Interviewee: Sarah Matheson
Interviewer: Marta Cruz-Casse
Date: February 26, 1986
C: This is February 26, 1986. My name is Marta Cruz-Casse and I am at the
Matheson house at 528 Southeast 1st Avenue in Gainesville. I am here to
interview Mrs. Matheson on the history and development of this house, which is
is the second oldest in Gainesville, for the Oral History Project of the University of
Florida. Mrs. Matheson, could you give us your full name?
M: My name is Sarah Hamilton Matheson, or Mrs. Chris Matheson, but most people
just call me Sarah Matheson.
C: From what I read, I see you were married in 1933, and that you came to this
house in 1945.
C: Could you tell us a little bit about what you expected and what you found when
you first came here?
M: My husband, [Chris Matheson,] had told me a lot about his ancestral home where
he was born and where he grew up. It seems that his father's brother,
Alexander Matheson, had come from Camden, South Carolina to Florida, just as
many other settlers. The Hales, the Chestnuts, the Mathesons, and many other
families had heard that the soil in Florida was very rich for farming, so many of
them were migrating down to Florida. The Hales and the Mathesons were
related. So in 1857, Uncle Alexander Matheson bought the land, ten to fifteen
acres, and started. The lithograph of the census of 180 shows that he was
living in a small house, maybe just a one-story house that was added on to. He
lived there with his family of four children.
His brother, James Douglas Matheson, was in the army with General Lee. He
was at Appomattox when they surrendered. When he was mustered out of the
army in 1865, he came to Gainesville and began to work for the Savage and
Hale Company here for two years. Then he married the only daughter of Judge
Augustus Steel from Cedar Key. His daughter's name was Florida Augustus
Steel, and they were married in June, 1867, and moved into this house.
My husband had told me that story about how the house was built. I do not
know just when it developed the full description that it is today. He was born
and grew up in this house. He graduated from the Citadel, the military academy
in South Carolina, where he was valedictorian of his class and adjutant to the
battalion. He loved the military. But his little brother was accidentally shot
when he was sixteen years old, and his two little sisters had died when they were
two years old, so he was all that his father had left of the children. So he got out
of the army and came to Gainesville and studied law. He became a lawyer and
was mayor of Gainesville for eight terms [from 1910-1918], and served in the
legislature in 1917 and 1918. Then because he was an elder in the church with
his father, a great speaker called on to talk to many groups here, and had been
preaching down at the Kanapaha and other places, he had to decide whether to
take a second term in the legislature or become a minister. The church won out,
and he went to Oklahoma. Now we get to where I met him.
C: Yes. When did you meet him?
M: Well, that is a story. I was growing up in Davidson, North Carolina. After I
finished the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, which was North Carolina
College for Women then, I taught two years, and then I went Richmond for my
graduate work in Christian education and Bible. When I finished, the president
said, "Sarah, I think you would like to work with Indians." I asked him, "What
makes you think so?" "Well, I just do." I said, "Get me a job," so he did. He
said I was going to go out to Oklahoma Presbyterian College to teach Bible,
Christian education, and some English in an area where there were Choctaw,
Chickasaw, Seminole, Pawnee, and Comanche tribes. So I was teaching in
In the meantime, Mr. Chris Matheson had been taken to Oklahoma to preach in a
church in Shawnee, Oklahoma, which was about 125 miles from Durant. He
was on the board of trustees of the college and had come down to speak at
chapel. There were three young teachers. I was one of them, Mary Bittinger of
Virginia was another, and Mildred Mosely was a third one. We three young
teachers there. He would take all three of us out to dinner and to a movie. He
was very nice to all three of us, and we thought he was a wonderful person.
Well, my summer home was at Montreat, North Carolina, near Asheville, and my
father and mother would take us up there in the summer where we would spend
about three months in the mountains. It is beautiful setting. Chris Matheson's
habit was to come to the hotel in Montreat for his vacations. That was where he
saw me, you see, and pursued me. So Sarah won out of the three girls, and he
asked me to marry him. He was quite a bit older than I, and I would not marry
him at first, but he did not take no for an answer. He kept coming to see me,
and finally we were married at Montreat on my porch. A friend of mine played a
golden harp, my brother played the violin, and we had a soloist who sang some
solo music for us. Then we had a reception over at the big hotel where we had
about a hundred guests. I promised him it would be a very quiet wedding. He
said it was a very popular place.
We had a wonderful marriage. We suited each other. Even the difference in
age did not seem to make any difference. We complemented each other. I
was quick and fast and compulsive, and he was the perfect gentlemen in every
So we went back to Shawnee, Oklahoma, and I lived there in the nance for
twelve years. I was in Durant teaching for five years. I resigned from the
college in the beginning of 1933, and it was at Davidson that we were married in
1933. That is a long story, but that is the way we finally met and were married.
I was so happy in Shawnee Oklahoma.
