This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
DR. U.S. "PREACHER" GORDON
An informal conversation between the Honorable Mr. Billy Matthews, the
representative of the 8th district of Florida for 14 years in Congress at the Gainesville
Municipal Library with his wife, Sara Lewis Matthews, and a very dear personal friend,
the Reverend Dr. Ulysses Short Gordon, a retired pastor of our First Presbyterian
Church here in Gainesville, Florida:
Billy: My home address is 2611 S.W. 8th Drive here in Gainesville. This recording is
being made on May 15 in the year of our Lord 1975. Sara, I would like for you to start
our interview here with Preacher Gordon as he is affectionately known. My wife, Sara
Sara: Preacher, I think I remember that you were born in Sardis, Mississippi. Did
you come to Gainesville from Sardis ?
Preacher: No, Sara, I came here from Memphis, Tennessee where I was the associate
minister of the Second Presbyterian Church with Dr. A. B. Curry who was the minister
of the church in Gainesville from 1883 to 1895 about 12 years. I came here in 1928
from the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis.
Sara: All right, Preacher, you were brought up in Sardis, Mississippi, then, weren't
Preacher: Indeed so.
Sara: And when you were a little boy there did you live in town or did you live out in the
Preacher: My parents moved to town. We lived in the country but we moved to town
because of the school advantages. So I grew up in this small town of Sardis, Panola County,
Sara: Preacher, what did your father do?
Preacher: My father was a planter, as they called it up there, raiser of cotton and
corn and all other farm products.
Sara: Preacher, are you a gardener?
Preacher: No ma'am, not much. I know the difference between corn and sorghum and I
know the difference between cotton and soy beans.
Billy: Preacher, I first had the pleasure of meeting you in 1928 where I enjoyed our
wonderful Presbyterian Church. As you know I have had the honor of being an elder in
our First Presbyterian Church here for many years. I would like to talk a little bit about
the history of that great church. When you came in 1928, was the First Presbyterian Church
on University Avenue at that time?
Preacher: It was at the corner of West University and what was then known as Pleasant
Street. A roomy brick church with lovely windows, a large window in the front gable, a
rose window, clerestory windows above where they could swing those windows and get rid
of the warm air in the church of all kinds.
Billy: Do you remember when that church was built?
Preacher: That church was built in 1887.
Billy: And by the way was there a cornerstone in it?
Preacher: There was a cornerstone which was removed in 1953. A list of those articles
that were taken from the cornerstone was placed in the new cornerstone of the present
structure at the corner of S. W. 2nd Avenue and 3rd Street. I do not remember what the
articles were but they had some local and historical significance.
Sara: Preacher, I think it would be interesting if you could tell us briefly the closeness of
the decision to build a new church or to move the church?
Preacher: hDuring the depression, the revenues of the church went down greatly and
one year I know, in the depression, we had only $5, 000 subscribed to the upkeep of the
church. Nevertheless, there were men of foresight who felt that eventually it would be
necessary to move and so they rounded out the lot on which the present church structure
is located. They rounded that out by the purchase of an additional corner so they had a
commodious lot when the time appeared to be right to build a new church. That church
was erected in the early 1950's 1953 I believe it was completed at a cost of about
$600, 000 maybe a little more. The debt was liquidated in three years which was a
tribute to the congregation because there were no large gifts, but everybody believing
in the necessity for a new building supported it to the best of their ability.
Sara.: Preacher, before that church was built I believe there was several congregational
meetings as to where the location would be.
Preacher: That is true.
Sara: And in one of them, I believe, there was a tie vote whether the church would be
built in that new location or as to whether it would stay where it was.
Preacher: There was a considerable difference of opinion about that. My own feelings
were reflected in the opinions of many others. We loved the old church which was a very
sturdy building, ample, with the exception that there was no room for expansion and the
facilities for the social activities of the church for young people and the Sunday School were
very limited. However, when it was decided to build a church at its present location
there was unanimity and cordial support by everybody. And I never heard of one single
criticism of the present church except on the part of one lady who said they ought not to put
a "step'down" in certain place. That was the only criticism that I heard except that there
were some who did not think the building should be painted white, which came to pass. I
think those who did not want the red bricks to show were thoroughly convinced that the paint
was needed and was in conformity with what we like to see in Florida.
