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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Mable Voyle
INTERVIEWER: Eddie Bell
DATE: April 17, 1973
B: We're talking about old Gainesville in the '20s.
V: I was born just after the turn of the century, East Gainesville
near where the armory is now. My family soon moved into
town in the southeast part. In that day it was called Pleasant
Street. When I was a little girl we had gas lamps. I barely
remember seeing the man coming around in the afternoon lighting
the lamps near dusk. I remember afterwards we had electric
lamps. There was also an old colored man that came around
with bread and rolls and things and sold them. His name was
Uncle Davis, and all we children used to go out in the street
and beg, "Uncle Davis, give me a rusk, give me a rusk." And
he was always so nice to do that. But in those days, way back
when, children were supposed to be at home, so I didn't get
a chance to go uptown very much. They had a Dutton Bank here,
and Mr. [H. F.] Dutton also owned a cotton gin down at the
foot of the hill. He ginned Seal Island cotton, but the boll
weevil got into the cotton and so that ended the ginning of
cotton in Gainesville.
The first church in Gainesville was the Presbyterian church.
It was constructed in 1860 on S.E. 1st Street near the old
bus station, the First Baptist Church in 1870 at the corner
of East University and N.E. 2nd Street, and the First Methodist
Church, January the 18th, on the N.E. 1st Street and 4th Avenue.
The new Methodist, December the 6th, 1886, was the academic
building of the old East Florida Seminary. Then Holy Trinity
Episcopal Church in 1873, North Main, and the Seventh Day Adventists
half a century ago. There have since been many other churches
We had a lot of fires in the old days, in 1938. These were
big fires. They burned the west side .of the square in 1945,
Crystal's Five and Ten Cent Store. Economy Cab company burned;
that was on the northeast corner of the square. In 1903 a livery
stable, Crawford and Davis, burned with many of the horses. In
1880 the Arlington Hotel on Woolworth's corner, that was the
early days, burned. In 1906 Smith's Jewelry Store on the north
side of the square burned. In 1909 the Evan's Mill burned,
and in 1953 Butler's Square Market burned. That was up on the
G & G Railroad at that time, way back when they had the fire
station on East Main Street. They had such beautiful fire
horses, and it was a delight to see them as they ran for a fire.
Then later on it became mechanical and no more horses.
The original town was bound on the north by Fifth Avenue, on the
east by Southwest Avenue and on the south at Second Place, then
west by Second Street. The Alachua County Courthouse in Gainesville,
occupied in 1856, cost 5,000,500, ;no 5,500 dollars. The
red brick in 1886 cost $50,000. Then the new one, I've
got it here somewhere. . there's so many.
We had a tin can tourist:camp and it was down there on Second
Avenue, near the hospital. I think it's now the A & P Store.
It extended way back from it two streets. There was a great
influx of campers that came in. They had a little store there.
Miss Mamie Van Horn ran the store, and the place belonged to
Major [William R.] Thomas. It was a most interesting place.
In those days, these people and these campers traveled and ate
out of tin cans and that's why they:called them the tin can
tourists. They had a great celebrationwhen they first opened
up, but that all was destroyed chained. It then became
a parking lot for the hospital.
B: What did you do in the '20s?
V: I went to Stetson University in 1903, and. I graduated and came
back as a kindergarten teacher. I taught kindergarten for one
year. Then my brother died and I had to go to the office and
take his place. My father had a land trust business and I worked
at that thing for thirty-five years. My father also had a
telephone exchange. It was called the East Florida Telephone
Company. There was an office in Gainesville, one in Dunnellon,
one in Brooksville, and also he connected with Leesburg. He
finally sold the exchange, just about the time the boom busted,
to the Bell Telephone Company. He had many lines--they went r;
down to Cedar Key, Bronson, and into the phosphate districts.
B: He owned the land office?
V: We had an abstract and realty company and I sold out to Barney
Colson, the Colson Abstract Company. But I worked with the
boss for thirty-five years.
B: How much would an acre of land cost? Did you sell it or did
you zone it. .
V: They varied in cost, but it's interesting to look at the early
sales of Gainesville's land when the sales were put on in
Micanopy. Sections of land were closed off and selling six
cents an acre. Like the university there. I think they paid
eight cents an acre or three cents. It wasn't very much. It
was most unusual. I can't quote it because I don't have the
figures here. But I do know that a lot of Gainesville property
went for that, and that the university, in the earlier days,
went for about eight cents an acre.
