Interview with Cecil B. Simmons, May 29, 1971

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Interview with Cecil B. Simmons, May 29, 1971
Simmons, Cecil B. ( Interviewee )
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Gainesville High School (Alachua County) Oral History Collection ( local )
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This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Gainesville High School' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Interview with Mr. Cecil B. Simmons conducted by Lou Ann Simmons, May 29, 1971.

L: Where was the first house that you lived in in Gainesville?

S: The first house that I lived in in Gainesville was on North East Ninth

Street. At that time it was called Evans Street and the house is still

standing today.

L: HOw long did you live there?

S: I lived there for 37 years.

L: What was the house like? What kind of appliances did you have?

S: The house was a big two-story wooden house. In the early days, appliances

were hardly known and it was later when I was about 13 or 14 years old that

we started to get any appliances that amounted to anything. At one time, we

did not have electricity. We had lamps. THe first appliance to amount to any-

thing was the toaster and then we had a waffle iron. Instead of having the

old irons that you heat in the fire, we finally got an electric iron. Appliances

that you have today were unknown in those days.

L: Did you have a refrigerator?

S: No, we had an ice-box but we did not have an electric refrigerator for years.

L: Did you have a car?

S: Yes, we had cars. The first car that I can remember was a 1919 Buick. I remember

one vaguely before that. I remember the day that the 1919 Buick was brought

home. I was out in the street when my dad drove up with it.

E: Did you ever drive the car yourself?

S: I started driving a car when I was about eleven years old. I could go anywhere

that I wanted to by the time that I was eleven or twelve years old.

L: YOu did not have to have a driver's license then?

S: No driver's license were required then.

L: Did you have any chores around the house.


S: Mainly, the chores that I had was raking the yard. In those days, very few

people had lawns like they have today. Most of them had sand yards and mainly

leaves that we had to rake off of them. I was in my teens before we ever got

a lawn and that was typical of many Gainesville houses in the early days.

L: What was your school like? Did you go to school.

S: The first school that I went to is known today as Kirby-Smith. At one time it

was an entire school system there with Gainesville High School and all of the

grade schools there. They built Gainesville High School on University Avenue

which is now Santa Fe Junior College. When they built the high-school there,

then they kept the first through the eight grade at Kitby-Smith. THen they

built an addition to Gainesville High School and when they did that they

moved the seventh and eight grade over to the addition. I went through the

sixth grade at what is now Kirby-Smith and then went over to the new junior

high-school building the following year.

L: What was the classroom like?

S: Well, it is hard to say exactly to say what it was like. The teacher had

absolute authority in the classroom. If anyone misbehaved they would either

send him to the office or paddle him. They would punish you themselves and

they did not take anything off of you. Most of the teachers were not overly

strict but some of them were. MOst of them were good sound teachers.

L: Vere there any blacks in the schools.

S: No, that was long before the time of integration.

L: What did you do for entertainment?

S: During the school year, there was not much to do for entertainment. A lot of

times after we would get out of school, I would go over and yWXKXNXXXKKXX

watch them practise football. They used the lot on the east side of Kirby-

Smith at one time. I remember them playing a game and I went down there and

watched them beat High Springs 126 to 0. I saw a number of games there on


that east side field. Then when I got a little older I would go out and watch

the University practise. In the summertime, they would organize baseball just

like they have it now. It started at the ages of 13 and 14. They had a very

strong American Legion team for the older boys too at 16 and 17.

L: Did you go swimming during the summer? Did they have any place to go swimming?

S: The only place around was Glenn Springs and a place known as Pinkerson Springs.

It has since been done away with. Glenn Springs is now known as Elks Springs.

L: Where did you go when you went on dates. When did you start dating?

S: When I was in high-school the kids did not date like they do today. It was

not nearly as prevelent. THey were well up in high-school before they

started dating and most of dates then was going to the picture show.

L: What were the picture shows like? How much did it cost to get in?

S: Well, the earliest show that I remember seeing was at the old Lyric Theatre.

It was down near the old post office. The Lyric Theatre would run, I remember

the silent days there and you could get in for $.10 for children and $.20 for

adults. Later on, I believe in 1928 or 1929 the Florida Theatre opened. THe

Lyric Theatre closed for a while and then it reopened and ran a lot of western

shows with serials. The Florida Theatre in the early days when they first

opened they had mostly talking and singing pictures. It was a combination of

singing and silent movies. Then they went strictly into talking movies.

There were a lot of musical comedies in the early days.

L: How much did it cost? Do you remember?

S: I think that it was $.35 as I recall. That was the admission price to start

with for adults.

L: Where did you get your first job?

S: I did odd jobs around a little bit. My first job that amounted to anything was

at the University after my freshman year at the University. Language Hall at

that time housed the bookstore and it also had a soda fountain and a lunch


counter in there. I worked at the lunch counter and soda fountain for a


L: What were the prices like then?

S: The hourly pay scale that I started to work for was $.25 an hour.THe prices of

sandwiches and drinks and things like that were chocolate milk was 50 and you

could get chocolate milk with a scoop of chocolate ice cream in it for 8c.