Billy: Preacher, a couple of questions about the old church. Do you know where the rose
window that was in the church is now ?
Preacher: I do not. We made an effort to give the rose window to many churches to
Kanapaha, the mother church, but apparently there was no church that could provide the
space for that window, which I think was about 10 feet. I'm guessing that, about 10 feet in
diameter. I think somebody got the rose window stored. I do not know, but the other
windows were preserved in the main. They occupy a place in the new church together with
the symbols at the top of the windows, which were boxed largely through the ingenuity and
the good taste of Dr. Lester L. Hale, the Dean of the students at the University of Florida.
They can presently be seen in the long hall in the religious education building.
S Billy: Now one other question that is of interest to me. What happened to the bricks in
the building ?
Preacher: The bricks in the building were used in a number of places. Our friend Billy
Chandler's home is constructed out of the bricks and also the home where Dick Williams
presently lives. Both houses were constructed out of the bricks and possibly a retaining
wall separating a sort of a court between these two houses.
Sara: Was that the Baker house ?
Preacher: No, not the Baker house, it is right adjacent to the home where Dr. Lester
Hale lives, or over across the wall there.
Billy: Preacher, I want to go to two other areas in our discussion today with your
permission. First, of all, you were the beloved preacher of this community and I always
looked upon you as the preacher for the University of Florida. I think that never in the
history of any university throughout this country have we had such a gathering of students
S during your years here as minister who attended the university and who later became the
leaders of this state. I feel in a way you were the counselor for the establishment, if you
want to put it that way, for the state of Florida for the past number of years. Now could
you give us some information about interesting young men. Let me emphasize you had
the very poor, you had the very rich, you had the medium students, and you had all kinds
of wonderful students who were influenced by you. But, I would like if you would please to
think in terms of let's say judges or governors, or other who were the leaders of the
state, and some relationship you might have had with them.
Preacher: I'm glad to hear those sweet words. I'm glad they are being transcribed because
when the roof is leaking and the wolf is howling at the door, I should like to read this very
beautiful accolade and thank you for it, and hopefully trust that you haven't over exaggerated
O it. It was a great pleasure and joy and privilege to minister students because at that time
the student body was small relatively, by 2, 000 to 2, 500 students. They did indeed
respond very well indeed to the church. We had many of the people who afterwards became
prominent in the state. Julian Lane was baptized in the church, he was mayor of Tampa
and a senator. Don Fuqua was attendant upon the services of the church. Lawton Chiles
also attended, he told me some time ago. He said: "Well, I used to sleep under your
ministry in the church. I said, "You must not have slept all the time because I heard many
of my old dry sermons repeated in some of your political fulminations." Governor Askew
was a fine law student here and he united with the church on confession of faith and was
baptized in our church. A great credit I think he is to our state and to the church of which
we are both communicants. And there are so many, many others who are filling useful
* places, highly responsible places, including my dear friend Billy Matthews, who still
should be in Congress or in the Senate where he served in a very remarkably successful
way. Here on the campus he endeared himself by his counseling, as an example, in his
S words to many, many of the students. I suppose that Billy and I are a little bit partial in
the statements that we are mutually making here today, but from my standpoint they are
all true words.
Billy: Preacher, let me say to you how grateful I am. Sara, did you have a question?
Sara: No, I was going to say that, in reading some of the testimonials, Preacher, on
your retirement, not only were you influential insofar as the Presbyterian students were
concerned, for instance former president and former Judge O'Connell, who seems to be a
very good friend of yours.
Preacher: Yes, Steve O'Connell, was a very fine student and he was a devout Roman
Catholic but he used to call himself my "bedchecker", that is, he shook the beds of the boys
who were suppose to come to the Presbyterian Church, in his fraternity. As president, he
S came as we say about 'Queen Esther" to the kingdom for such a time as he did come. A
man of fine character and sound judgment, not ~isily stampeded by the emotional uprising
that we had during the 60's. And there are so many others we had at the time that no student
minister and the pastor of the church could forget because of the challenge that all of these
students offered. The pastor of the church had to do something if we wanted to measure up
what we ought to do. So we had two groups we called them the "muscle deacons" which
we made up largely of athletes and we had student elders, both of whom were very effective
in their contact with their fellow students. No finer men were ever developed than those two
groups of boys who were here. Now grown and mature men with grandchildren a lot of
them. But one looks back with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude on what they have
meant to church and state and society as they have gone out into life.
