gainesville. They were competitive with Baird Hardware;
they were probably here before Baird. The fire put them out of business. They
never did go back.
M: I guess some had insurance, but most of the people didn't even have fire insur-
ance at that time, so it caused quite a loss.
S: Well, you don't always know what insurance they have and what they don't.
M: Did you have a car in the '30s?
S: I had a car and I had a motorcycle in the teens. I had a motorcycle when I was
a sophomore. I lived on East Main Street, just north of the White House Hotel,
where the First Florida Savings is now, and I rode a bicycle to school. We had
a cook. I could set my alarm for 7:30 in the morning and get dressed and get
downstairs and the cook would have my breakfast on the table in between
five and ten minutes. I could eat breakfast and get on my bicycle-and make
an 8:00 class. During my sophomore year I got a motorcycle. And when I
went to the service, during the First World War, I left my motorcycle here
and some of the family used it or disposed of it, I don't know what became
of it. After that, I had a Ford my junior and senior years. No, my junior
year I had a Ford, and my senior year I had a little yellow sport car called
a Roadster. The girls nicknamed it "The Yellow Peril," because it was
painted yellow. I had this little yellow car for several years after I got
out of school.
My mother gave me the yellow car when I was a senior. I had this yellow car
when I first left Gainesville, after graduating. Then my younger brother's
Jack and John Dial, this was about 1921 or '2, had the Buick agency for
Gainesville. So, I turned in this little yellow Roadster on a Buick, and
I took this Buick out to Mississippi when I went out there. While they had
the Buick agency, I had several Buicks up until 1921 or '22. Then I switched
over to Plymouth with Charlie [Charles Samuel]--the BrouKing Motor Company.
I have been buying Plymouth and Dodge ever since 1930. Including my business
trucks and sales cars, I have had at least forty Dodges since then.
M: How long was your brother in the car business?
S: He and John Dial went out about 1929 or '30. When the Depression hit, the
big cars quit selling.
M: So, they weren't in the business during the '30s?
S: No, they closed out. I remember that one time during the '30s, I bought a
Chevrolet from [J.] Simms Gardner. I bought several Chevrolet trucks from
Simms Gardner. I think I bought a Ford or two from Shaw & Keeter. But most
of the time, I bought Plymouths and Dodges.
M: What about in your free time? I know you played golf. Other than golf, what
would you do in your spare time for entertainment?
S: People used to hunt and fish. I never was much of a fisherman. I was a good
shot, but I didn't hunt very much.
M: Was there alligator hunting in the '30s?
S: There was a fellow named Tom Pinkoson. He was Dr. [Charles] Pinkoson's
either brother or uncle. Tom Pinkoson was the alligator hunter.
M: He would just go out and bring in alligators?
S: I didn't know too much about it. But, I remember at Newnan's Lake, you could
just see dozens of them. They'd show their heads, and at night you can hear
M: Was he still doing that in the '30s?
S: Oh, yes.
Now, during the '20s is when things started turning around. Life from 1900 up
through the '20s was horse-and-buggy-style life; the small schools and the small
town. Then the '30s were the time of the Depression, but Gainesville grew
during the Depression because everything was cheap. I can give you some
prices that might be interesting. Lumber was fifteen dollars a thousand
board feet. Nails were three or four dollars per 100 pounds--three or four
cents a pound. Retail was five cents a pound. Asphalt roofing was around
five or six dollars a square. A square is 100 square feet. I've seen
bricks sell, delivered on the job, for less than ten dollars per 1000.
Labor was cheap. Paul Smith got the bid to build the first P.K. Yonge
school, the one that is now the women's building. He built that whole
building for $210.00. When he got the bid, people said he was going to go
broke on that job. And right after he got the bid, the bottom fell out of
the market. A fellow named [Wilfred Leroy] Schoch, who later was superin-
tendent of grounds at the University, came here as superintendent on that
job at thirty-five cents an hour. His carpenters were fifteen cents an hour.
That was before the WPA, because that's when they started building. I
remember they started the minimum price of forty cents an hour. A lot of
people were getting ten cents an hour when they put that forty cent minimum in.
M: Let me change from costs to asking you about some personalities that were here.
Did you know [D.R.] Billy Matthews in the '30s?
S: I just knew him as a student and, of course, I knew him as a congressman.
M: How about the Selles? Did you ever have anything to do with Paul and John?
S: Yes, Paul and John both. I played golf with them many times. I never did
have much business dealing with them. They were in a similar line of business
to mine. They were in the moss hair business, and using that to stuff upholstery.
I think they called it the Gainesville Mattress Company.
M: They belonged to the Gainesville Country Club too, then, or what was it the
Country Club at that time?
S: I think so. Yes, we used to play golf frequently. I've know John and!Paul
ever since we were young people, back in the '30s.
M: And they are still here.
M: What about your dentist and your doctor?
S: Well, Dr. Tison and Morrison and Schwalbe were my dentists when I was young.
In the '30s my dentist was Dr. Tison. My doctor was Dr. W.C. Thomas.
M: I heard once that there was a Montgomery Wards on the square in the '30s.
Do you ever recall that?
S: They had an order office, just for catalogs.
M: Where was that located?
S: It seems to me it was right next to the Primrose Grill. Do you remember the
two story brick building just west of the Primrose Grill, that is torn down now?
There is a parking lot there now. Right across from the Florida Theatre,
was a two story building. Well, one of those little stores in that building
was a Montgomery Ward order office. You could go in there and order from the
catalog and they would write the order up for you.
M: I've been trying to find it, and no one remembers the Montgomery Wards.
S: They never had a store or stock of goods.
M: Do you recall Helen Keller visiting town in the '30s? She was here with the
S: No, I recall Helen Kellerman, the famous swimmer. Of course, her full
covered bathing suit was very shocking in those days.