We did not have any children. That was our only disappointment. I had one
miscarriage. I was very active in the church and in the Presbyterian synod. I
was president of the women's local Presbytery and president of the Women of
the Synod of Oklahoma, and I was also active in many clubs, such as Delta
Kappa Gamma, I organized the chapter of the Hawthorn Club, and was state
vice-president of AAUW, the American Association of University Women. I also
worked in the church.
C: Why did you come here to Florida?
M: Well, Mr. Matheson was very popular, like Preacher [Ulysses S.] Gordon used to
be here in Gainesville. Everybody knew Preacher Gordon and loved him so; he
belonged to the whole town. It was kind of that way with my husband. Just
before we left, some people said, "Mr. Matheson, you not only belong to the
Presbyterians, you belong to the Shawnee, all the town." He was very beloved
there. He was the pastor there for twenty-six years. It was the only church he
ever had. But his health began to break, and he developed Parkinson disease.
We went to Mayo clinics twice to see if there was any cure. We went to the
Mayo of the South, which is the Scott White clinic in Texas, and to Oklahoma
City to the doctors. We went to doctors in North Carolina. At that time there
was no known cure, but they prescribed medicine that did delay it. But he had
finally to resign from the church. It was almost time to retire anyway, so he
retired in 1945. Then we went to Davidson for a while, and then to Gainesville.
My mother lived in Davidson, you see, and we visited her a while, and we then
came on to Gainesville in 1945 and 1946. The old home was occupied at that
time, and we had to wait for a little while to get the renter out of the building.
C: Do you remember who the renters were at that time?
M: His cousin had lived in the house most of the time. It was hard to find housing in
1945. I do not remember who was living in the house when we came to
Gainesville. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long. We had to do the house
over. We did not change any feature of the house. We might go back to when
it was built then.
C: Do you remember the first day you came here? What were your first
M: Oh, I could not wait to see it because Chris had told me how much it meant to
him. The house looked very good. It needed painting. He had tried to keep it
up as much as possible. I saw it in 1933. We will have to go back a little bit.
You see, when we were married in North Carolina, we came to Charleston. We
spent a couple of days in Charleston to see the Citadel where he graduated, and
we saw a lot of his classmates and friends. Then we came on to Gainesville.
That was in the summer of 1933. We stayed with Aunt Ola Matheson, his aunt.
She was Mrs. William Matheson; William was the brother of James Douglas
Matheson, Chris's father. We were entertained by so many: Ms. Addison
Pound, Ms. Ira Baird and we went to the church and met many of his friends
where he had grown up. We had a wonderful visit. That was when I first saw
the house. But you see, we were still active in Oklahoma. We knew we could
not live there then, but I did get to see. I loved it from the very first, so it was not
too hard for me to have to leave Shawnee, Oklahoma, where we had been very
happy, to return to Gainesville, because we knew that this would be our home.
So now we are up to 1945, when we finally came to Florida to stay. As soon as
the lady was out of the house, we got carpenters in and started repairing it some,
because it needed some repairs. That was when we added two bathrooms; we
had only one to begin with. But now upstairs was completed. One room had
never been fully seen. The floors were beautiful, but it had never been seen. It
had been used as a storage room. So it was finished, and a bathroom was
installed upstairs. Then downstairs, in the front bedroom, another bath for the
guest room, a private bath, was installed with a closet and storage space above
it. The back porch and the kitchen had to be repaired, so we did a good bit of
work. We had a good helper. I remember Mr. Leroy Tillman, my dear black
friend, helped a lot. The contractor said there was not a thing that Mr. Tillman
could not do. Leroy made the steps at the front. He repaired the fireplaces; the
fireplaces had been used a lot, and he put in new brick and then we had it
painted. Sam Sticks, another black family that was great friends of my
husband's, did the painting. They are still our painters. They helped paint the
outside and inside. But there was no alteration in the architecture of the house.
It was kept as it was.
It is a white frame building made out of the heart of pine, with a gambler roof,
which is a very distinct feature. There have been many in South Carolina and
the country that are similar. There are six columns built to the ground. That is
a very distinct feature. There is a space of maybe three or four feet between the
porch and the columns. They support the roof. You just have to see it to
understand that feature of it. I saw one other. I am not sure where that was the
Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home in Nashville, Tennessee, but I have seen
only one other house that had that feature.
C: Do you know the name of the contractor who did the work for you?
