MATHESON HISTORICAL CENTER
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Benjamin Otis Franklin
Thomas H. Fay
Ruth C. Marston
May 19, 1997
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 2
May 19, 1997
Q: My name is Thomas H. Fay, and I am going to be interviewing Ben Franklin, on Monday,
the 19t of May, 1997, for the Matheson Historical Center Oral History Program. Would you
tell me your full name and your date of birth.
A: My full name is Benjamin Otis Franklin, Jr.. Date of birth is March 18, 1911.
Q: Where was that?
A: That was in Micanopy.
Q: What about Micanopy makes it so special? It's very special to me because my great-
grandfather lived there, but what is so special about Micanopy other than your having been
A: Well, I guess historically Micanopy was founded supposedly about 1821, and it's been a
community of about 700 people, seems like forever.
Q: It stays about that?
A: It stays pretty much at 700. Micanopy was named after Chief Micanopy and supposedly was
an Indian trading post. However, I never saw an Indian during my growing up period.
Q: I don't think I ever saw one there either. A lot of Indian names on the street signs, but that's
A: That's right. Tuscawilla and quite a few others.
Q: Well, tell me something about your own family background.
A: Well, my mother and father came from Georgia to Micanopy around the turn of the century
or shortly thereafter. My father was in saw milling in Georgia and came to Micanopy and
joined a company that was in the saw mill business. Later on, about 1916, he started his own
saw mill. At that time, because the citrus had been frozen in the freeze of 1895, people were
growing vegetables, such as cabbage and lettuce and beans. They found it difficult to get
containers to put the vegetables in and prevailed on my father to tool up at the mill and make
hampers, which is a cone-shaped package about 20 inches high and 9 inches at the bottom
and I think 15 inches at the top.
Q: Was there a specific reason for that? I noted that but never knew why.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 3
May 19, 1997
A: It would nest pretty well. You could put one hamper inside of the other while they were
empty, and then we made tops to go over the top and it held it in place with wires across the
top of the hamper.
Q: That's a little piece of history I didn't know. I would not have guessed that being able to
nest and store them while they were empty would have been a reason for designing a
particular hamper like that. Orange crates can't do that.
Q: So they must create a big storage problem while they are waiting to fill them with oranges.
A: Well, no. The wire-bound crates for vegetables and citrus were made in a blank and then
you fold them up and wire them together.
Q: So they were stored flat.
A: Right. You could store a lot of them in a smaller space.
Q: But you couldn't do that with a hamper.
A: Well, you could nest the hampers and store them. You stored the tops separately.
Q: And then you didn't have to put them together in order to use them. It was already there,
already ready. Well, that's an interesting little sideline there. So it was the fate of the
orange crops and the proliferation of vegetables, and so forth, that really got you going. Is
A: Well, that got my father going and they made them -- today it seems like a crude way -- they
made them by hand. Later -- I don't remember what year -- they bought hamper machines,
which was a big improvement over making them by hand. We made hampers there for many
years, up until about 1950, when we lost so much of our business to wire-bound crates that
we moved into wire-bound crates. Now the plant makes nothing but wire-bound crates,
mostly for vegetables. Very few citrus crates any more. Paper cartons have taken over the
citrus business because they are considerably cheaper than wire-bound crates. And we make
a few crates for fish.
Q: Where is that market?
A: Well, that market, of course, is on the coast. We usually make up fish crates in the
summertime and keep them all the time because they don't buy them in real large quantities.
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May 19, 1997
Q: Let's see, your father was the founder of -- what was the name of the corporation or
A: Well, the name of it now is Franklin Crates, Inc.
Q: Did it start out with that name?
A: It started out Franklin Lumber Company and then when we started making hampers, we
called it Franklin Lumber and Basket Company. Later, after we quit making hampers, we
changed the name to Franklin Crates, Inc., so it would be shorter.
Q: And that's what it is today?
A: That's what it is today.
Q: Did your father have brothers and sisters that came down at the same time, or did he just
come down by himself?
A: No, he and my mother came down. They had one or two children when they came and then
later on, the rest of us were bor. We were three girls and two boys.
A: Total. The three girls were older, then I came along, and then my brother George was seven
years younger than I.
Q: What were all of their names?
A: My oldest sister was Winifred. The second girl was Louise, and the third girl was Ruth.
And then I came along, and then my brother George.
Q: So three girls and two boys. I guess we didn't really get your father's and mother's full
names, too, and where they were born.
A: My father, of course, was Benjamin Otis Franklin, and he was born in Georgia -- I don't
know exactly what town. My mother's name was Beulah Lane, and she was born in Dooley
County, Georgia, right close to Vienna, Georgia.
Q: What were their birthdates?
A: My mother's birthdate was February 15, 1879. She died June 8, 1960. My father's birthdate
was July 16, 1873, and he died December 12, 1937.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin
May 19, 1997
Q: Okay. So they came down to Micanopy. What do you suppose brought them to Micanopy?
A: Well, that's a good question. I'd like to know that myself -- other than the fact that Florida
looked better for timber at that time. My father was in saw mills all over Georgia and then
had an opportunity to come down here with, I think, Mr. Melton, which is an old family here
in this area.
Q: Did the Meltons come about the same time?
A: No, they were here.
Q: So he got to know them somehow.
A: Right, and he came down and worked for them and then he built his own sawmill.
Q: The railroads had already proliferated around here, hadn't they, by that time?
A: We had the railroad. I don't know what year it came to Micanopy, but it was there and came
from the main line, which was three miles out of Micanopy. They had their own locomotive
in Micanopy, the baggage car and a passenger car, and it went out to meet the mainline train
twice a day, had its own conductor, fireman, engineer.
Q: Was that passenger car the one that Mr. Whiting designed and built? I know that he did
build one car for a train.
A: Now you're talking about something I don't know anything about.
Q: Mr. Whiting is Carmen Smyth's father.
A: Well, Mr. Whiting came later I think. He didn't build the car for the railroad.
Q: For that particular railroad.
There is a picture of that car in the Micanopy Historical
Museum. It is named for one of his daughters out there. It was one of these that was like a
street car and could go in either direction and just held passengers. It may have had a little
space for goods.
A: Well, that might have been a hobby of his but I don't think it was ever on the railroad.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 6
May 19, 1997
A: Maybe it was. I just remember seeing the train whenever it was there, but I never saw
anything like that.
Q: So the main line went from Gainesville down to Ocala, out east of Micanopy.
A: The train came through Gainesville to Rochelle and then what they called Micanopy
Junction, and then on down to McIntosh, Ocala, and on south.
Q: And then the spur that came off into Micanopy came from that line?
A: That's right.
Q: How did that affect the Franklin Crate operation?
A: It didn't affect it. In the beginning we sold most of what we made around Micanopy and
closer areas, and as a matter of fact, I remember the farmers coming in with wagons to get
hampers. Now this goes way back, and it was later on considerably before we used to ship
by rail cars -- ship hampers to places like Sanford and Bartow and later to Lake Okeechobee
and then to the Pompano area, then down to Homestead area, and most that was shipped long
distances was shipped by rail. We had no railroad in Micanopy after 1977.
Q: So it was all by truck then?
A: The Atlantic Coastline took it up. I have a good story about that, too. Years ago when we
used to ship a lot by rail, the Atlantic Coastline decided they were going to take it up, and a
good friend of mine who worked for the railroad company told me -- he said, "I can tell you
how to keep that railroad." Of course, this was all in confidence. He said, "You go down
there and see all your customers and get them to write to Atlantic Coastline Railroad and tell
them if they take that railroad out so they can't get hampers down there that they won't ship
any more fruit or vegetables over the railroad rails." I did that and it wasn't a week before I
heard from the Vice-President Daws, of Wilmington, North Carolina, wanting to have a
conference. We had a conference and we kept the railroad.