Billy: I remember you came during the administration of President John J, Tigert at the
University of Florida. You have had the opportunity of knowing many of our presidents.
in fact, all of our presidents. I wonder if you would like to comment about any of the
presidents of the University of Florida, Preacher.
S Preacher: They were all fine men. Dr. Tigert was a man who possessed great stature,
physically, mentally, and academically. Dr. Tigert was here for some 16 or 18 years. He
came to Gainesville at the same time that I arrived here. I remember going to a dinner
given by the Chamber of Commerce at the old White House Hotel. Dr. Tigert was present.
All of the presidents have been fine men. Dr. Tigert was followed by Dr. Miller. I
believe there was an interim there when Dr. Hume was acting president. Dr. Hume was
head of one of the departments. Dr. Miller was followed by Dr. J. Wayne Reitz, who is
still a resident of our community. A fine Christian man and a ruling elder in the Presbyterian
Church and a world traveler, a man who has rendered conspicuous service in Southeast Asia
and elsewhere. He was followed by Steve O'Connell, to whom reference has been made
already. Again, I say he came at just the right time. We wished he might have stayed a
longer time. My admiration for Steve O'Connell and what he had to endure could only be
expressed in the most extravagant terms.
Sara: Preacher, in talking about things that have gone on through the years, I've had a
request for you to tell a particular story. I believe the setting is a large Baptist meeting
here in Gainesville and Dr. McCall called you to ask if you could house some of the people
who were coming.
Preacher: I told him I would take 16. He said: "16, and you only have one bedroom?" I
said: "the Baptists are so narrow in Florida that 16 could easily be accommodated in one
Sara: What did he say to that?
Preacher: I do not recall, I think he said let us unite in prayer.
Billy: Preacher, I would like to turn now for a few minutes to the City of Gainesville to
have you make some comments on Gainesville then and now. Would you comment a little
about Gainesville in 1928, when you first came?
Preacher: Gainesville in 1928 was a lovely city. I got a call to come here. I was not
S asked to preach a trial sermon. I had expected always to spend my life in the Mississippi
valley but it seemed to me that if people had had much faith to call somebody whom they
had never seen and leave it up to him as to whether or not he would come, that was
indicative of divine guidance as I see it. I liked everything about Gainesville when I
arrived on the scene in November, or rather in September. I came down to confer with
the pulpit committee and I returned on the 11th of November 1928. It was a beautiful
city. The trees, the midway in many of the streets which have been obliterated in the
interest of traffic. The people were warm-hearted and friendly. Old Dr. Curry, to
whom I owe so much, more than I could ever begin to estimate, said to me, "Mr. Gordon,
the people in Florida are not people of large means, they are warm-hearted and they will
support you. You will find a happy relationship that will grow in strength as long as you
S stay there." I stayed 40 years as the pastor until I was 75. All of that was true. There
was a warm and cordial relationship between the different denominations. The people
were in every sense of the word good people not too good, but good enough.
Billy: Preacher, speaking of the beautiful trees, I remember the gallant efforts of Mrs.
M. M. Parrish to save the trees on East University Avenue a few years later. I think
this would be in the 30's probably or 40's.
Preacher: That's right. Mrs. Parrish had great pride as a lot of us did who did not want
to sacrifice beauty, trees, and shrubs and midways to a growing community. She had the
backing of a lot of us, but we were not successful in that respect. Nevertheless, Gainesville
was surrounded from my standpoint by beautiful lakes that were stocked with fish. There
were no fences and quail hunting was wonderful and I always hunted and had dogs. I
thought it was near paradise as anyone could find. The people were not too exacting or
too critical. They themselves hunted and fished on occasions and some of them on Sundays.
Old Dr. Anderson, my predecessor, saw one Sunday morning some boys go by with fishing
poles and they said, "Goodbye Doctor, we will be with you in spirit today. And the old
man got up in church and said: "The church is full of ghosts this morning of people who
are with me in spirit, not in person."
Billy: Preacher, as I recall the population of the University of Florida in 1928 student
population was about 1,800 to 2, 000.
Preacher: Something like that.
Billy: As you recall, was the city of Gainesville a city of about 10,000 ?