M: Mr. Perry Prevatt was the head contractor. He had other workmen, you see.
This was just a little bit of restoration that we did in 1946.
C: I read in the article in the newspaper that Reverend Leroy A. Tillman did a lot of
the work here.
M: That is what I was telling you. He was my black friend, and he could do
everything. He did the steps, he did the fireplaces, and he helped Mr. Prevatt in
many ways. And he did not stop with that. He continued to be my friend, like
the story in the paper said he helped me as long as Mr. Matheson lived. After
his death in 1952, when I would need something done, I would call him and he
would say, "Mrs. Matheson, you used me." After he was superintendent of his
church group and a very popular minister, he would say, "You used me when I
needed it. I am certainly not going to let you down now." He said, "I am just
working for you" and one other lady he mentioned. He said, "I just do not have
time to help more, but I am helping you, and I am helping Mrs. Newsom." So
that was Leroy Tillman. His son, Nat Tillman, is a columnist for the Gainesville
Sun. He does wonderful articles. He reminds me of his father.
C: When did you first become aware of the importance of the house?
M: Well, I think I did from the very first, knowing how old it was. We knew it was
built by 1867, because my husband's father and his bride, James Douglas
Matheson and Florida Augustus Steel, were married and moved into the house in
June, 1867. Chris was born in this house, and that was pretty soon after their
wedding. The people in Gainesville began to realize the value of old homes and
tried to preserve many of them. We left a good many. For instance, the
beautiful courthouse was torn down and destroyed. But the clock was saved,
and just a few years ago it was restored. It stands there on the square. I could
always hear it strike from the courthouse tower, and I missed it when it was gone.
Now it is back, and I can hear it strike from my house. In 1973, the house was
placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
C: Who made the nomination?
M: The committee for the National Register here in town. Dr. [Frank] Blair Reeves
[professor of architecture, University of Florida] is a member, I think Dr. [Samuel]
Proctor [distinguished service professor of history, University of Florida], was and
Dorothy. There are several who are on the committee that nominates. This
house was one of the first that was placed on the list. You mentioned that it is
the second oldest house. I have a beautiful plaque given to me by Gainesville
realtors at a luncheon. They presented me with this award that says, "The
Second Oldest House, owned by Mrs. Chris Matheson, 1867."
The one they claim is the oldest is the [Major James B.] Bailey house, and it
dates to 1850 or 1860. The houses are similar in architecture. Knowing that
Alexander Matheson bought the land and started to build in 1857, this house
could not be much older. I began to count it from the time I knew, when James
Douglas Matheson and his wife moved into it in 1867.
It was added on to, I am sure, in 18_, because in Mrs. James Douglas
Matheson's diary, she spoke of finishing work on the house, and that was later,
around 1890. I do not see the date right here now, The little room that juts out,
the little study, as I call it, is almost to the road, and it was added later, I am sure.
Maybe there were some alterations to the back. But it is quite old. People
who have done a lot and added a lot to the history of the town, the county, and
the state wanted it preserved. I believe it will be. We are making plans so that
C: The additions were made before you moved in? You and your husband did not
make any of these additions?
M: No additions, except for the bathrooms.
C: The bathrooms are inside the house; they were not added.
M: We did not change the outside. The porch steps had always been at the front.
Well, not always. When we came, there were steps at the south end of the
porch. See, the house faces west. We should speak of the little tree there. I
can almost imagine Mrs. Matheson, my husband's mother, because the house
faces west, and people used to sit on, as they would say, the veranda or the
piazza. The sun would bother them, so she planted a little tree there that now is
a huge tree with its limbs over the roof. It is breaking up my steps that Leroy
Tillman fixed. It does give shade, but I have to watch. I do not want the limbs
to fall on the house. We have to keep an aye on that. So we altered the
entrance, then, from the south steps and put them back.
The deed called for the land to go to the middle of Sweetwater Branch, and it is
400-odd odd feet down to the branch. When Gainesville was laid down as a
city, as this town, the eastern boundary was Sweetwater Branch, this branch that
comes from the duck pond and goes on to the prairie. That was the eastern
boundary. The southern boundary was in front of the old post office, which is
now the Hippodrome [State Theater]; that was the south. The west boundary
was where the Atlantic Bank is now. [There is no Atlantic Bank in Gainesville.
What bank, and where is it located? Ed.] The old Presbyterian Church was on
that street. And the northern boundary was 5th Avenue, later 8th Avenue. So
you see, it was a very small incorporated town to begin with. At that time, the
Matheson house was outside the city limits, but now I am almost right in the heart
of town. The big post office is just two blocks up there.
C: It is very interesting to me that the front of the house does not face the street.