Q: When was that?
A: That was about during World War II.
Q: Oh, as early as that they wanted to take the railroad. Was that the entire line or just the
A: Just the branch line.
Q: The branch line from Rochelle?
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May 19, 1997
A: It was only three miles, the one that served us.
Q: Oh I see, the one from Micanopy Junction.
A: The main line to Micanopy.
Q: So when was that finally taken up or discontinued?
A: Oh, it's been gone, I guess, twenty years. Time goes by so fast.
Q: Did the Depression affect the crate business?
A: I guess it did somewhat. I never remember being in a deep depression, but we had some.
When I got out of the University of Florida, we had a depression. That's when Roosevelt
Q: What year did you graduate?
Q: Yes, Roosevelt came in and began to allay fears -- or the history books say he did -- and
things began to perk up. But you didn't really notice any particular reduction in business
due to that?
A: Well, of course, back in the 20's things were always tight. Of course, they had the boom in
Florida in 1924 and 1925, and people came to Florida. Real estate people brought people to
Florida, and then of course the boom slowed in 1925, but that didn't necessarily affect the
Q: Can you think of any effects of the boom on Micanopy?
A: Which one?
Q: The 1924-25.
A: No. The real estate boom was more in South Florida.
Q: For instance, we had the Kelley Hotel in Gainesville, which stood for so long as an
unfinished hulk. That was the boom and bust that Gainesville had and it is now the Seagle
Building, of course. There wasn't any such thing in Micanopy as I remember. No relic, no
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 8
May 19, 1997
A: The boom was not a big boom so much for North Central Florida. It might have started from
Ocala and gone south. The big boom was in Miami and Palm Beach. That's when Mr.
Flagler years ago built the railroad on down to Miami and later on down to Key West.
Q: So Florida was really essentially dependent upon the railroad for its development?
A: Well, the railroads helped a lot. I guess that's why Mr. Flagler built the railroad down there,
to be transportation. All this country up here didn't have any paved roads back in the teens
and the 20's and a lot of the 30's, so from Micanopy to Gainesville there was no road across
the Prairie. That was opened about 1925 or 26, but the way you'd get to Gainesville from
Micanopy, you came around the west side of the Prairie on a dirt road or around the east side
of the Prairie to Gainesville.
Q: Was that through Rochelle?
A: That was through Rochelle. You'd go the way that you thought you wouldn't get stuck!
Q: Was that the Wacahoota Road, the one around the west side?
Q: Do you remember when that was paved? See, that went through Tacoma, did it not?
A: Yes. There used to be a railroad spur from Micanopy up to Tacoma. They grew vegetables,
and they'd go out and pick up vegetables.
Q: Could you tell me the route of that rail spur? Where did it start and where did it end?
A: It started at Micanopy, which was a branch from the main line, and it came up toward
Tacoma -- if you know where Tacoma is. I doubt if I could find it now.
Q: I know it's somewhere along the Wacahoota Road, in that area, north of Levy Lake, between
Levy Lake and George's Pond, I believe. I read something that the spur line for the
vegetables went north of Wauberg Lake and west of George's Pond and that the T&J from
Gainesville -- the Tampa & Jacksonville -- came down around the Prairie from the west and
crossed over by trestle over George's Pond, and there's a drawing or sketch of that particular
train going across that trestle, in Caroline Watkins' book, "The History of Micanopy". I've
often wondered where in the world that was. There's certainly no evidence of it out there
now that I can see from Highway 441. I've been curious to know how it got from Micanopy
to north of Lake Wauberg because it would have had to go through what is now part of the
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 9
May 19, 1997
Prairie range there, a state park. That would seem to me that it would be pretty marshy
A: Well, you're talking about the T&J.
Q: No, I'm talking about the spur to Tacoma. The T&J I know came in from the west.
A: It came in from the west and came into Micanopy and on down to Irvine, down close to
McIntosh and Irvine.
Q: Is that where it stopped, or did it go on into town?
A: Well, it went a little further, I think that one station was Southside and then Irvine and then
maybe a little further than that, where there used to be a mine, Kaolin Mine, down there.
Q: So it never actually got to Tampa?
A: Not that I know of.
Q: So it was the T&J, the Tampa & Jacksonville, with several points in between.
A: The T&J, I guess they called it Tampa & Jacksonville, but it was also called Tug & Junk.
Q: They later changed the name of that to the Jacksonville, Gainesville & Gulf, as I recall. That
puzzled me as a child because I lived between the tracks in Gainesville, between the Main
Street tracks and the 5t Street T&J tracks, and we always referred to that railroad as the T&J
Line, but when I'd go down and look at the engine, it said JG&G on it, and I said, "No, wait
a minute, what's going on here?" Well, anyhow, the rail was important but it didn't make a
boom town out of Micanopy. Micanopy just has stayed stable all along, so it does not
depend on all of the pressures of the outside world, it seems.
A: Well, the old story as I was growing up, I used to hear, well, they didn't want the main line
railroad to come to Micanopy. It disturbed the peace.
Q: And that it would have. Look at what it did to Gainesville.
A: It came to Gainesville. Gainesville was progressive, I guess.
Q: Now, let's get back to you and your family, you and your sisters and your brother. Tell me
something about your early childhood days. What was life like? What did you do for fun
and what did you do for chores and things like that?
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May 19, 1997
A: Well, what do you think a kid would do? We played baseball and had basketball and a place
to shoot for baskets, and gosh, in school I couldn't wait to get out and run to school and get
the basketball and start throwing baskets. We fellows were playing baseball. If there
weren't but three or four of us, we'd play One Eyed Kitty.
Q: What's that?
A: That's where one fellow stands out there and throws the ball and you bat, and the one who
bats has to run to the base and back. If you didn't get the ball in time before he got back, he
scored a run. If you tagged him before he got back to home plate, he was out.
Q: So that was at the brick schoolhouse in Micanopy?
A: The old brick schoolhouse or any other place we wanted to play.
Q: Now the Municipal Building.
A: It's now the Town Hall, I guess.
Q: Was there a high school there, too?
A: The high school was all in one building. You had twelve grades and would graduate there
from high school -- twelve grades -- and when I was in school, when I got to the tenth grade,
thinking I might want to go to the University, I changed and came to Gainesville High
School. I thought that would help me to prepare for going to the University, so I went two
years of high school in Gainesville and then I went to the University.
Q: What year did you graduate from high school?
A: About 1928.
Q: So that would have been the year you entered into the University of Florida?
A: I entered the University early in the fall of 1929, so I graduated in 1929.
Q: What did you study there?
A: I started off taking Pre-med. My mother and father wanted me to be a doctor. Well, that
really wasn't my liking. After two years, and then I stayed out a semester from the
University, and came back and my parents agreed that I could take Business Administration.
Then I got right on through that. I didn't have the foundation to really take medicine and be
a doctor. I didn't want to be a doctor anyway. I prevailed on Ma Grimes out at the old
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin
May 19, 1997
infirmary at the University when I had 102 fever from tonsillitis, to let me see Dr. Tillman
perform an appendectomy. She agreed that I could watch it and let me walk to the door. I
walked to the door and when they made the incision on this boy, I got so weak I hardly made
it back to the bed.
Q: And there your decision was etched in time -- no medical career for you.
Administration appealed to you?
A: Yes, I liked business and had no problem.
Q: Who were some of your professors at the University?
A: Well, Dean Matherly was Dean of Business Administration. I had him and Mr. Bigham and
Dick Anderson -- you've heard of him.
Q: Oh yes.
A: And Dr. Simpson in math and gosh, I wish I could recall his name. There was a Mr. Jackson
in chemistry, and in accounting I think I had a professor named Nunez.
Q: Some of those are familiarto me; others are not. Dr. Simpson is very familiarto me because
I also took a course in mathematics from him.