Preacher: The city was 9, 000-10, 000 somewhere in that range bounded by Boundary
Street on the north and not much beyond that. Alabama Street, now Sixth Street you
S went way out there and there was a street which is now 16th then called Michigan on which
a few people lived. Then, we had the streets here in town where all had names. We
changed the names, of course, in the interest of population growth.to numbers. The biggest
snake I ever saw in Florida I killed behind my house. An Indigo snake, he was about
9 feet long. Don't anyone of you who listen think I am exaggerating this. He used to poke
his head up under the floor and the woman who washed out there in the washhouse was
scared. So I told my little boy, rather my nephew, to go out and shoot him. He shot him
through the head and dragged him out, a tremendous snake. He was in there after the
rats. Quail used to come up to feed up near the back yard. That gives you an idea of the
fact that Gainesville was a much smaller place and it was surrounded by fields and woods.
A beautiful place to live and near paradise, to repeat myself,as one would want to find.
Sara: Preacher, I would like to add in here that the University of Florida at that time
to which you have been referring was an all male institution.
Preacher: It was indeed.
Sara: It did not become co-educational until the early 50's as I recall.
Preacher: That's right, and if one were going on a trip to Tallahassee, somehow the word
got around and you were besought to take a load. I have taken as many as 5 or 6 students
going up to Tallahassee to preach on two or three occasions. I would always say, "Yeah,
I am glad to take you if you will change tires. I'm not going to wait for you to spend the night.
If you come back after church Sunday, you got a ride, and I'll be glad to lend my help to
you going there."
Sara: No light flash for you. That was in the good old days. Preacher, I want you to
tell us about your generations of dogs.
S Preacher: I had so many dogs, Sara, that I won't try to go into the history of all of them.
Bird dogs Molly was a little setter that never made a mistake. Joe was a Weimaraner
contrary to what some hunters thought. Just a show dog, he never missed a trick. He never
made a mistake. He was given to me by Colonel Lorenz. He had been whelped in Bavaria
and I used to hunt with him a great deal out here with Louie Hardage in Biven Arms area.
One could go out in the afternoons after 2:00 o'clock and kill 10 or 12 quail. There were
about 15 covey of quail that I knew their habitat or where they "used" as the expression is.
And there were many others. I hunted a great deal though with Mr. Charles A. Williams,
one of the noblest man I have ever known, a manufacturer in Jacksonville. He had a great
number of dogs, also beagles that he used to run fox with when the quail season was over.
Joe is the dog that stands out, the Weimaraner; Molly, the little setter; Mrs. Smith, another
female dog. We called her Mrs. Smith because she had so many puppies, and I knew a
Mrs. Smith who had 14 children, so I called her Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith was a fine
dog, she liked to hunt far away from you unless you were in a jeep. But she was an
Sara: What about your cockers ?
Preacher: I had the cockers. The cocker spaniel is the sweetest dog, I suppose, of all
the canine family. I had Deacon and Elder, Noah and Nicodemis, and contrary to what any
of the bird hunters might speculate about, I used to hunt quail with them. They were fine
retrievers and it was lot of pleasure to hunt with them because you never lost a bird and
you never lost crippled bird. Noah and Nicodemis were painted by a Japanese artist.
During the war we sent pictures and letters to about 234 members of our church who were
in foreign parts. Elmer Bone, a soldier, got one of these Kodak picture of Noah and
Nicodemis and he had a Japanese artist to paint them. He did a very excellent job. I
wish you could see that picture of those two dogs. It's good of them and I have prized the
oil painting that he produced.
Sara: Do you have a dog now ?
Preacher: I have a little token dog by the name of Dickie. He is named for Dick Williams,
who brought him over as a joke on Christmas eve. He was about as long as your hand and
snuggled up a little bit. It was Christmas eve and I was going out to dine with some friends.
I called them up and I said I would be late. Jeanette Harp. I said: "Jeanette, a strange
thing happened to me, somebody has left a baby on my doorstep. She said: "Oh". I said:
'I'm going to try to raise it. She said, "Oh, you can't do that. I said: "I think I can, I love
children and I said I've got this old colored woman here and she likes children. "Oh, you
can't do that." I said: "I think it is my duty because he favors the assistant pastor."