M: That is right. You see, when it was built, it was just an open plantation, so they
placed it looking towards the city. It was just natural. There was just a pathway
between, and it was widened and widened until it became a little street. It was
known as Union Street for a long time. Even when we came back in 1946, it
was still Union Street, a very sharp route going up as far as 7th Street. Then it
went down to the old Kidstry home, which is another big old home that has been
torn down. Then it became deceiving. We went into the quadrant system.
Avenues run east and west, and the streets north and south. So now it is SE 1st
Avenue, just one block south of University Avenue.
C: Do you remember the date this street was widened, when it became a street?
M: From Union Street to 1st Avenue?
C: No, when the street was made.
M: Oh, I do not know.
C: It was before you come again?
M: Oh, it was already a street when I came here. It was Union Street then. But in
my husband's father's lifetime, it was first an alley, just a little pathway going to
town. Then it became a street. I imagine it would be before 1900. I just do
not know when it became a street. I have heard them say that the carriages
would come down University Avenue and then cut through. I wish I knew just
how it used to be. There are so many changes now, and they are going on so
fast. For a long time it must have stayed as it was.
The Matheson house and park I call it the Matheson Park because I own [the
property] on both sides of the street, but I want the house and the land on the
north side of the street to go together as a house and park is full of redbuds,
palm trees, magnolias, dogwoods, and azaleas.
C: Did you plant some of these trees?
M: I planted some. I planted the pine tree there is just one pine tree and I
planted the azaleas and dogwood. The palm trees have just come up, as have
the magnolias and ardegias. There is hardly a month of the year that I cannot
go out and find some pretty cut flowers to bring in.
C: I would like to ask you about the burning of the house. Do you know what
happened or what caused the fire?
M: That was January 21, 1985. It was very cold oh, it was down to ten degrees.
We had a floor furnace with oil heater in it, and the pipes went into the chimney.
You see, being as old as it is, it has a fireplace in every room. We have about
seven fireplaces in the house. The furnace had to have the pipes go into a
tubing, so it went into the chimney for protection. But it was so cold that even
though it was turned down to maybe sixty-five, being ten degrees, it did not stop.
It just went on and on until it got very hot. I guess maybe too hot. But I was
told when they examined it that the brick was all right, but the mortar between the
bricks was so old that it was crumbling, and a spark got through the mortar into a
piece of wood.
I was sitting here, and all of the sudden I saw just a little bit of fire. I called 911
for the fire department to tell them I had a fire, and gave I them the address.
Then I came back and called my roomer, who had been here about ten years.
He was sound asleep upstairs in his room. I called out, "Fire! Come down!"
He came down quickly, hardly dressed. I gave him a blanket and said, "I believe
you can put out the fire with this." The boy across the street came over to help.
He had seen smoke going up the chimney, because the fire was in the chimney;
it was a chimney fire. Well, they soon realized they could not put out the fire.
By that time the fire engine arrived. They took me by the arm and led me out
the back door. When we got outside, I could see the smoke and flames going
up. It was contained mostly in the chimney and the attic upstairs, so it was
upstairs that burned mostly. The firemen were wonderful. Oh, it was so cold.
I read that the fire chief called a second alarm for more fire trucks, and they
worked so hard. He said they had to destroy something to put it out. They had
to punch a hole in order to get the blaze to come out somewhere. He called it a
balloon fire or something. But I heard him say, "We lost one over on the
boulevard, but we are going to save this one." I was sitting in the boy's house
right across the street watching. I could see the blaze going up, and I cried,
"Why can't they get it out?" I just thought the whole house was gone. But they
got it out.
All my neighbors and friends in town have been so wonderful. I was
overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity. Hanes Enterprises and Captain
Clean took the furniture to their warehouses. As soon as they would let
someone go in, I asked them if they could get the portraits out, and fortunately
they were not damaged. We have a beautiful portrait of Judge Steel, Chris's
grandfather, who was one of the early pioneers of Florida. He laid out Tampa
and was made a judge of Hillsborough County. Then he went up to Cedar Key
and was postmaster and director of the revenue there. He had one daughter,
and she was Chris's mother. So we had the portrait of Judge Steel. We also
had one of Miss Christopher Matheson. My husband was named for his
grandfather, Christopher Matheson. This Christopher was Katherine Hale. So
we got out those portraits, and the portrait of Chris himself. All my wonderful
early papers and history of the house were preserved. Upstairs was burnt
badly. Downstairs the plaster was broken, and water and smoke damaged the
whole house greatly. But we were fortunate to get it restored.
C: Are all the doors and windows original?
M: The original glass is on the front doors. Do you see the entrance hall there?