A: And then Philip Constans.
Q: Oh my, yes.
A: He taught speech. I had one course in speech, but it didn't make me an orator.
Q: Well, I had one course in speech and it dragged me into the field. He and Lester Haile were
my role models, and this is what got me into my field of Speech Pathology and Audiology.
They were remarkable people.
Q: It was a wonderful thing to go to that University, as I recall it, and I'm sure that when it was
even smaller when you were there, it was a very close knit kind of place.
A: I don't know exactly how many students there were. I think there were somewhere between
1500 and 1800. It had military ROTC. We had wrap leggings you had to wrap around your
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 12
May 19, 1997
Q: Who was in charge of the ROTC out there? Do you remember that?
A: I remember what he looked like, but I don't remember his name.
Q: Was General Van Fleet around then?
A: Van Fleet was here for a good while. As a matter of fact, he coached the football team one
Q: I told you that my father's half sister married James Adger Forsythe. He was the first coach
of the Gators. Didn't I tell you that?
A: What was his name?
Q: James Adger Forsythe was his name. Jim. He was my Uncle Jim to me. He had a
nickname. They called him Jack or something like that. I never heard him called Jack, but
some of the history books refer to him as Jack and they called the football team Jack's Boys
or something like that. That was before they were called the Gators, but it was the same
thing. He got angry at them and quit and went to Jacksonville and they lured him back
again, so he was the Grover Cleveland of the coaches. He was the first and the third coach.
Someone else came in between. He played on the team himself. I wonder if General Van
Fleet played on the team from time to time himself or had it gotten so sophisticated by that
time that he was just the coach. Did you play football?
A: We had a Bachman here. Bachman did pretty well in 1928 and 1929.
Q: What was his first name? Do you remember? I don't remember it at all.
A: His name was Charlie. I have it in the old yearbooks of Seminoles, we call them. I don't
know what it would be if we had the Seminoles. We had it back then, but then FSU had
called themselves the Seminoles.
Q: I suppose that's why they quit calling it that, but it was still the Seminole when I was there. I
was graduated from the University in 1949. It was still the Seminole then.
A: The first football game I ever saw of Florida, I came from Micanopy up to Gainesville -- in
1924 -- and Florida played Drake. That was the first football game I ever saw and they beat
Drake ten to nothing.
Q: Was that out on one of the flat fields out west of campus?
A: Yes, there wasn't much field there really -- a field and some removable stands, as I
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 13
May 19, 1997
Q: My earliest recollections are that the stadium had already been dug. I don't know when it
happened, but my earliest recollections of going out there to watch a football game was in
the location where the present stadium is.
A: I think they got into the new stadium about 1932 or 1933.
Q: That would have been about right for me, too.
A: They played Alabama in the first game, and Alabama beat us up pretty bad.
Q: When did football come to Micanopy, or did it?
A: It never did. We had a little basketball team. We didn't have much place to play, but a
couple of the fellows and I went around and got some money -- about $25, as I recall -- and
got a little Interlachen clay and put it down on our court and smoothed it out and packed it
down and that was our basketball court.
Q: Was that just south of the schoolhouse?
A: Just south of the school.
Q: That's where the firehouse is now?
A: Close to it.
Q: There's still a basketball court there.
A: I think we were a little closer to the schoolhouse. I have a picture of the Micanopy
Q: What year would that have been?
A: About 1926.
Q: Well, that was the year I was born.
A: That was it -- a good year, wasn't it?
Q: A very good year for me.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin
May 19, 1997
A: Yessiree. We had a lot of fun. I wouldn't take anything for my experiences over the years,
and being in Micanopy.
Q: As you showed me at one time when we were riding around, you drove me past the house
you were born in, tell me where that was again.
A: Well, I don't know the name of the street but -- of course, they have them all named now --
we didn't have any of them named.
Q: It was north of the one that's the prominent Seminary Street, wasn't it?
A: Seminary -- is that the one that goes down, the paved street that goes down through town
east and west?
Q: East and west, yes. Cholokka is the one that goes north and south.
A: Yes, it would be north of it about a block.
Q: Yes, that was the point if memory served me, but you were born in that house. How long did
you stay there in that house?
A: Probably six or seven years.
Q: Did your family build that house?
A: Gosh, not that I know of.
Q: From there you moved to where?
A: Moved to the house in town, which was the old Fontaine House. It was built in 1911. The
Fontaines had a house there and it burned. They rebuilt it in 1911. Then my father bought
it, and we moved in there in about I guess 1916 or 1917.
Q: That's right in the downtown area on Cholokka Blvd
A: That house downtown is the house that was used for the hospital of the movie "Doc
Q: Oh yes, I remember that. They made some internal changes, did they, for the picture?
A: No. It looked just as it did when I lived there.
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May 19, 1997
Q: I saw that picture in New York City. There was, across the street from that house, a little
gazebo or something like that. Is that in honor of a member of your family?
A: My mother.
Q: How did that come about?
A: Well, I don't know. We had a little Fontaine building we owned, and she might have given
that to the town, and then my mother was pretty attentive to the Methodist Church there and
all the people in Micanopy. She was really a real dear person.
Q: And her name was Beulah Lane Franklin. When did she die?
Q: When did your father die?
Q: So she was a widow for quite a while.
Q: Did she remain in the house on Cholokka Blvd.?
A: Yes. That's where she died.
Q: When did you leave the house to go out on your own?
A: You mean the home down there?
Q: Is that when you went to Gainesville to go to high school?
A: When I came up here to high school, I had a ride up every day to come to high school with
Elbert Zetrouer, an old family down there. They lived about three miles out of Micanopy.
Then I stayed in Gainesville when I was going to the University.
Q: Did you live in the dormitories at the University.
A: I lived in the dormitories. I lived with my sister for a while at first, lived in the dormitories,
in the fraternity house, and I lived in a rooming house where it would be a little quieter for
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 16
May 19, 1997
Q: What was your fraternity?
A: Sigma Nu.
Q: Where was that located at that time?
A: It was right down, well, when you turn to go to the stadium off University Avenue, it was on
Q: When you decided to move to Gainesville, had you already met Gracie?
A: I was living in Micanopy with my mother and I had been to Europe the summer of 1937 --
Paul Selle and myself-- and then in December my father died -- December 12 -- and I was
busy with the business all winter, and I wasn't thinking about dates or girls or anything else
except moving along with the business. Then in April, I stopped by just to say hello to Paul
and he asked me to go to the Junior Chamber of Commerce dance with him. I declined and
told him I hadn't had a date since we were together last summer. He said, "I'll get you a
date." Paul and Mary Parker McCraw and I went by and picked up Grace Newins. That was
my first view of Gracie, and so we had dates before she and her family went to their lake
place in New Jersey. I went up to New York and New Jersey that summer, and we decided
we would get married.
Q: Is that why you went up to New York and New Jersey?
A: Well, I had two or three reasons to go up there, but she was a better salesperson than the
Q: So when did you decide to get married?
A: We decided that summer when I went up there, and we were married on her 22nd birthday,
October 27, 1938.
Q: Were you married in New Jersey or in Gainesville?
A: We were married in the old Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.
Q: Ah yes, and who performed the ceremony?
A: Preacher Gordon.
Q: Was he assisted by anybody?
A: Well no, I don't think he needed any assistance.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin
May 19, 1997
Q: No, he could do it all by himself. Do you remember who played the organ?
A: It was Claude Murphree or Miss Merchant.
Q: Margaret Merchant. She was my piano teacher, and Claude Murphree was my organ
teacher. So that was in the wonderful old Presbyterian Church here. And the year again
Q: By that time, I don't know whether I had really begun to tinker with the organ or not.