B: Did you still have the business in the Florida boom?
V: No. I didn't sell till 1948, no, after my father's death.
I ran the business for ten years, and I had six young ladies
working for me. I finally decided to retire, and Mr. Colson
wanted it; one always wants to corner the market.
B: I was talking to Miss Mathews and she said that your husband
owned the first electric car in Gainesville.
V: Oh, that was the nicest thing. My brother was interested in
a board to charge batteries, and he found out that a man from
up near Fernandina on the island of Dungeness [Cumberland Island]
inherited an electric car with a panel to charge it, so he bought
it. My father was so delighted with it that he took it
over. They had the battery on it charged and we all enjoyed
that. My father loved to takemy mother and me out for a ride.
And University Avenue was the only one paved at that time.
We'd go up that way and he would go very slowly because we
were playing a game. All the cars that passed us counted
against my mother and me, but when we turned around and came
back, why, he sped up because all the cars that passed him counted
against him. So he always won. It had an electric bell on it
and every time we'd step on the bell somebody'd yell, "Ice."
And it's now in the Florida State Museum. I don't think it's
on display. They bought new tires for it.
B: I don't think it's in there now.
V: It isn't?
B: No. It was the first electric car in Gainesville?
V: Even in Florida. I think we gave the pedal and the car to the
B: Did you ever go on trips with it?
V: No, I didn't. We didn't go out of the state, but that car
could go backwards as fast as it could go forward. You had
to be very careful with it. If you get out you better take
the key with you because some child could get in there and work
with it. Because it was a small car everybody thought it was
light, but that big zinc battery was very heavy. But it could
pull any kind of mud or anything. It really was fine. I went
down to the ice factory across the old Seaboard track and it
had been raining and the mud was about a foot deep. One of
the men said, "Well, Missie, you think you can get out
of here?" I said, "Yes, this can pull anything." So I
backed around and ran around without any difficulty.
I always liked the story my cook told. There was a colored
girl went down there to that ice factory to see a man she
was crazy about. She bothered him so much that he shut
her up in the ice room and forgot her, and never thought
about it until morning. When he remembered and went and
got her she had icicles in her hair. That was funny.
B: Were there hospitals in the '20s?
V: No, the hospital was built later. The doctors visited you
in the homes. You didn't have to go to the emergency room
to get attention. You'd just phone and they'd call on you.
B: Well, suppose you had a broken leg or had to have an operation,
where would they do it at?
V: Well, I don't know. I never had one. I imagine they took
care of you in the office. There are two hospitals here.
There's one out in East Gainesville, and this other one. I
have the dates of the hospital here somewhere. If you want,
I'll look it up.
B: If you want to.
V: I'll read this to you. "A hospital question again arose only
fifty-eight beds. An election was held in 1942 which authorized
a sale of 100,000 [dollars] in county bonds for the purpose.
In the next month, a federal grant of 159,000 [dollars] was
approved which guaranteed the success of the project increasing
the hospital facilities. Only room for sixty-five patients
in 1942 which authorized the sale of $100,000 in county bonds
for the purpose."
B: Have you lived here all your life?
V: No, I lived across town where Badcock's Furniture Company is
now. It's the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue.
B: That's not anywhere near the boulevard.
V: I've always lived within two blocks of the square.
B: Do you remember construction or anything about the boulevard?
V: I don't know when it was constructed.
B: Were there any big dances at the Thomas Hotel? Did you
ever go to any?
V: They had a lot of banquets. We had banquets, we didn't have
dances. A lot of meetings were scheduled, but mainly banquets.
It was a rooming place. The dances were at the Elks Clus or
they were--I don't think they had dances. They didn't have
dances at the White House. The White House was a hotel on
Main Street on the railroad near 4th. Of course, the train
ran up Main Street. I lived down in the Southeast part of
the town, and in rainy weather that's quite a steep hill there
to come up. Sometimes they had to back down and make a running
start to get up the hill. They had trouble before they went
out of business because the little colored boys would run
down the track ahead of the trains just to tease the engineer
and he was so afraid that they would fall and he'd run over
them. He had to go so slow.
We had a great excitement way back when a coach line was
coming into Gainesville with a freight train. They had a
sinkhole and three of the cars went down in the sinkhole.