The lights on both sides, the top, and the center at this end are exactly the same
as the front. Those are original. The front shingles, which are cyprus shingles,
are also original. Now, the back was burned. They had to have those shingles
cut specially up at Jasper, Florida, and they were brought in. The contractor
used pictures of the house that had been done by a class at the University. Blair
Reeves's and Susan Tate's [interior design assistant] class at the University's
architecture department had made a study of the house and had pictures of the
shingles and the pattern the shingles made. The contractors could copy that
and be certain that every original design was followed in the restoration. We
had to be very careful about that. City ordinances required that the house had
to be rewired, of course, and replastered and repainted. But none of the design
was altered at all. You are not allowed to do that when it is on the national
C: Was there an architect involved in the restoration of the house?
M: Well, Susan Tate and Blair Reeves came out to watch when they were taking the
plastering off. They were interested in what they could about the structure of the
house underneath. Even the man that had helped him from Jacksonville. It
was very interesting. In the front bedroom, underneath the plaster we found two
kinds of wallpaper that had been put on and then plastered over. The wallpaper
was interesting, and I kept samples of it that we were able to save. The back of
one kind of wallpaper was cloth or gauze that they used to make on the back of
paper. There were two different kinds: the ceiling was one kind, and the side is
another. But I did not have a real architect. My young architects were Jimmy
and Hope. They did a good job, I think. We used the insurance money that we
had. At first I just did not know how we were going to get it done. Lots of
people thought they were going to, but they thought it was going to run into big
money. They just said, "Jesus' friends sent it. They have left me. They have
The ones that first routed around, they saw I was not going to do it exactly as
they thought I was, so I just took it on as my own project. I got this young
contractor who had done several old houses, so I knew he had had experience.
Katie Morgan was very happy all through it. She has done many houses, and
she was the one who told me about Jimmy Gilden, and David Hoof painted.
When I went to Montreat, I had to get away for about a month for the summer,
and Katie Morgan, knowing the contractors because he had worked for her a lot,
said she would look after things while I was gone, so she worked with the
C: Did the city of Gainesville or is the office of historic preservation give you any
money for to build your house?
M: No, they did not help at all. They are going to. They said at first that they might
help me. The Alachua County Historical Society gave me $2,000 on the air
conditioning and central heat, which is a real fringe benefit. That is something
we are so thankful to have. We have two different set-ups. We have one
downstairs, a larger one, and one upstairs. I hope to give it to an organization to
use as a house/museum and used for whatever purpose is best. I am anxious
that it be preserved. I do not want it destroyed because it means so much. It
meant so much to my husband, to his father, and to me. I love it just the same,
and I hope to live in it as long as possible.
I am hoping to set up a foundation and get it incorporated in the catalog with
people who would control it, and then get it endowed so that when I am gone we
will have something to draw from to keep it that way, to preserve it. But just so it
is used. I want it preserved, and I want it used for whatever purposes it can
fulfill. But when that is, who knows? We have two bedrooms upstairs now
where I have students now for company. Someone could always live there.
Maybe there could be a shop to sell things. It is not big enough for the whole
archives. We would like to have the county archives. I think it would be a good
place for that, but I am not sure. Dr. Mark Barrow is helping a lot. You see, his
wife, has done so many houses. Mary Barrow has restored some beautiful
C: I was thinking it could always be used as a studio, so students can study how to
M: Now, that is a good idea. It could be used as a studio. Someone had said
maybe we could work in something with the public library and have children
come in for lessons or story telling. I believe the use of it will develop as time
goes on. But I hope they will let me live in it for a while.
C: We have visited some houses in which some rooms have been set aside for
people to live in.
M: Yes, that is what we are hoping for is to have someone living here for security.
C: That way, the house will always be active, alive. It would be terrible to let it go
after so many years. I know your husband was very active, and you still are.
M: Yes, I am still very active, even though I am eighty-four old. I am the church
visitor. After my husband died, I was president of the Florida Women, president
of the Presbyterian Women of Suwannee, and then I was the senator for the
whole state of Florida. I went to Korea and taught missionary's children for two
years, and I enjoyed that so much. When I finished my two years of teaching
there, Franklin and I came home around the world, visiting the Philippines,
Burma, Pakistan, through India and Israel, through, Rome, Athens, Denmark -
we went around the world, really. We had friends visit along the way, too, that
made it so enjoyable. Then I became president of the Church Women United,
and for three years I traveled over Florida. Not only was that local and
statewide, but national, because I served on the national board. In my church
work, I was moderator of the Presbytery; I was the second woman to do that.