Billy: Preacher, we are talking about hunting and dogs and the area around Gainesville
where you used to hunt and fish. Your friends know you as one of Florida's great hunters
and great fisherman. There are a couple of things I wanted to ask you. Number one
is about Paynes Prarie. When I first remember Paynes Prairie it was under water,
when I was a school boy. I am told that the Seminole Indians really resisted being driven
away from Paynes Prairie. Could you give us a little information about Paynes Prairie,
as you recall.
Preacher: I think "Bartram's Travels" which is a classic goes on to speak of that. The
Indians, it seems, were on the south side of Paynes Prairie toward Tuscawilla, where
Micanopy is presently also a prairie. And as you have said, Billy, the whole prairie
was covered with water. I have been out I remember going with Mr. Blacklock. You
remember Mr. Blacklock and others ? Another was Dr. Leake, a noble gentlemen, head
of the history department and a great hunter. We used to go in from a point behind the
Cannon property and you could run a "kicker" as we say, a motor. Sometimes you could
run aground, but there was ample water to take a boat with a kicker generally. When Dr.
Curry, to whom I referred, was here he said that there were small boats that brought
vegetables across from the Micanopy side to the Gainesville side. And they were taken by
the trains to their destination. The understanding is, I believe, that the great old Bartram
Travels is probably the best commentary upon that era, the great Alachua sink, the
great profusion of wildlife, waterbirds, wild turkeys all that sort of thing.
Billy: Preacher, Paynes Prairie had many opportunities for fishing and hunting. A good
fisherman, I know, doesn't like to tell his secrets where the best fishing places are. Along
in the 1920's as I recall, Lake Lochloosa and Orange Lake were great fishing places. As
you recall at that time, where were your most popular fishing places ?
Preacher: All those that you mentioned, but I don't have any particular secrets about
fishing. There were many and diverse as Levy Lake down there where Mr. Ramsey lives,
there was Walburg Lake, there was Santa Fe Lake, Alto Lake, Lochloosa, Orange and Little
Orange and many others. Oklawaha River was a joy and a delight to step out into
another world. It's been ruined by the engineers, one of the greatest tragedies to the
environment which has taken place in my memory what has been done to rape a beautiful
river and to destroy something that is irreplaceable.
Sara: Preacher, I want to remind you of one thing. I think Billy told me that years ago
when he was a boy, he remembers ferries across Paynes Prairie. Were there any when
you were here ?
Preacher: No, there were not. Paynes Prairie flooded when the "Alachua Sink" was
stopped up, and almost went dry, where it was unstopped.
Sara: One thing, I was talking to Dr. Phil Constans one day, and I think you and he fished
together. He made the statement that he could smell fishing places, or where the fishes
were, can you?
Preacher: Yes, everybody, when the bream's "bedding", as we say, or when they are
propagating their species there is a musky odor that you frequently will get. You will see,
yes that is quite true.
Sara: I thought he was putting me on.
Preacher: No, you could smell that musky odor when they are "bedding", or propagating
their species. The bream build a little round hole as other fish do. Indeed, you can smell
them at times.
Sara: Now, Preacher, I remember you didn't always fish with shall we say, respectable
people. And you made this statement one time that you were always in the bow of the boat
and I think you found out why.
Preacher: There was a man, he was respectable all of them were, all right. This
gentleman and I used to put in a boat at Silver Springs and send a colored man to Eureka.
He would always insist I sit in the front of the boat which is the best place if you are
casting. A tremendous rain came up one day and the lightning and thunder were terrific.
We were up under some bushes along the bank and I happened to turn. He was taking a
pretty big swig out of his bottle. I said:"Mobley, you don't need to be secretive. "
"I have been knowing you had the bottle all the time, make it easy on yourself. After
that he never asked me to sit in front of the boat.
Billy: Preacher, your life has been the First Presbyterian Church, and in a half of
century here in Gainesville, Florida and in the state of Florida, you have been a great
inspiration in our church. I wonder if you would tell us any anecdotes that you would like
to tell us about your working in the church with various individuals through these glorious
years of achievement.
Preacher: There are many, many humorous things that could be told. I will tell you
about Aunt Sally Walker. Aunt Sal was my beloved friend. She was the daughter of
Dr. W. H. Stringfellow, who came here about 1858 and established, with others, the
Kanapaha Church. Aunt Sal lived directly across from the church in what was the Broom
house. Aunt Sal was, sometimes people said, a zealot. That is, she did not know when
to stop. But I loved Aunt Sal devotedly. She used to speak of me as her son and she came
over nearly every day. She was lonesome. Colonel Walker was a little bowlegged man,
a retired colonel, who retired from the cavalry in 1911 and he taught at the University.