The engine, one car at the front end of the train, and two
or three at the back end never went in. I don't know whether
they ever got the cars out, but that happened. It was about
a mile south of Gainesville on the track. A lot of people
went out to see it that next day. After they'd stood on the
edge of the sinkhole looking in, the paper said that edge
fell in. It isn't wise to stand on the edge of a sinkhole.
I've often wondered about Devil's Millhopper, if it might not
It's very different from what it used to be. It was a small
town for a long while but now it's a larger town. When
it was smaller and you gave a party or anything, you made half
the town mad. Now nobody knows when you give a party so it's
very good. Of course, everything is different from the old
B: How was life in the homes?
V: Well, it was very pleasant as far as that goes. We could walk
out the door and leave our front doors open and go anywhere.
If there was ever a fire at night everybody went. I
guess theydon't. Life is so different recently than it was.
You had a television.
You know, I wonder if the younger generation appreciates that
I came up from oil lamps to gas lamps to electricity;. from
moving pictures that did not speak to moving picture that did
speak; from horse and buggies to automobiles and aeroplanes,
but you had them given to you all at one time. And you didn't
appreciate [them]. I don't think the younger people appreciate
not having. . You're very fortunate to have all these things
given to you, where we had to deal without in the old days.
Every time we'd get something new it was a thrill. I don't
know where your thrills come from.
B: Did you already have telephones and electricity in the
V: We didn't.
B: When did you?
V: Until the very early days.
B: When did you first get electricity and telephones?
V: I couldn't tell yod. In this book it tells when they got the
B: What kind of thrill was it when you got it? I could'ntimagine
living without it.
V: [You] can't imagine living without electricity?
Yes, it was. We had an old electric light that was very
dim, just a wire. Then we had what they called the Bunsen
burner which was a very bright one; Edison manufactured it.
It was wonderful coming up [with] all these new inventions.
B: When the telephone first came, did you use it just for little
V: Just about like you use it now. Some of the people might have.
I know my father had this exchange that went down to Cedar.Key
and they had no numbers but they had the different rings. One
or two shorts or one short and two longs or something like
that, and the whole country would get on the line and
listen to whatwas being said a lot of times because it was a
through line, long distance, and there was no way to cut it
off. Here in town, you had your personal phones, it's different.
B: All right. So everybody could hear what they were saying, when
they'd call up to Cedar Key.
V: Well, not with the Bell phone. The Bell phone was just like
it is today. Y6u had to ring central.
Then you had a little crank and you had to crank it up
and ring central. Now when you lift off your receiver,
you dial, of course. We had a little handle to ring. That
was how it was then.
B: Is there anything else you can think of?
V: No, I don't know what to say. What I had in mind were older
things. Are you interested in pictures?
B: Yes, but I want to ask you a question. If you wanted to go
on a trip, where would you go?
V: Well, most of the people went to North Carolina and South
Carolina on trips, and, another time, they had the steamships
that went from Jacksonville to New York, called the Clyde line.
I had one or two trips on that. Then they had the Munson Line
that went to Savannah. You could go either way. Your Clyde
Line stopped in Charleston, South Carolina bn the way up, and
you could get off the ship while they were unloading. But
trucks- and the things of that type put the steamships out of
business because they could deliver right to the merchant's
door. With steam they'd have to go through the docks to
get their merchandise when the steamship took it. It was
a delightful trip to go up on the Clyde.
B: I wish I could've seen it. How long would it take you to get
up to New York on the boat?
V: Well, it was an overnight trip. I don't remember just how
it was scheduled, probably about an overnight trip.
B: By boat?
V: Yes, by boat..
B: Wow, that's fast.
V: Well, they would leisurely stop in Charleston and unload and
load. They took on cargo, I imagine, for New York. They
worked both ways, going and coming. It was a nice trip. They
always had their full quota of passengers, people loved
going that way.
I know one time coming back, I was with a group of young people,
and they all wanted to test out their sea legs. There was a
storm off of Cape Hatteras, and everyone of them was sick.
But I wasn't sick, I'm a good sailor. Then, in other places
where it was rough, I didn't get seasick but they did.
B: Where would you go for picnics on Sundays and Saturdays here?
V: A lot of them went out to the lake, I don't know. They have
a place out here called Palm-Point. We used to go out there and
swim. That's out at Newnan's Lake. You know where Palm Point
V: We had a club house out there. We used to go out there to
dances and also sometimes we had picnics. I:believe Palm
Point belonged to Addison Pound.
It was sold. The building at Palm Point was sold to Golf
Lakes. Part of it is now the University Folf Lakes Center.