My husband and his father were elders in the church, and I was the first woman
elder in my church. When I came home from Korea, I was made church visitor
in 1962, and I am still church visitor, and this is 1986. I go to all the hospitals on
every Wednesday. Some other days too, but always Wednesday. I visit the
shut-ins, a lot of the new people, people in sorrow, go to funerals, and help out.
I am also active in business. I am a member of PEO. I am an honorary
member of Delta Kappa Gamma. I am a patron of the Florida State Museum,
the Thomas Center, Friends of Music, and Friends of the Library. I am past
president and serve on the board of Gainesville Council for International
Friendship. I love people from other countries, since I visited them. I love
them, and I am a host family to several from Thailand and Korea. I try to take all
of the Koreans under my wing. I am still on the board of the Alachua County
Historical Society; I was president of that for a term. I just stay busy.
C: It sounds as though everyone in Gainesville not only knows your house, but they
know you, too.
M: Yes. I used to entertain a lot. From the early days that I have heard about,
when Chris was growing up as a little boy, his father had a big family. His father
and his Uncle Ely had bought the land. Uncle Ben, another brother, was a
doctor here in Gainesville. William helped him in the store. He was a merchant
on the square, and he had a big store. He sold everything from shoes to
groceries and all kinds of things. He also was a landowner here. I have a map
that shows different things that the Mathesons and the McMillans were into
together, primarily real estate and printing. This map was printed by Matheson
& McMillan Company. They printed a picture of the store that was on the
square, just below where Wilson's store was. Central Drugs was on that side of
C: You were telling me about your family.
M: He had two sisters, Caroline and Katherine. They called Caroline "Kate." They
taught at the East Florida Seminary. It later became a part of the University, but
it was quite a school. James Douglas Matheson was a member of the board -
chairman of the board, in fact and Caroline, his sister, taught there at East
Florida Seminary. Both Chris and his brother Steel went there. Chris
graduated from East Florida Seminary before he went to the Citadel. After he
graduated, he came back and helped in the store on summer vacation, and he
did some surveying. They needed a teacher, so he substituted over at East
When he became a lawyer, he helped to bring the University to Gainesville. I
have a card that he sent out to different people telling them why Gainesville
would be the best place for it and hoping they would vote to bring the University
here. The Buckman Act of 1905 afforded them the opportunity to bring the
University to Gainesville.
So with all that family, they used the house as a social center. I think the
Romeo and Juliet balcony was used for the musicians play from, as well as for
the chaperones for the activities of young people. It was quite a center of family
gathering. You see, with all those people staying here, when they would go
away, they would always come back to the old Matheson house.
C: Do you know why they call it the Romeo and Juliet balcony?
M: Well, in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, there is always a balcony like
that, and the lover was standing below looking at his beloved. So I just call it the
Romeo and Juliet balcony. It is a unique feature of the house, though. The
stairs go up, and then you walk over across it, and then the stairs continue up the
other way. That makes the balcony between. You also walk under it to come
into the back part of the house, so that is a very unique and attractive feature of
Another is in the dining room. There are little cupboards that are built into the
two sides of the chimney have doors that open for storage. I do not think they
are good for wine or food because it is warm. I do not know what they were
used for, but I think they are very attractive. When the little room was added on
beyond the house, she just boarded up the outside passageway that comes from
it into the dining room. My mother used to say, "Sarah, that is Love's Lane (not
Lover's Lane, but Love's Lane) because we thought at that time her two little
boys, Christopher (my husband) and Steel (his brother) might have slept in the
little room, and the door opened into the mother's room. So it was Love's Lane
that led them to her two little boys. I love that feature of the house.
C: Do the rooms of the house carry the same functions today that they always
M: I am not sure. That could have been a bedroom, as I said. I believe that there
was a kitchen outside. You know how they were built in those early days. I
would not be surprised, because they spoke of the carriage coming from
University Avenue on up into the barn and the outside building. But I have never
known it was there. I came here in 1933, and then permanently in 1945, the
kitchen and the dining room had been added to the house. When that was
done, I am not sure. The people through the years have used the others as
bedrooms. It would be two bedrooms downstairs, and then the little room that
was added may have been a bedroom. I use it as a library or study now.
Having the bathroom has paid off now. It is so nice to have a private bath for
guests. There had not been a bath upstairs before 1945, so we added that.
Just this year, I have added telephone jacks, and the boys have their telephones
up there now.
C: So you are living on the ground floor of the house.
M: Yes. My bedroom downstairs, connected with the only bath that was there in
the early days.
C: What about the furniture of the house?