Eventually I was the one that kept it going every Saturday. I'd go in and fix it so Margaret
could play the next day, so it wouldn't fall apart. That was a wonderful time. So you were
married in 1938, and did you move to Gainesville at that point?
A: Yes. My sister had rented a house up here, and she was living down with my mother, and we
used the house that she rented for a while and we were paying $50 a month rent. After about
three months I told Gracie, "I can't pay $50 a month rent. I'm going to buy us a lot and I'm
going to build us a home." So I bought a lot from Mrs. Ruth Broome out on Broome Street,
which is now N.W. 7th Lane, and I paid her $400 for the lot. That was way out then. I built
us a nice home and I was about two or three years paying it off. I said, "I can get the money
and build a house," and that didn't bother me.
Q: But paying rent did.
A: Paying $50 a month for something I wasn't going to get anything back wasn't too good
Q: Sounds like the Dean of the business school had done a good job on you.
A: Well, it was pretty good. I enjoyed going to school. A lot different from what it is now.
Q: Now, Gracie's father was a professor at the University, was he not?
A: Gracie's father came to Gainesville and that's why we met. He came here in 1935 to start
the School of Forestry.
Q: And his full name was?
A: Harold Newins.
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May 19, 1997
Q: A name well known to me, growing up.
A: The building over there -- Newins Ziegler Building -- He brought Dr. Ziegler in to help him
with the School of Forestry. He was an economist in forestry.
Q: Well now, that's an interesting tie-in to your interest in forestry and land holdings. You have
sizable tracts of land here. Did your acquaintanceship and your relationship with Dr. Newins
have anything to do with your interest in acquiring that land, or were there other purposes for
A: No, my father had 400 acres. You know where it is.
Q: Where is that, for the record?
A: Well, it's east and north of Micanopy but right close to Micanopy. The total land adjoins
Q: On the north and the east?
A: Mostly the north. Just a little on the east.
Q: It begins just as soon as you go north on the Rochelle road, does it not?
A: It starts at the town limits.
Q: There is a fence line there.
A: Like you're going to Rochelle.
Q: And then right on out that road there, where Willie Geiger now lives.
A: I sold Willie that piece of property so he could have a home there. It's a little over two acres
Q: Did you sell him the open field that is just south of it?
Q: That's still yours?
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 19
May 19, 1997
Q. That was the site of the Geiger Plantation and Dr. Washington Whitfield Geiger was my
great-great-grandfather, and you were kind enough to take me out there and let me walk on
the ground that they lived on. That meant a very great deal to me, and I'll never be able to
thank you enough for that.
A: You must be related to Willie Geiger.
Q: I have to be. We have to be distant cousins or something. It just can't be any other way.
A: Well, he's a real fine person. He's been a good person to be associated with us in the
Q: What is his role in the business?
A: He manages the plant. He works very closely and is very friendly and very companionlike
with my son, Ben.
Q: Ben runs the company now, is that right?
A: Ben runs the company now. The company belongs to Ben and his two sisters. I divested
myself of any of the land and the plant.
Q: Well, I guess I've jumped the gun a little bit here because we got you married to your
gorgeous Gracie and you moved to Gainesville and built a new house. Tell me about your
A: Well, we have three children, two girls and a boy.
Q: And their names?
A: The oldest is Molly Gay Franklin. She went to Vanderbilt, married, and she worked some in
Dallas and then in Atlanta, and married a gentleman from Selma, Alabama -- Harry Gamble,
who is a lawyer and a fine one. Barbara is my second child. She came five years later. She
lives in Atlanta. She lost her husband some two or three years ago from a massive stroke
and he ran the Robinson Humphrey Company, which is an outstanding regional firm in the
southeast -- brokerage firm. My son, Ben, came five years after that. I tell people that they
came every five years so we wouldn't have to have more than one in college at the same
time. It didn't really work that way.
Q: So they grew up here in Micanopy -- I'm sorry, in Gainesville?
A: Yes, in Gainesville. J.J. Finley School.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 20
May 19, 1997
Q: That was your neighborhood school, I guess.
A: They could walk to school.
Q: Who were some of your neighbors here in Gainesville?
A: Dr. Merchant -- Harry Merchant, Jamie Jamieson and his wife Ellen were good friends of
ours. Mr. Hadley, who was a road builder.
Q: And his wife, Sally Hadley?
A: No, Mr. Hadley had a son named Bill that married Sally Donnovin, I believe.
Q: Yes, that's right. Sally Donnovin.
A: Jack Hadley's daddy. And the Congletons lived over on the east side of us, and Everett Yon
lived down the street from us. Gosh, I don't know how many more. George Baughman
lived in back of us.
Q: How far were you from Judge Hampton's house?
A: Judge Hampton?
Q: Wade Hampton.
A: It was a good ways from Hampton.
Q: He's just off of 22nd Street.
A: Well, there was a Taylor that lived -- I forget her name -- down there on
don't recall the Hamptons. I know Wade Hampton very well.
22nd Street, but I
Q: I was just trying to think -- I know where Sally Hadley lives now. She's on 22nd Street, and
about halfway between Sally and the President's house -- the President of the University of
Florida -- is where Judge and Dot Hampton lived.
A: You're talking about Wade Hampton?
A: Well, I know about where he lives. He's been there for a long time.
Wade and Dot
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 21
May 19, 1997
Q: That's right. That was one of the newer neighborhoods at the time it was built out there and
now it's ready for historic designation at this point because the homes have been there for a
long time, and beautiful homes. It's a lovely area. It's sort of now getting encircled by the
University and invaded by the University students. I understand that some of the people who
live there now are having a little trouble like I have living in downtown Gainesville with the
noise all night long.
A: That's too bad.
Q: It really is, but if you go from 1500 or 1800 students to 45 and 48,000 and possibly 50,000,
it's going to be noisy, I guess. Well. So the youngsters have taken over the operation of the
company now. When did you turn that over to Ben, Jr.?
A: Completely in 1992.
Q: When did he start with the company?
A: Oh gosh, he's 45 years old. It must have been eighteen years ago.
Q: Did he go into the business right straight from college?
A: Yes, he went to preparatory school in Chattanooga. He got a business degree at the
University of Florida. He got a law degree at the University of Miami. He passed the
Florida Bar. He went to Boston and got a Master's in Tax Law, and as I tell my friends, that
qualifies him to run a crate mill.
Q: I think I understand what you're talking about.
A: He went around and talked to three or four law firms the summer he got through and he
called me in September and said, "Daddy, what I'd really like to do is be in business with
you." So I told him I'd be home in a little while and we'd talk about it. We did and he went
to work just doing anything and everything and he's doing great.
Q: Was that his first task, or was his first task to sweep up a little bit or to make a crate?
A: Well, he worked out in the mill and got to know everybody and to see what was going on
and how it went and all of that, and would do anything that needed to be done. After he was
there about five years or a little better, I called him in and I got up out of my chair at the desk
and there was a rocking chair there in the office and I went over and sat in the rocking chair
and I said, "Now this rocking chair is mine. That's your desk and that's your chair." Some
of the things I left in it are still there.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 22
May 19, 1997
Q: Well, that says a lot about how he feels about you.
A: Well, I don't know, but if I could get along any better with a son, I don't know how it would
Q: I think that -- I just had a tingle run up my spine when I heard you say that. I don't think a
father could say a finer thing about a son. That's a wonderful, wonderful relationship.
A: Well, he's a terrific boy. I say boy. He's 45 years old now.
Q: Well, he'll be a boy to you.
A: He's a good fellow. Having a law degree doesn't hurt anybody. I think it hurt some people
but not him.
Q: Helped in the crate business anyway.
A: As I've told some of my friends, the difference between Ben and myself is that any question
he sees two sides to, but I always see one side and that's my side.
Q: Tell me, were you involved in any community activities, say in helping to run the town of
Micanopy or Gainesville or anything like that, or did that simply not appeal to you?