He was much loved by everybody, particularly the women who petted him. He played golf
all the time, every day, and he liked his stimulation. Aunt Sal came over one day and she
said: "I want you to go over and pray for Colonel Walker." I said: "Where is he?" She
said: "He's upstairs. I said: "Well, I don't like to go pray for anybody that way, Ms. Walker "
She said: "He is drinking himself to death." I said: "How old is he?" She said: "He
is 96 years old. "Well," I said, "why don't you just be sweet and good. He's not
going to quit and it probably don't hurt him any. I said: "How old are you?" She said:
"That's none of your business." "How old did you tell me you were when your father
died." She said, "I was five years old." I said: "That makes you 89 years old. She
said: "You get my mind off of what I came for. She said: "I know where he keeps it. "
I said: "I don't want it, I don't have any need for it. She said: "I'll tell you what to do."
She said: "What". I said: "Get the bottle and say your prayers, and drink it all and get
in bed. That would be one of the best ways to get rid of it. She said: "I can stand anything
but profanity." I said: "I agree with you, it is a most inexcusable fault. The devil catches
people with different kinds of baits on a hook, but he catches the profane swarer with a
naked hook What did he tell you?" She said: "It's too bad to repeat." I said: "You can
always tell your pastor anything, what did he say?" She said: "He told me to shut my
Billy: Preacher, Miss Sally, as I recall, was more or less the pioneer in some of our
food programs for underprivileged. Did she have a milk fund?
Preacher: She did, no end of good. Aunt Sal was my beloved friend. They say Aunt Sal
gave Dr. Anderson the shingles. I don't know about that. But I loved Aunt Sal and I used
to tell her: "Well, I'm just ashamed to stand up in front of the choir my pants are so thin
in the seat. She said:"I'm going to get you a suit of clothes." That was always a sure way
of getting a new suit of clothes. Aunt Sal always sat near the front in church and Colonel
Walker would come in half mad and puffing because she would take him all the way down.
I said: "You know you are one of the richest members we have and I noticed you last
Sunday when the collection went by, I was expecting a lot of paper to fall out and not a
little thin dime." She said: "Do you watch people what they give?" I said: "I watch
* you every Sunday. "
Sara: Preacher, didn't she ask you to take her to Ocala one time to the foot doctor ?
Preacher: Oh yes, I took them more than once to the corn doctor. Poor old lady, she
tetered when she walked. She was a rather large women. I loved Aunt Sal. There is
nobody in Gainesville that I had a warmer affection for her because she was such a joy.
I had more fun with Aunt Sal than with most anybody. She was 89 years old but she kept
Sara: Did anything happen on the way down to the foot doctor ?
Preacher: Well, that was when Tunneson came here, a foot doctor, he located right in
front of her house. It was, I thought, a Godsend. She went up there one day and
accused him of stealing a garter. Aunt Sal had bunions and corns and she couldn't find
* her garter. There was a great pandemonium. Finally the colored woman came in and
said: "You're sitting on it. She had given them all a hard time about the garter she had lost.
Billy: Preacher, in the early days of your minister in our church here, I remember some
of the wonderful elders, Mr. Morris, for example.
Preacher: Never a finer man than Mr. George Morris, was pure gold. He had a lovely
family and Mrs. Morris was one of the finest people that you could ever know. She could
always bring gladness and the healing words if there were a difference of opinions among
the women which occasionally you know, would happen. Women get crossed up with each
other sometimes. Mrs. Morris exercised the healing word.
Sara: What was Mr. Morris' profession?
Preacher: Mr. Morris was in the insurance business with Finley Cannon. Morris-Cannon
S it was known then. Dr. J. M. Leake, Mr. John Vidal, who was the clerk of our session.
Others Dad Lee came at a later time, he was one of the active people far beyond his
years. Dr. Tench was like Mr. Micawber he had a large stomach, ruddy countenance,
* snow white hair, had beautiful eyes and short legs. He would come to church with a half
smoked cigar in his hand. He would come down in front and bow to me and take his seat.