They had special milk shakes, jumbo milk shakes that were 10 and then I think

that they wentcto 15. Every Saturday night they would have a free show for

the students down at Florida Theatre. After the show, they would run a special

on bannana splits with three scoops of ice cream and three flavors on it for


L: What was your next job?

S: After that I went back to school.

L: Was this during the Depression?

S: It was during the Depressions: I went back to school but my father had a heart

attack. I saw that it was necessary that 'I should get a job and go to

work. I started surveying and I surveyed around the state for about a year and

a half to two years. K XXX ;aeyXIi K3WXX I came back home and I hhve

been here ever since except for the time that I was in the Army.

L: Did you not work for the fire department at one time?

S: When I came back home from surveying, I decided to go to work at anything that

I could. Because we were still in the tail end of the Depression.

L: How did the Depression affect Gainesville?

S: Many people in Gainesville had difficult times getting jobs. I think that

mainly the affect on Gainesville was the fact that the WPA was organized by

the government and quite a few people were able to live because of the fact

that they were able to get jobs through the WPA.

L: Was that the time that you went to work at the Fire Department?

S: Well, it was shortly after that. I think that the WPA had come to an end by


then but the towns were not booming yet and the jobs were still pretty hard

to get. THe techincal era that we are in today had not developed then. It was

more of an education era and they put more emphasis on college degrees and so

forth. Today you have much more opportunity in techincal fields and getting

jobs then you had those days. A young man who did not have some training in

a professional job would take almost any job that he could find. When I came

back to town from surveying, I took the first job that I could and I worked

for about three months for the laundry in town. Then I went to work with the

Fire Department. At that time, my beginning pay with;:the Fire Department

was $125.00 a month. That sounded like big money then.

B: What was the Fire Department itself like?

S: Well, the fire department operated more or less on a twenty-four hours on and

twenty-four hours off. When you were on duty at night, you had to sleep at

the fire department and if calls came in at night we had special clothes that

we could jump into our boots and pull up our clothes over us and go out to

the fire. It did not take 30 seconds to get out of there. Many a time we

would have to go outin the middle of the night in freezing cold weather to

fight fires.

L: Were you working with the fire department when they had the second fire down-


S: Yes, I had just come hack from the Army when they had that second fire. I had

not been working but about two or three weeks. It was the later part of 1945.

The fire started as a result of in the corner of the cab company a man had a

paint shop in there. I think that the paint exploded and the fire started in

that paint.

L: How much of the downtown was burned?

S: A good bit of what is now Woolworth's and the ten-cent store that they call

Kristo.'s, and right on down through another drugstore at the time called


Bennett's and a good part of that was burned. Most of the block there that

now houses Woolworth was damaged by the fire.

L: What was downtown Gainesville like when you first remember it?

S: Well, in the early days of downtown Gainesville the streets were paved with

brick. THe Atlantic Coastline Railroad went right through town down Main

Street. THe depot was what is now the First National Bank on that location.

I can remember in my early days that horsepand wagons were not uncommon at

all especiallywhat is not Southwest First Avenue. There were livery stables

downtown and blacksmith shops closdto town. The pavement on West University

Avenue ended where the Florida Bank is now. On East University Avenue it ended

at Evans Street which is now Northeast Ninth Street. That was the street that

I lived on. At that time, there was a big horse watering trough at the

corner. I remember as a kid the people would stop to water their horses there

at the horse-watering trough.

L: Do you remember much about the courthouse?

S: Yes, I remember very much about it. My father was Superintendent of Schools

for sixteen years and many a day I was at the courthouse playing all over the

grounds and going into the buildings and courtrooms and things like that. There

was nothing fancy about it. It had adequate rooms that served the purpose.

They were big and airy but there were no fancy offices at the time, and air-

conditioning was unheard of at that time. It would get pretty hot in the


L: What did phe square look like then?

S: Well, the courthouse was not as big as the downtown square. As a result, they

had more lawn space then they have now around the courthouse. A statue of a

Confederate soldier was on the lawn.

L: Is that the same one that they have now?

S: I imagine that it is the same one. I do not think that they have changed it.


It was just a smaller building and a different type of building. It was not

a modern building. I do not know the name of the type of architecture. But I

Have seen quite a few pictures of courthouses around the country that looked

just like it.

L: Do you remember much about the campus and what it was like when you went to

school there?

S: My recollection of the campus goes back to a football game when they were

playing of Fleming Field. That was back before the stadium was built and

they would practise on Fleming Field and also play their games there. I

remember going out to see a game when I was aboutl0 years old. I can remember

that the final score was 3 to 0. Someone kicked a field goal and defeated

Florida and Florida was suppose to win'the game and everyone was quite upset

about it. I think that it was in 1930 that they built the stadium. They

built it to seat 21,000 people. Many of the newer buildings have been added

since then. THe designations and names of the buildings have been changed

since I was there and some of the names that were used when I was there are

no longer in use. It is kind of hard to say just what the difference is now.

THey built nne Student Union Building in 1935 and outgrew it and then they

added the Reitz Union Building at a later date.

L: What kind of shopping areas were there around town?