A: Well, there were two things when I was a real young fellow that I said I'd never get into, and
one of them was politics and the other was banking. Well, I've stayed out of politics. I did
get interested in banking and we started a bank here in Gainesville in 1947. There were
about fifteen or sixteen men here in town that started the bank, and out of those fifteen or
sixteen, they're all gone but me. I'm glad to still be around.
Q: What is the name of that institution?
A: It started off as the Citizens Bank of Gainesville, and then some few years later, we joined
the First National Bank of Orlando, which turned into the Sun Bank of Florida, where I
served on the board until I got seventy years old, which was retirement age.
Q: This is mandatory?
A: Mandatory. Then it joined the Trust Company of Georgia and now it's known as the
SunTrust Bank. I still serve on an advisory board of Sun Trust Bank, North Central Florida.
Q: Who were some of the other persons that you founded that with?
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 23
May 19, 1997
A: Some of the other persons? Dr. W.C. Thomas, Walter Matherly, Fred Cone, John Stebbins,
Billy Watson, Clarence Thomas, Oscar Thomas -- quite a few more.
Q: That's quite an array. Those are absolutely starring names. Those are historic names, just
A: They were good names.
Q: Absolutely. Those are historic names.
A: It was a good bank and particularly I think we improved it, and we did it so we would have
continuity in management to join the Orlando bank and then, of course, the Sun Banks of
Florida and then SunTrust. A good marriage when the Sun Banks of Floridajoined the Trust
Company of Georgia because it was a real strong institution, as was our bank.
Q: Why do two banks merge like that? Is it to strengthen their assets?
A: To strengthen their assets and then you can handle bigger deals and you can handle most
anything and when you get large enough, several millions of dollars. And I think they will
probably merge again with another bank that is equally recognized.
Q: Do you think that's in the offing now?
A: Well, of course, they don't tell you what they're doing all the time, but they are liable to
have the net out to see what's available.
Q: The main office in Gainesville is on Main Street and 4 Avenue, I believe, is it not?
A: Yes, Main Street. That's where the old White House Hotel was.
Q: Yes, I remember that very well. Is that how the bank came to be there, because the
Thomases were involved and owned the land?
A: No, we were in a little place down on University Avenue, and we wanted to build a better
and bigger bank, and we bought that from the Thomas estate.
Q: I notice it has been, in the last couple of years or so, completely redesigned on the outside
and is as fine a looking building as I think there is in Gainesville. It's beautiful.
A: Well, this is a real fine building for a bank, but now what the banks are doing are merging
with each other, just like the Ocala Bank was the SunTrust Bank of Ocala. This was the
SunTrust Bank of Gainesville. You get more efficient by merging those two banks and now
the headquarters is in Ocala because they had three times as much deposits as Gainesville
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 24
May 19, 1997
and the members of our board here meet down in Ocala once a month. My son is on the
board -- Ben.
Q: Apart from banking, were there any other civic aspects of your life?
A: I belonged to the Rotary Club for quite a few years and I think I joined it probably back
during the war -- World War II, that is -- and enjoyed Rotary. I think Rotary is a good civic
organization. As a matter of fact, I was elected president of it one time, but I was so busy I
couldn't handle it, so I rejected the presidency.
Q: Were there any particular projects there that you enjoyed?
A: Well, there were a couple committees I was on, the International Committee.
Q: What were some of the responsibilities for that committee.
A: Well, I guess it was because in school they had international students.
Q: Did you have any war time experiences?
A: Never was in the service. When World War II came on, the draft board here in Gainesville
told me to keep doing what I was doing, so they didn't have to take me by the hand and lead
me. I was manufacturing food containers and they were considered essential to the war
Q: Well, you stayed out of politics, got yourself involved in banking and civic organizations.
What about your social organizations? I'm looking right here out of this porch into as
magnificent a back yard as I've ever seen, a beautiful garden, which actually blends right
into the Gainesville Country Club. That must mean that you have a strong interest in golf.
A: Yes, I had a roommate in college by the name of Melbourne Martin, as good a friend as I've
ever had -- I'm going to see him next Saturday -- and he encouraged me to take up golf when
I got out of the University, which I did. I joined the Gainesville Country Club in 1934.
They had 28 regular members, and I was the 29t one, and I've been a member of the club
ever since. That was when it was over close to the University. We sold it to the University
and built this out here in 1964, and it has been a real nice place to live.
Q: When did you move out here?
A: I moved out here in 1967. I've been here thirty years.
Q: Your home is situated on S.W. 35h Way, I believe it is, at 6611 S.W. 35h Way. How is this
property related to the Gainesville Country Club?
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 25
May 19, 1997
A: Well, the Hendersons gave the land for the country club and then they had a company that
had all these lots and sold the lots off and John Stedham, who was in the tile business, had
this lot. He was on the board of the bank and he asked me if I'd like to have a lot out here. I
looked at the lot and bought it from him. That's how I got this lot.
Q: And when did you build the house here?
A: I built the house shortly after I bought the lot. I built the house in 1967 and I had some good
friends to help me, and I took out the building permit in January and moved in two weeks
before Christmas, so it grew slowly.
Q: But solidly.
A: Well, it's a solid brick house and it has steel floorjoists and 2x6 trusses in the attic and the
ceiling, and it is very well built.
Q: It certainly is. This is a lovely room. Where does your property end, or your maintenance
A: Just this side of the big oak tree.
Q: So those are your day lilies down there?
A: Those are my wife's day lilies.
Q: I wish there was some way to paint a picture of those so they could see those colors on this
tape. Do you know the names of those big purple flowers that are standing up over there?
A: I don't know the names of them.
Q: They are gorgeous, whatever they are. But it's a lovely place to live. How often do you
A: Well, anymore, not more than twice a week. I will be going to North Carolina after the first
of June and will play sometimes three times a week up there.
Q: Where do you go in North Carolina?
A: Waynesville, North Carolina.
Q: Do you have a home there?
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 26
May 19, 1997
A: This summer, if we spend our summer there, it will be our fifty-second summer in our
cottage. It overlooks a beautiful golf course with mile-high mountains in the background.
Q: So what year did you acquire that?
Q: Well, it's a wonderful place. It must be wonderfully cool there in the summertime.
A: It can get warm there in the daytime, but it's really very comfortable. People historically
from Florida, before we ever had air conditioning, would go to western Carolina if they
Q: Oh my, yes. How far from Montreat is that?
A: Probably sixty-five or seventy miles.
Q: But it's all up there in the same mountains?
Q: That's where Sarah Matheson went every summer. Now, let's see if we can get back to
Micanopy here. I know there are some things that you want to tell me about some of the
other families there. Some of the names that you mentioned were the Simonton family and
the Herlong family.
A: Jim Simonton's family. They had a nice big house right down in Micanopy, and they had a
pretty good sized cattle farm out on the southeast side of Tuscawilla. They raised purebred
Angus cattle. I think Mr. Simonton did a very good job.
Mr. Herlong, Z.C. Herlong, had a big house in Micanopy, which is now a bed and breakfast.
He had a farm out west and southwest of Micanopy, and at one time, he had purebred hogs.
I remember they used to have a sale out there occasionally.
Mr. Thrasher was in the mercantile business and, of course, like country stores, he sold
anything and everything. Clothes, shoes, farm equipment, groceries.
Q: Of course, his warehouse has become the Micanopy Historical Society Museum.
A: The old warehouse.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 27
May 19, 1997
Q: Yes. I am a member of that organization, and I believe I'm on its board. I'm never quite
sure. I'm interested in the Simontons. How far back did they go, according to your
knowledge of them?
A: They were there when I got there.