M: My husband used to say that his mother left a little will saying there were three
tables that she did not want to let out of the family. One is this big one in the
hall. It is a tilt-top card tables, as they used to say. It turns around. It is
gorgeous, parch mahogany. Another one is a little sewing table with two drop
leaves that was Mrs. Matheson's, his mother's. Then there is the big mahogany
table with the black marble top that I think belonged to Judge Steel, the
grandfather, the pioneer who came to Gainesville in early 1820s up to Magnolia
about eleven miles outside of Tallahassee. He edited the paper, the sixth
newspaper in the whole state of Florida, called Magnolia Advertiser. He edited
it, he set it by hand each day, and did not miss an issue. We gave bound copies
to the P. K. Yonge Library [of Florida History at the University of Florida].
Judge Steel went to Europe on a business trip in 1826, and I think he brought
that big table that I am telling you about from that business trip. He had it sent.
It is black Italian marble, and I have seen similar items on my trips to Europe in
later years. It is large; it measures three feet by three feet square. So those
are three of the old pieces of furniture that are very special. I am sorry to say
that when Captain Clean was taking the furniture to his warehouse, the marble
top broke into many pieces. That beautiful old marble top! He also broke one
on a beautiful antique dresser. There is also a matching sideboard and table in
the guest room that are very lovely.
The portraits could not be replaced. The one by Judge Steel is very special. It
was sent by Judge [Thompson] Van Hyning, who was the curator of the museum
many years ago [1913-1946]. Before we came back from Oklahoma, he asked
if he could send it to an art gallery in Washington, DC to have it restored. It was
restored and sent back, and it was put under glass. I want you to see it. The
dog came in while the artist was painting it, so you can see the head of the dog
down at the foot, and even the dog's red tongue. A lot of European art
incorporated little angels or some little person into the background, so here is the
dog. That is a portrait by Christy. When it went to the art gallery in
Washington, they had a fit over the artist as well as the portrait itself. It was
about 1830 when it was painted.
The portrait of Mrs. Christopher Matheson, Chris' grandmother, is our prize. We
think it is a Sully, who was a French artist. I told you the story, I believe, of how
his father and mother, and grandfather Christopher Matheson and his wife
Katherine Hale were building their little log house up in Camden when they
discovered the portraits. I like to think that some of that gold went over to
Charleston when this artist was visiting there and painted Katherine Hale
Matheson, Mrs. Christopher Matheson.
Later, one of my friends said, "Sarah, I want to do something for the house. I
want to paint a picture of Christopher Matheson." So she painted that, and it is
hanging in the hallway. So those are some of the paintings that are there.
There is a beautiful old painting that my husband's Aunt Katherine had. She
taught at East Florida Seminary. Whether she painted it herself or collected
them, I am not quite sure, but she left us three paintings. Then there is a large
oval one that I wish I knew the history of, because it is just beautiful.
The sideboard in the dining room is quite an antique piece. Aunt Ola had this
piece in her house she preserved. She was William Matheson's wife. I never
knew William. Aunt Ola was still living [when ?]. We still call one of the little
houses that I own up on the street Aunt Ola's house because that was where I
came as a bride.
My husband was a bachelor when he went to Oklahoma; he had not yet married.
He had many girls, but he had not married till he went to Shawnee after being a
lawyer, mayor, and in the legislature. He was still young and handsome and
interesting. He just went off and left all of these things, and it is just a miracle
we have anything preserved after twenty-six years in Oklahoma. But dear Aunt
Ola was living right across. She was watching. Things were stored under the
stairs in barrels. I never did find Mrs. Matheson's beautiful Haveland china. It
must have gotten broken. After the cousin did not live here, there was a rental
for a year or two who they say just burned things and broke a lot. But Aunt Ola
took care of these paintings. They were locked down her stairs for a while; she
had taken them over to her house. I have been around the world twice, and I
have collected a good many things. I still have wedding presents that were
given to us. I have my mother's clock that was a wedding present from my
mother and father when we were married. This is a really old chair.
C: It is beautiful.
M: Yes, it is, the swan. It belonged to a dear friend of my husband's in Oklahoma.
This is Kid Warren's father, and he sat in it until he died. She wanted to give it to
my husband, and then my husband sat in it till he died. Now I am using it. It is
a very comfortable chair. We have a little coffee table in the living room that has
swans like this on it, so I ought to have the coffee table to match it. This is
another one of the Matheson cut-leaf tables. The dining room table is an old
piece. I have the old parlor set. In the living room we have the mounted rocker,
the love seat, the four straight chairs, and the occasional chair that used to have
the horse hair on. You are too young to remember, but they were upholstered
with horsehair, and when you sat on them, they would scratch you. Your legs
would be scratched. I made needlepoint for four of them in the living room.
C: Are the carpets original?