He didn't like music. One night at prayer meeting we had a missionary. Dr. Tench, as
many older people do, had to find his way to the bathroom often. All of us who are older
can appreciate why. There were two bathrooms in the old church, one on the high level and
one on the lower level. Nobody ever thought anything when Dr. Tench would get up and leave.
This night the missionary spoke and he had us all sort of feeling bad because we hadn't
done more. I called on Dr. Tench to pray and he got up and prayed: "Lord, we hadn't
done what we ought to do. We have been stingy with our means. We have been out of
sympathy with the work of the mission. Make us ready and willing always to answer the
call when it comes. Amen." He immediately got up and went to the bathroom. It almost
* broke up the prayer meeting.
Sara: Preacher, who was this Dr. Tench?
Preacher: Dr. Tench was the uncle of Judge Benjamin Tench. The brother was Benjamin
Senior. We were devoted to Dr. Tench. We saw a great deal of him, and were very fond
of him. He was an old man and he remembered all the early history of Gainesville and
Billy: Was he an M.D., Preacher?
Preacher: He was a dentist. I forgotten what that title is.
Sara: I think that's right. Preacher, tell us a little bit about the Kanapaha Church.
Preacher: The Kanapaha Church, I always said Kan-a-pa-ha. The Hales, Chesnuts,
a Stringfellows, and Youngs were the early members in 1856 of a church that called Rev.
W. J. McCormick from South Carolina. They were South Carolinians who came here
to plant cotton. They built the church down where the cemetery, about a mile north of
Arrendonda, is now to be found. Dr. Stringfellow was an elder, a fine noble character,
because he underwrote the stipend for the minister. And at the same time, when
Mr. McCormick came here he lived in Gainesville. The first church built in Gainesville
was the old First Presbyterian Church down right in front of where the Sun office now is.
There were not two organizations. It was all Kanapaha Church. He preached here and he
preached out there 6 miles. The building in Gainesville was used by all, Episcopalians,
Baptists and Methodists until they built there own structures. It was a nice church according
to the description and they had a nice organ particularly. Mrs. McCormick was known as
a great vocalist and others in that church. In 1867 there was a separate organization
here. The Kanapaha Church begin to decline as the people moved away but it continued as
a church. It is still going, still in existence the present building is still there. It is
not the original building. It was put up about 1887 about the same time the church here
was built, the second church.
Billy: Preacher, since your retirement from our First Presbyterian Church here in
Gainesville, you have not been idle. Could you tell us something about the work you are
doing now. I know you are preaching at Archer.
Preacher: Billy, you know when one retires at 75, a person has a certain dread. The earlier
dread that I had was false teeth. That worked out so go3d that I wouldn't swap the teeth.
You listeners don't hear any whistling do you? It worked out so good with Dr. Tison. I
was in England one time and I had a little roughness on this plate, and I went down to a
dentist there in Southhampton. When I was getting ready to take the ship home, he said:
"Do you mind if my people look at this work?" I said: "Certainly not". So about 14 technicians
and others came to file by and said that is the most beautiful work we have ever seen.
I said: "It was made by one of the finest dentist in the world, Dr. Gordon Tison." He
said: "The precision and everything about it is wonderful. We can't do that because we
have a socialist government. But after one retires the other dread is having nothing to
do. But the seven years since my retirement have been exceedingly happy, happy as
any I have ever had. I preached for some time at the Independent Church in Savannah, at
the Memorial Presbyterian Church in West Palm Beach, and would have continued in
Savannah indefinitely but I had to have cobalt treatments which terminated very well
indeed. More recently, I have preached on Sundays at High Springs and Alachua, and
now for nearly 4 years, a Sunday morning service in Archer, A warm hearted,
appreciative little group of people. It so happens that I know most of them as long as
I've known the people in Gainesville. That's has been a joy and privilege because it gives
one something to look forward to along the lines that you were trained to do. I've enjoyed
it beyond words. I used that word, I guess, in church, if we are Christians we ought
to be happy. (Preacher laughs)
Sara: Preacher, in thinking about your many years in the ministry, how did you go about
preparing sermons ?
Preacher: Well, I think, Sara, mine are all based on the Bible. I don't know too much
about the economic situation and I don't know too much about sociology, except what the
Bible teaches us to be kind and thoughtful and generous to people who are in need. But my
whole background has been the Bible. I've used the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer
of the Episcopal Church which is like Shakespeare, the King James version of the Bible.