Q: I happen to know that my great-grandfather, Capt. Benjamin W. Powell, and his wife, Esther
Marjulia Geiger (she was the daughter of Dr. Washington Whitfield Geiger, who was a
physician there in Micanopy), along with the Simontons of the times, in 1870, and one other
family gave the land on which the Micanopy Presbyterian Church was built. I remember at
the time the Simontons had joined them in that, so I'm sure that they were the parents of
these Simontons that you are talking about now who raised beef cattle and had the house
there. You also mentioned Zetrouer.
A: I mentioned the Zetrouers because they were active in the community there. Elbert and
Albert and Eula, who was a school teacher -- my third grade school teacher. She later
married a McInnis, and they lived in Gainesville, and she taught school at J.J. Finley, and
she also taught my children.
Q: I remember Mrs. McInnis.
A: She was a delightful person.
Q: I'm sure that she substituted in one of my classes and was a teacher of mine for at least a
A: Albert would come into town and he led Christian Endeavor, and we would go to Christian
Endeavor. That was one good way to get out of the house -- to go to Christian Endeavor.
Elbert went to school in Micanopy and then later he worked at Wilson's in Gainesville,
which was a department store. I used to catch a ride with him to come to Gainesville High
Q: That was your ride that you mentioned earlier.
A: That was my ride. Albert's the older. They had a lot of land out west of Micanopy.
Q: There was a Horace Zetrouer, too, that I recall.
A: Now that's the Rochelle Zetrouers. I knew Horace very well. I was on the board of
Gainesville Mutual Building and Loan for a long, long time, and Horace ran the Gainesville
Mutual Building and Loan after he got out of being Superintendent of Public Instruction of
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 28
May 19, 1997
Q: That was how I first knew his name, as being Superintendent of Public Instruction. Tell me
something about Dr. Montgomery.
A: Well, now that's a story I don't know whether you want to tape or not. The old Dr.
Montgomery I didn't know, but his widow I did -- Mrs. Montgomery -- and she was a
delightful person. They lived in a big house way down on the end of a long walkway, and
she had a white horse and buggy with a top on it. Her grandson and I were good friends, and
she would ride us around in that buggy and take us out to Pat's Hole to go swimming, which
is about a mile and a half out of Micanopy.
Q: How do you spell that?
A: Pat's Hole, just like Pat's Hole.
Q: Let's see, how old were you then?
A: Oh, I was about eight or nine -- seven, eight, nine, ten years old.
Q: A wonderful experience. Can you tell us more about that house and that walkway because
the wall which was there at the time was a beautiful brick wall.
A: Right. They had a big house down there. We used to walk down that walk down to the
house after school.
Q: What did the house look like?
A: Well, just like a big frame house just like you see them in Micanopy now.
Q: You didn't have porches only just on the first floor or did they have second-floor porches as
A: Well, I don't remember second-floor porches on it.
Q: They must not have been there.
A: I don't really remember a lot of porches around the house, but it was a nice big house. They
had a son, Dr. Lucius Montgomery, who was a doctor that was supposed to be there when I
was born, but Dr. Lucius Montgomery liked to use some alcohol, which now and then meant
frequently, and he wasn't available when I was born, but daddy went to get him and
something happened while my dad was gone and I was there when he got back. I don't
know, they didn't tell me in detail just what happened, but I'm still around.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 29
May 19, 1997
Q: Yes, and your mother was still around, too, so it couldn't have been all that serious.
A: My mother was still around and a dear person.
Q: So then, what we can say for history's sake, is that Dr. Lucius Montgomery did not preside
over your entry into this world. He was elsewhere engaged.
A: I think that's what my mother told me.
Q: So he would have been the son of the lady who drove you around in the carriage?
A: Lucius Montgomery was quite notorious. He was a pretty smart fellow. I mean he'd had a
doctor's degree and I think he had training in law and one thing and another. He could do
most anything he wanted to do. There are a lot of weird tales I could tell you about him.
Q: Tell me, the house is gone now. When did that house disappear and how did that happen?
A: Which one?
Q: The Montgomery house.
A: The old Montgomery house was burned and then Lucius Montgomery had a house just
where you go in a gate where the wall is. He had a house right west of that on that street,
and it disappeared one time, I think by fire. Of course, they lost a lot of the old houses.
There was an Odell family that had a house on the main street over there that goes east and
west from downtown going west, and it burned. There were so many. I don't think the
Mott house burned, but three or four other big houses burned at one time or another.
Q: The brick wall has become somewhat of an historic device that has been preserved. At the
present time, it lies in stacks of bricks that have been disassembled very carefully by a whole
bunch of volunteers because when they were going to pave that street along the front end of
it, they said they would have demolished the wall. A bunch of citizens got together and
carefully dismantled that, with the intention of restoring it. I thinkthey have the funds to put
it back together now again. They've raised somehow the $20,000 necessary to do that. It
hasn't taken place yet but that wall will go back into its original state. To me, as a child,
riding down that street headed to the cemetery, it was very mysterious to see that brick wall
and that fancy gate, and to look into it and see nothing but weeds and vines and so forth, and
they just disappeared into nothingness.
A: The road went down on one side of where that brick wall was, and that's where Mrs.
Montgomery would ride in the horse and buggy back and forth, but then the Montgomerys
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 30
May 19, 1997
had several automobiles. I remember they had two or three Mormons and they had others.
They were pretty fancy cars at that time.
Q: About what time was that, what years would you say that was?
A: I'd say that would be 1921-22-23-24.
Q: Interestingly enough, I don't recall those automobile names.
A: The Mormon was a pretty good car and I remember they had a Velie or two, which wasn't
quite as fancy as the Mormon.
Q: Were these covered or uncovered vehicles?
A: They were covered. I don't know whether it was a sedan. I believe it was. There was a
difference between the sedan and the touring car.
Q: What is the difference?
A: Well, a touring car you could let the top down or take it down, but the sedan is just solid, you
know, just like our cars. My dad bought a seven-passenger -- back about 1922 -- a seven-
passenger Cadillac, which was a black touring car, and most car's colors were black back
then, so he didn't want to use it out in the woods so he bought a Ford to use to go around in
the woods. You know, driving a regular car with a gear shift and driving a Model T Ford are
two different things. You had three pedals down there, one to go forward, one to brake, and
one to back up. He never did get where he really wanted to drive that Ford, but I could
handle it pretty well.
Q: Did you ever get stuck?
A: Everybody got stuck back then.
Q: Yes, I came along in time to get stuck many a time, too. Those vehicles were fun.
A: I tell you, I think that's great to live back in that time. I wouldn't take anything for the years
that I grew up in the teens, twenties and thirties and even today.
Q: And Micanopy was a wonderful place to do it.
A: It was. It was a good town. We had everything we needed. We had an outside bathroom,
outside toilets, and later inside. We had an old light plant in Micanopy but you had to keep
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 31
May 19, 1997
lamps ready. You never knew when they were going off. We had a school and things we
needed. People got along. We didn't have welfare, Social Security, unemployment, or any
of those things. We didn't have those to worry with. Everybody got along, and some people
helped other people.
Q: Is your family buried largely in the Micanopy cemetery?
A: Yes, my mother and father, sisters, and a couple of brother-in-laws, three brother-in-laws, all
down there. I guess that's where I'll land up.
Q: You have enough space down there for your own family, too?
Q: Do you have any burial spaces in Gainesville?
A: I have a lot in Gainesville, and I guess I ought to sell it.
Q: That's where?
A: Down in Evergreen.
Q: In Evergreen Cemetery.
A: A nice big lot.
Q: You know I'm the president of the Evergreen Cemetery Association?
A: Oh, are you really?
Q: Yes, I am.
A: Well, I've had it for years and years. The reason I bought it was Gracie got excited about
what would happen to us, so she wanted me to get a lot, so I got one, bought one down there,
but really we've got enough room in Micanopy.