M: Oh, the rugs are not antique. This one in the dining room is, I guess. We got it
when we were married in 1933, so it is about to wear out. But that one and
these were brought in 1945 when we moved here. My guest room furniture
came from North Carolina; it was in my mother's room. It is very old, too. The
one in the living room was Carousel. I bought it twenty-five years ago, so it is
older than my other one. I have one in the study that I bought up in Kathmandu,
Nepal. Oh, I wish I had gotten several, but they were too expensive. Each of
my three sisters bought one, so we have three just the same. I have one here,
and there is one in Charleston and Lumberton, North Carolina. I bought several
oriental rugs, too.
C: That look like they had come with the house.
M: Yes, I think they go with the house.
C: They are very beautiful.
M: I have added some Korean things. On the back porch I have a school desk that
was in the old school in Rochelle. The savings and loan gave them these gifts
for a deposit or something, and I was glad to get the desk. I have a little slate
and a blue-back speller, a kind of reader. The blue-back speller has my name,
Sarah Hamilton. I think that was about 1913, so it is quite old.
This was stuck in my summer home in Montreat, North Carolina, near Asheville,
where I go during the summer. My father and mother bought it in 1919, and we
kind of grew up there over the summers. I was just a teenager, and we would
go up and play in the girls' club and breathe in good old mountain ozone. We
felt it helped us get through the winter without getting the flu, so I still go. When
my father and mother died, they left it to the children, but I am the only one who
can go and stay three months. I am a church visitor for nine months, and I have
three months off June, July, and August. I usually go to Montreat when I am
not traveling, when I am not going to China, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, or
wherever. I go to Montreat, and my family meets there, so we have a family
reunion. The house really belongs to the four of us.
C: Are there any other Mathesons in Gainesville?
M: No. There are so few Mathesons. There was a Matheson in Miami who was a
distant cousin. He did a lot of development. I think he was a rather wealthy
person. I did not know him, but Chris did. Then there was Kenneth Matheson
who was a cousin. He was president of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. When we
were married, we had two cousins, John Matheson from Union, South Carolina
and Gordon Matheson out of some springs in eastern Carolina, perform the
wedding ceremony for Christopher Matheson. So he had cousins.
His brother Steel was accidentally shot on a hunting trip when he was just
sixteen years old, so that stopped that line. And his two little sisters died when
they were just two and three years old, so Chris was the whole family. He did
not marry until late, and we did not have any children. That is the sad thing
Even so, I have had such a wonderful life. It has been a happy life filled with
many wonderful experiences. There have been hardships, too, but my Christian
faith has helped me over those. I enjoy my family. We have ten or twelve
nephews and nieces and now some great-nieces, so they are my family.
I adopted two Korean boys and helped them through school, so they still call me
Mother Matheson. One is a minister now in Korea. I went to his church and
heard him in 1984 I was over in Korea. He had a table and a car, and he took
us to dinner. The other one is Kim, who is teaching in a wonderful boys school
there. I saw his mother and sister and another brother who is a doctor. When I
was last in Korea in 1984, I was entertained by four Ph.D.s from the University of
Florida. They had graduated and were in very wonderful positions there. One
is a postmaster general; he is really chairman of the Ministry of Communication,
and he had me over. He sent his car to pick me up. When I went was visiting
with him, we were having tea when a photographer came in and began to take
our pictures. When I left, his secretary called the hotel and said that he wanted
to see you again, and she brought me a beautiful album filled with those pictures
that the man had taken of the two of us. Another Ph.D. is teaching statistics at
Yonsei University. He met us in a car and drove us around. It was so nice.
We had dinner in his apartment. Another one is an admiral at the naval base in
Chinhae, [South Korea]. He has built a lot of complex apartments. He lives in
one and has one for his guests. We were entertained there.
Oh, it just does you good to see people who have been in Gainesville that have
gone back to their country and are doing so well. But they had all been
entertained here in this house. Two of them, the postmaster general and his
wife, had a room here for a few months. He had not quite finished his Ph.D., but
he had to get out of the dormitory at the University. They had a little
eight-month-old daughter named Alice. She has helped me to identify the
correct Kim. There are so many Kims, but all I have to ask is, "Do you a
daughter named Alice?" and then I know which Kim it is.
C: I think I have taken enough of your time already.
M: Well, I have enjoyed talking to you, Marta.
C: Oh, I have enjoyed it, too. I have learned a lot about the history of this house
and of Gainesville. I thank you very much for your time.
M: Thank you. I have enjoyed talking to you. I wish you well in all your continued
C: Oh, I wish you good luck on preserving the house.
M: Thank you so much.
[End of the interview]