The Book of Common Prayer, miracles in prose, and Shakespeare, the miracle in poetry.
I always tried to saturate my mind with what the person, who, by inspiration, was trying
to convey to us from as a mouthpiece of God. Tried to convey some practical lessons
and to read all you can.
Sara: Well, I was going to say my impression in listening to you with deep appreciation
for many years, your readings were not only from the Holy Scriptures, but also from the
classics and from the philosophers.
Preacher: As a child, my mother insisted that we read books like Bunyan, Dickens, all
of the novels of Walter Scott, and many others. When I was 12 years old I went through
"Pilgrim's Progress", largely because I got "Pilgrim's Progress" on the Christmas
tree. There was a very fine and beautiful picture on the front of a knight or somebody
like "Mr. Greatheart" conducting a pilgrim from the City of Destruction to the Holy City.
All of these things I think together with poetry. In the schools of my early days there was
an emphasis made on memorizing. A lot of what you read in the books had a moral lesson
to it. I don't know if it's that way in school here or not. The schools always had religious
exercises every morning. I still think that's great and wonderful. Mrs. O'Hair and some
of her cohorts don't think so. They think it's a violation of separation of church and
Sara: Preacher, when you went to school, I believe you said it was in Sardis, Mississippi,
was it a school as we think of today or were several groups in one room? Was there a
Preacher: They had a hall and there were five big rooms on the corners. We went up
to the eleventh grade and we studied Latin. I had 7 years of Latin and 7 years of Greek,
because the college that I attended was Southwestern, a small college, and you had to recite
every day. A great emphasis was made upon what I believe the old people called "belles
lettres" or literature. The beautiful things of life, philosophy, and history and English all
of those things helped a person very greatly. I followed, probably, along a more practical
theological and sociological line in the seminary. My seminary was in Louisville,
Kentucky. With some post-graduate study in New York. All of these things help you
greatly, wonderfully. They don't make your life a life in a cloister because you have to
be in touch with people and love people. If a man in the ministry looks upon what he does
as a job, he will be disappointed. If it's a calling and a commitment, he will get infinite
joy out of it. The thing that grieves some of us older people today is that some of the
clergy look upon it as a job, a structure. Look upon it just as a job and if you can do
better at something else, why take that up! My brother, Charles, one time tells about
being with a friend, Ben Anderson, and they were waiting for a little train. They killed
some squirrels and this old man drove up out of the woods. He cussed and swore at his
oxen and the logs. Finally he got out and he came up and sat by them and he asked them what
they did. They asked him what did he do. "Well, you see me down there, you think I'm
a loggerman, but as little as you think about it, I used to preach. If this depression don't
break, I ain't too damm good to preach again. I'm getting off the subject.
Billy: Preacher, now you have been generous with us today giving us the wonderful
experiences of your life and those who will hear these remarks will appreciate you and
love you like we have. Dr. U. S. Gordon, Preacher Gordon, as he is known affectionately
all over this part of Florida, in Gainesville, at the University of Florida, and in Alachua
County has been my minister for many years. I think one of the finest compliments that
I've ever had was from one of my students who wrote at the bottom of a test: "Dear Brother
Matthews, I've enjoyed being a member of your congregation. So, I think I must teach
with the influence of Preacher Gordon, my pastor of many years, weighing upon me in a
very fine way, as far as my life is concerned. Preacher, I think the time has come now
for us to close this interview.
Mr. O'Malley: If I may, Preacher Gordon, I would like to introduce myself formally on
the recording. I'm Tom O'Malley, Director of the Santa Fe Regional Library, for whom
you've been recording this historic tape. I hope that you will release the tape for the
inspiration and edification of many of our Gainesville citizens. But I just want to add my
personal note of thanks and my own feeling of inspiration in listening to you. Since I'm
only a five year resident of Gainesville, I have picked up 40 or 50 years in just these few
minutes you have been speaking this morning. Thank you again, sir.
Billy: Preacher, Florence Dunlap and I were talking before the interview and we thought
it would be very appropriate if you would just end this little visit together with a benediction,
Preacher: The benediction is the last words of Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians.
It's from the old King James version: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of
God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with us all now and forever. Amen. "