Q: Micanopy has a fine cemetery. I think there's a little bit of space in our old Geiger-Powell
lot in case I want to go there, but I don't. I want to go into Evergreen where everyone in my
recent family has been buried.
A: Well, that's what most of us want, to go back with our folks, I guess.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 32
May 19, 1997
Q: It's a good thing. I'd want to be in one or the other, either Micanopy or Evergreen. My
family lot in Evergreen is the original one.
A: Do you have a lot in Micanopy?
Q: The family lot is there. Yes. The Powell and Geiger lot where Capt. Ben Powell and Esther
Marjulia Geiger Powell are buried. Dr. Washington Whitfield Geiger is in it, also, and all of
their children who died in childhood. There are a large number of small graves in that lot.
My grandmother, Emma Powell, decided that she wanted to be buried in Gainesville with
her third and last husband, Minot Bacon Saunders, who ran a grocery store. Did you ever
know him by any chance?
A: Who was this?
Q: Minot Bacon Saunders. He had Saunders Grocery Company down on the square in
Gainesville, in at least four different locations. I was just wondering if you knew him. He
died in 1920. He was a very fine man, I understand. He was the Superintendent of the
Sunday School and a ruling elder of the First Presbyterian Church here in Gainesville, and a
much loved person. It's his house that I live in today. That's my home. I inherited that
A: That's where you live?
Q: Where I live, right in downtown Gainesville.
A: Well, I was an elder there for quite a few years.
Q: Tell me about your activities in the First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.
A: There's not been a lot, you know. Our First Presbyterian Church is where we got married in
1938. I was raised in the Methodist Church in Micanopy. Of course, Preacher married us
and I got to be a good friend of Preacher. Gracie was going to the Presbyterian Church and I
didn't want to be separated, so I started going there and joined the church and served at times
as deacon for a while, and as an elder. When they had twelve or fifteen of us old men, I was
the youngest man on the Session.
Q: How many times did you serve as an elder? I mean, in three-year terms on the Session.
A: I don't know. I was on there several times. I'm not sure we had terms then.
Q: Elders get retreaded.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 33
May 19, 1997
A: When you get such a big change, as what we had when Preacher was there and then later
when Leslie Tucker came, it just doesn't seem the same and it's not the same. We could
have an elders' meeting and be through with it in forty-five minutes and talk over
everything, but Preacher had us all pretty well versed in what was to come up, what it was all
about, so we never had a lot of controversy about things. We all felt pretty much the same
way and took care of it in a little while. Later on, they called me and asked me to be on the
Session and I did. Carole Seaman called me, so I went on there for three years, and boy, I
tell you, they'd meet at 5:15 or 5:30 and have a committee meeting and then have a Session
meeting and I walked out of one at 10:00 or 10:30.
Q: Well, they're doing a little better right now but not much better.
A: That's just too much conversation for me.
Q: There are no deacons any more. They're all elders.
A: Too many people like to talk and hear themselves talk. It's just a lot of that.
Q: I was only on for three years and then went off, and I've enjoyed the year that I've been off
the session, because I didn't have to go every week to some committee meeting. Of course,
I'm on three of them now -- the Building Committee, the Arts and Architecture Committee,
and the Organ Committee -- by virtue of my interest in sound.
A: You're doing a lot of good things.
Q: I'm enjoying it right now.
A: They've got a lot of educated people there at the University and all seem to enjoy doing
those things. You know if people will step out and do them, you'll let them do it.
Q: That's right. You don't stand in the way. It was a good church to grow up in, but I do agree
with you that it's certainly not like it was when I was growing up in that church. It was an
extended family, unlike what it is today.
A: Very much unlike today.
Q: Lots of families there now, but when I was there, I was everybody's child and everybody
was my parent.
A: Well, sometimes I've thought in the last few years that maybe I made a mistake in leaving
the Methodist Church. They try to get an Associate Minister and apparently can't get
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 34
May 19, 1997
anything done about it. I have some good friends in the Methodist faith, and the bishop
would supply you with what you needed.
Q: Yes, you didn't have to worry about that -- and regularly, too.
A: Yes, sometimes more often than you want. We always had a minister in Micanopy. My
father said, "You know, we didn't ever have a really good minister down there. It's a funny
thing to me that God calls all the good ones to go somewhere else."
Q: There's got to be a reason for that. Old John Wesley must have known what he was doing.
Is there anything else that you'd like to tell me here? I'd like to know something about your
goals for your extensive land holdings. I know that you hold it dear to your heart and close
to your heart, and I think that's wonderful.
A: Well, we're running some cattle out there, and I've been trying to convince Ben that he
ought to sell all those four-legged animals and plant a pine tree everyplace he can plant one.
There's a lot of good timber on the land now and he could sell enough every year to replant
the whole place. My point is that the cattle business, year in and year out, isn't much, but if
they'd plant pines ... Well, time goes by so fast, I've got some stories about timber that are
just unbelievable, but the point I am making is that this cattle business doesn't amount to
much. Even if you make a little money out of it, you put a lot of hard work in it and it's just
hard to make anything out of it. It's probably better suited to grow timber than it would be
to grow cattle. The point I'm making is that if they got rid of all the cattle and planted pine
trees everywhere on it, in twenty-five years they could yield, they could thin and keep
planting and thin and keep planting and have, I think, a lot better financial situation than they
have with cattle. And if they keep going the way it is, it's going to be the same twenty-five
years from now, but if you've got timber all over and have something you can harvest every
year or two or three, you would have something a lot better than you will have trying to raise
a few cattle.
Q: What would you say would be the minimum size acreage for successful tree planting, or is
there any such thing?
A: I don't know. A lot of people have fifty or a hundred acres of trees coming along, but it's
better if you have enough to where you can keep somebody busy. It doesn't take much.
People own land and timber and they live in the north or somewhere else, just like Senator
Glenn, who was our first astronaut, has a place out here about fifteen miles from here, just
beautiful pine forest that he has had planted and just making dividends every year. Interest
builds up on what you've done there every year whether you're harvesting anything or not.
Q: Where is his property?
A: It's out . you know where Orange Heights is?
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 35
May 19, 1997
A: It's just like you're going to Melrose. It's out there on the right south ofthe road someplace.
A friend took me out there and showed it to me one time.
Q: That's between Windsor and Melrose Road and 301?
A: I think it's between Orange Heights and Melrose.
Q: Oh, on the other side.
A: Gracie's father had a place out here, 760 acres, and after he died -- I forget what year it was -
but later on, I sold the timber off of that. He bought that in 1935 and it cost him $750 for
760 acres, approximately. When I sold the timber off of it, I gave Mrs. Newins $75,000, and
then I had it replanted and then some eight or nine years ago I had it thinned every third row,
and they got over $200,000 out of it. Now we've sold the land to the county and sold the
timber off of it and they'll get $1,600,000 out of it, the whole thing, the land and timber.
Unless you know what you're doing, unless you're a cattleman, you ought to get into
something like growing trees.
Q: I've got thirty acres that's just doing nothing.
A: Well, it ought to be doing something.
Q: It should be planted in timber.
A: You could get somebody to do it for you.
Is it flat?
There are trees on it.
Some of it is rolling.
It belonged to my grandfather, who was in
timber, in lumber. He had a sawmill out there on it, so it must have been useful for that
A: Well, you'd want to get somebody that could plant it for you and you would enjoy seeing it
Q: Well, I'm seventy, but by the time I'm eighty-five, I could harvest something, couldn't I?
A: Fifteen years, but you'd better count on twenty to twenty-five.
Q: Well, I'd better live until I'm ninety-five then.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 36
May 19, 1997
A: Well, that's okay. Maybe it would give you an incentive.
Q: Do you have to be careful about poachers and timber thieves? Is that a big problem?
A: Not so much anymore.