S: There were no shopping areas at all around town, except for the downtown

square. It was the only place. You had little neighborhood grocery systems

that would strictly cater to people in the neighborhood. THere were no such

things as shopping areas as such. THe first major company to break off from

the downtown area was Piggly-Wiggly. THey had been on the east side of the

square for many years. They built out on Northwest Thirteenth Street and

stayed there for many years and sold out to Food Fair and I bel' /e now that

one of the ABC liquor lounges is where it was first built.


L: What about the growth of downtown?

S: The downtown section at one time practically all of your business ended there

where the Florida National bank is. THe block where the Florida Theatre is

I can remember nothing on that lot at all. In fact that entire block through

there except for a big house sitting back under some huge oak trees. I think

that it was in 1928 that they tore the house down and built some of the

buildings that are in that block today. THe Florida Theatre being oneof the

first ones to go in there. THen on further west, there was a dirt street on

out. In 1923, the Baptist Church bought the property and built what is now the

First Baptist Church. Since then a couple of additions have been added to it.

About that time, I do not remember the exact date that Gainesville High School

bought the property where Santa Fe Junior College is now and built a high

school there. On further west, there was nothing until you got out opposite

the University. There at the time they had the forerunner of what is now the

College Inn. I do not recall the exact name of it. It has been known as the

College Inn for many years. There was very little business along University

Avenue at all. Now what is Thirteenth Street was a dirt street and it has not

been too many years ago that it was paved. They put the highway through there

and it was probably fifteen years ago that it was four-laned or maybe less

then that. Thirteenth Street which is 441 now did not become a business center

of town until after they four-laned that highway.

L: What were the hospitals facilities like in Gainesville?

S: At one time the only hospital that we had in town was a private hospital. IT

was operated by a Mrs. Williams who has a son living in Gainesville now,

Dick Williams and he is married to Mason Tyson's daughter.

L: Where was that hospital?

S: That hospital was a two-story wooden building at the corner of what is now

Northeast Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue. They lived in the downstairs

part and operated the hospital part in the upstairs part. The county finally


floated a bond issue to build Alachua General Hospital. It was called Alachua

County Hospital at the time. SInce then it has been added to two or three


L: Do you remember anything else about your early days?

S: THe earliest recollection that I have of anything at all was the night that

World War I ended. I remember, I was a little over three years old at the time

about three and a half I guess, I remember that my folks got me up and took

me to the door and they were shooting fireworks and celebrating more or less.

I remember at the time that we were standing at the door a fire engine drove

by the house and they had a paper Kaiseron it and they set fire to that paper

Kaiser as they went passed the front door. They tell me that the driver of

that car was nne of the AAron's boys. I do not know whether it was George or

not but the AAron's family is still living in Gainesville today.

L: Do you remember anything else abbut the real early times in Gainesville or -any

of the early families?

S: Yes, there is quite a few of the families that were here at that time whose

families are still living here today. SOme of them are very successful in

business. I remember one family that lived directly behind us the Mahcycle

family. They had several boys and all of them were excellent athletes. Their

daddy was a photographer, and he had a studio in town. Dale was the first All-

American that Florida had in football and he was an outstanding high-school

athlete, and went on to the University and played on the 1928 football team.

At one time, that was considered the best team that Florida ever had. IN the

last few years they have developed teams that probably were better. THis team

had an outstanding record for many years and had some great football players

on it. Dale was on that team. Dale was also a four letter man in high-school

in football, baseball, basketball, aid track. He has a brother living in

GAinesville todaystill. Then there the Parrish family, M.M. Parrish. HIs

c 9

father and grandfather were both here in the early days. As early as I can

recall, Wade Hampton was a City Judge. Covenington Johnson is an attory here

in Gainesville and his family was here at a very early date. They moved in

after I was up a fairly good age but these others were here about as early as

I can remember. There is the Waldo family, Celdon Waldo was a very successful

attorney in Gainesville and was in my class at school, but Celdon unfortunately

died at an early age but some of his family is still here. It is rather unusual

in that my class from high-school there was 69 in the class. Although our

average age would be 55 or 56 there is quite a few of the people that died at

an early age. It is rather strange that it has happened to the class. I

would say that probably 20 or 25% of that class is still living here in

Gainesville today.

L: Did you not work at one time for the Post Office?

S: Yes, I went to work for the Post Office in 1949, either in 1948 or 1949. Mr.

Jess Davis was the Postmaster. Mr. Davis is generally regarded as the person

in Gainesville or Alachaa County that knows more about the history of this

county. He is noted for his historical writings on Alachua County. THe

earliest that I can remember of Mr. Davis was in regards to the organized

baseball that they had in the county. Mr. Davis was a very active Legionnaire.

When I was about 13 years old, he was in charge of the Legionnaire baseball

program. That was the first time that I remember ever seeing Mr. Davis was

coming out to the baseball games and getting involved there at the time. There

are a lot of things going on now at the Post Office that did not then and there

have been many changes inti it. I have been out of the Post OFfice now for

ten years. It is kind of hard to say what the difference is today then it was

at that time.

L: Where was the old Post Office.

S: The old Post Office was at the end of Southeast First Street about three


blocks off of University Avenue.

End of the interview.