We'd go out there and they had a wire around your swimming
pool so that the alligators swam on the outside of the wire.
I wasn't encouraged to go in there. I might say I went in one
time. When I say that alligators in Newnan's Lake now. I think
they have all been. . .
B: There's a few of them, I'm pretty sure.
V: Have you seen any?'
B: Well, I'm pretty sure there's a few.
V: Well, I think they've gotten rid of all of them that were there.
But there was that big alligator swimming around on the outside
of that fence. I got tired of swimming right away.
We'd go out to Devil's Millhopper. That was a great place to
go and have a picnic. Of course, there was nothing to do but
the trails went around and up and down into the hopper.
This is the Sun Centennial Paper. That was the first courthouse.
my father came over here when they had that wooden courthouse there.
He and Mr. Graham, James M. Graham, had the yellow fever. I'll
tell you where they were. You know the house east of Kirby Smith
V: The big white, old fashioned house.
B: Uh huh,
V: The first house next to it. They had the yellow fever there. That
house was there long years ago, way back in the 1880s. One
of the old homes. It was Mr. Baird's house.
B: What year did you teach in Gainesville?
V: I'd say it was about 1906. People weren't prepared for kinder-
garten then. They didn't know much about it. One lady had
several children, two of whom were kindergarten age. I asked
her if she liked to send them to school and she said, "I hear if
you ever teach them those kind of things you never can unlearn
them." I knew she was no prospect. I had a class of a dozen,
but it didn't pay after I paid my assistant for playing the
piano and paid for the room.
It was funny, my father bought the things for the kindergarten,
and one of them was a dozen little chairs. They came in on the
train here and the depot was right here where the First National
Bank is. My youngest brother had just been married. He went over
there to get the chairs for me. His friends saw him unloading
a dozen little chairs, and you know what happened. They kidded
him gor a long while about his expectations.
B: Well, how was school back then? Has it changed a lot from now?
V: I wish I could go to school now. You do have it wonderful with
aides and things. We had to learn our lessons or else. We just
didn't go up a grade or nothing. You have so many helps and
aides, television and all. They've thought up so many things to
help you. Do you know the new math? Are you studying new math?
B: Yes, that's what it is.
V: I .-didn't get along so well with the old math, but I wish I'd
had the new math. I know the man that invented the new math.
He's up here at the university. He's got all kinds of books on
B: He's the one that started it?
V: Yes, he's a university professor. Dr. (William Atkins) Gager.
B: I didn't know that.
V: He's a very nice person. He's an older man, one of the oldest
in the university. I think he's still teaching there. Did you
know that he has written four books for the first four grades in
new math? I bought two of the books that he wrote at Murphy's.
I'd thought I'd see how they began it. But I didn't really go
into it. Something else came up and
attracted me so I just put them down and I still think I'll
go and look at them.
B: Well, go ahead.
V: Do you know anything about the old math or did you come up on
the new math?
B: No, we switched, I think.
V: Switched? Oh, I see.
B: I'm not really sure. I can't remember. I don't see any difference.
Which would you rather live in, the twenties or the seventies?
V: I'd like to live now. There are so many things of interest, so
many avenues of interests., so much to do. We were restricted in
the old days. We didn't have too much, but now you do. You have
television, airplanes, and-all kinds of things. And you get more
produce flown in, more flowers flown in. But I'm afraid it's more
militant. I'm afraid that people are too close and maybe:that makes
a difference. I sometimes wonder about the young men and young
women nowadays. I call them hippies. Why do they take pride in
looking so dreadful and not washing or something? I'll tell you the
truth, I like long hair down on their necks and I think the young
men look fine. I think they look pretty. I think they have too
long hair to cut their hair short. I think that's better than some
of the bald-headed men. I really do.
I like their new hairstyles but,I don't like men to have their hair
down their backs like women. I don't like to see them wear their
Afro hairdo, but if their hair is cut, I don't think it's manly
somehow. I don't know why they do it, but if they want to do it
that's all right. That's their privilege, but to live like they
do and to do as they do, I just don't understand how they could be
comfortable in it.
B: Can you think of anything else you'd like to talk about?
V: I don't know of anything. There's lots of things I could talk
about, but they're not of interest. Has anybody ever talked about
the Ocala ball team?
B: I don't know.
V: They had a ball team in the early days of Gainesville. They called
themselves the "old colored ones." They beat everything around. They
I think that's about all, Eddie.