Q: I've often wondered what to do with it. Now, as far as your holdings where the River Styx
rises, we rode around in that beautiful area. It's just absolutely primal beauty there.
A: It is beautiful, isn't it.
Q: You have some of the most magnificent land I've ever seen anywhere in my life, and I'm
eternally indebted to you for the privilege of seeing that with you.
A: I've had people tell me that, and I hesitate to invite people to come do that because a lot of
people don't give a hoot about getting out in the country, you know. They want to stay in
town. To me, there's not a prettier place anywhere than that farmland.
Q: I would agree with that. That is one of the most beautiful places. I've never seen anything
that was more exquisite.
A: And as close to here and Micanopy as it is.
Q: Well, what do you want to happen to that land?
A: What I'd like to see Ben do, as I say, I'd like to see him get rid of those cows and plant,
everyplace he can put a tree and then if he'd do that, there's a road around Hog Pond, which
is a 205 acre little pond, and you can hold the water in spring and summer, and keep a
smooth road all around that pond. You see, it has a canal around it, and when they dug the
canal, they dug the ground out and you could have a road all around the pond, keep it
dammed up and you'd get some water in there and it would be a great sanctuary for birds and
alligators. It would be a beautiful place to drive.
Q: Would you be interested in having that land available to the public?
A: If I were Ben, I wouldn't be interested in selling.
Q: This might not remain the same as it is and there's only one River Styx and only one general
area where it rises up and there was just something that was almost sacred about that to me.
A: It is to me, too, Tom. My dad had 400 acres. I bought 900 acres from a man in Jacksonville,
and it had a lot of timber on it, and then I bought 2000 acres from the Camps. The Camps
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 37
May 19, 1997
were a family from Ocala that developed Paynes Prairie, and they're the ones that dug the
canal in Paynes Prairie and then to the River Styx and it runs into Orange Lake. That trestle
is where the train crossed River Styx. That was the main railroad track.
Q: When the rail was closed down, you acquired that property?
A: I bought the right of way, and they didn't give it to me. I bought the right of way that
touched our land anywhere, so I wouldn't have bicycles and horseback riders and runners
and walkers and hikers and so forth going through the farm. That would have been bad.
Q: Yes, that would have gotten the public right into there that could despoil it. Well, how do
you see future generations enjoying it because there will be people in the future who feel as
you do about it, as I do about it, that it is sacred?
A: I don't know. Ben is forty-five years old and he has a son, a nice little fellow that's fifteen
or sixteen, I guess, and he's a family fellow.
Q: And he loves it.
A: I think so. He loves everything his daddy loves, I think.
Q: The mold has been made.
A: I tell you, when the state runs around buying land and paying big prices for it, they could pay
five times as much for that down there and have a lot more value than some of the other they
Q: Would you ever sell it to the state if you could be assured that it would be maintained in its
A: I couldn't because it's not mine.
Q: Oh yes, I see, you can't speak for Ben.
A: I don't think I would. I've ridden around that thing I don't know how many hundreds and
hundreds of times, but I used to get aggravated and agitated at the plant when doing business
and running the plant and one thing and another, and get upset, I'd get in my jeep and I'd go
out there and ride around about three hours and when I'd get back, it had all been washed
Q: Well, we spent essentially that much time or more, and it had exactly the same effect on me,
and I only went through it once.
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 38
May 19, 1997
A: It's a cleansing ride to ride around there and look at the trees and the unusual land and
Q: The day you took me through there is a landmark day of my life. Not only did I walk for the
first time on the ground that my ancestors lived on and which you have taken good care of,
but going through all of that, I came closer to God going through there than I think I ever
have. That's why I can't use any word except sacred about that. It was part of this
restorative characteristic that I felt after it was all over, and I look back at that and it's just
one of those marvelous shining moments in my life.
A: I'm glad to hear you say that, Tom. It's really done a lot for me. When I get worried about
something and have done all I can do about it, I can go out there and ride around and just get
out and walk around a little and look all over and it seems like when I got back, my problems
had all been solved.
Q: Well, I can hear somebody saying, "Well, you didn't really have any problems to begin
with," and I'll say, "Baloney."
A: They say 95% of all the things we worry about never come to pass anyway. My answer to
them: You must see light at the end of the tunnel.
Q: Well, it is so gratifying to me to know that that land is as it always has been, and it's one of
the few such places anywhere, and it's because you've kept it that way.
A: Pretty much.
Q: Well, it would take a very great deal to convince me that a state mechanism would continue
to do that.
A: I tell you, that's another thing -- if you were concerned about it remaining the same, you
don't know what the state and its wildlife department is going to do with something when
they get their hands on it.
Q: That's exactly right, and that would really concern me. On the other hand, over here where
the Citizens for Watermelon Pond are fighting a proposed construction and demolition
dump, we are anxious to have the state acquire that land to put into the Parks Division
because we believe the dump would despoil the area and be dangerously close to the water
supply over there. Now here is an example that, as far as I'm concerned, is diametrically
opposed to the kind of steward of the land that you are. You would preserve and they would
spoil, and I still can't figure out what their reasons are. They have been denied approval for
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 39
May 19, 1997
that, denied a permit right straight up to the Secretary, the Department of Environmental
Protection of the State, and still they go after it in the courts. Why?
A: What do they want to have?
Q: A construction and demolition trash dump.
A: Right at Watermelon Pond?
Q: Just a mile north of it. Right over the top of the aquifer where there is no clay liner.
A: Is that a personal, private thing?
Q: The land had belonged to Loncala Phosphate, and they acquired a square mile of it to
remove sand and then replace it with construction and demolition material, which often
contains other kinds of hazardous waste. They just get in there, and when you're not really
careful about it and you don't really care about that kind of thing, you'll let anything go in
there, and that's what troubles us. They're hauling dirt out of there illegally now, over that
roadway, and the county is not doing anything to stop it. It's destroying the roadway. I have
tried to get to my property out there and have been driven off the road by one of their trucks
barreling along, far exceeding the weight limits that are posted for that road, and three feet
over the center line, forcing me off the road, and didn't slow down a bit. There are school
busses out there. One of them has already hit a school bus. When does somebody stop this
activity, instead of just barreling on like that against the law?
A: But that's what you get when you have as much growth as we have. We have had more
growth in our lives. I liked Gainesville the way it used to be. Well, there are other things
that I'd like to talk to you about, and maybe we could get together again sometime and talk
more if you're so inclined.
Q: I'm very much so inclined. I'd like to do that. I know you've got to curtail your activity
here and now, but we'll just say that this is the end of Section I of our discussion, and I thank
you very much for that. I want to make sure that we have your name spelled exactly
A: Just like Benjamin Franklin.
Q: Were you named for him, or was your father named for him?
A: I don't know how dad got his name, but there were always a lot of Georges and Williams
and James, and they came from Virginia down to North Carolina and to South Carolina and
Interview with: Benjamin Otis Franklin 40
May 19, 1997
there were several preachers thrown in there. I don't know how they got in, but they were all
down into Georgia, and my dad came on down here.
Q: How did that middle name come about?
A: I don't know. I tell them it was because we were so up and down.
Q: How do you spell it again?
Q: O-t-i-s. Otis. We're going to leave that pun right on the tape without any clarification, and
anybody who doesn't get it doesn't deserve to get it. Well, thank you, Ben. I really
appreciate it and I know that the Matheson Historical Center appreciates this.
A: Well, I don't know whether they can make anything out of it or not.
Q: I think they will make a fine thing out of it.
A: I tell you, it's just been one real great time, the last eighty-six years.
Q: That pleases me so much to hear you say that.
A: It has, I tell you, and I've enjoyed it so much and I do today. I enjoy today. I enjoy the
beauty of the earth and people. You can cut that off.
Q: Alright, we're going to cut it off right now, so, so long until the next time.