Interview with Mabel Voyles, April 29, 1971

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Interview with Mabel Voyles, April 29, 1971
Voyles, Mabel ( 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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This is Alan Sawyer interviewing Miss Mabel Voyles on 206 N. E. Second Avenue,

April 29, 1971.

S: Miss Voyles, how long have you been at Gainesville?

V: 83 years.

S: So, have you been here all of your life?

V: Yes, I was born here over near the Armory on N. E. Eleventh Street.

Gainesville was quite different in those days. We moved into town on S. W.

Second Street. My father was in the abstract business and Gainesville ran

up and down Main Street at that time. The Presbyterian Church was the first

church put here. Gainesville was a wild place in those days. There was a

saloon on every corner.

S: Every corner?

V: Every corner of the square.

S: I guess that Saturday nights was sort of a wild time.

V: They did not wait for Saturday night. It really was a pioneer town. There

was, I understand I did not see it, there was a little railroad around from

where the First National Bank is and ran down to the Seaboard Station and that

took passengers from one place to the other, wherever they wanted to go between

trains. Most of Gainesville in the early days was way down by the Seaboard

tracks and some of the aristocratic part of it was on old ABseodo Street which

is now S. W. Second Street. Gainesville had three court houses. THe first

one was wooden and I never saw that but they tell me that they had to put a

fence around it with stairs on it so that the people could get up over the

stairs and it would keep the cattle out. THe cattle would get under the court

house and rub around and they had a lot of fleas and things so they had it fixed

that way. THen they took that down and they put up a very beautiful courthouse.

Lately, they have taken that one down and put up a new one. They really

needed a bigger one but they, I had hoped that they would leave that second


courthouse because it was a beautiful structure. When they built the present

courthouse they did not leave the other. We had a lot of fires here in the

olden days. I saw the West side of the square burn. I understand that where

the Woolworth store is there was a big hotel and that burned. Then they had

a fire on the North side. Then the fire down toward the courthouse over by

the Post Office. When I was a little girl, we had a whistle that would blow

whenever the fires were happening.

S: Was there a volunteer fire department?

V: Yes, there was and then we had a regular fire company and they had a hose

with two black horses and they were beautiful horses. Then finally they

got the big engine.

S: How many fire houses did you have?

V: Well, we did not have them all at once. They grew through the years.

At one of the firse one of the horses got burned and I remember as a little

girl I saw them dragging it up the road. We did not have paved streets.

We had a lot of oak trees, a lot of lovely trees. But since the town has

grown those trees has to go. In some parts of town you can still see them.

You know that they are trying to return the trees in the colored section

and the main section and all around town. A long time ago, we had an awful

scare, and I was a little girl then. They had a band of men that was headed

by a man called Homer Murray. He was a colored man. He got upset about and

he thought that they were stealing pulpwood from him. He tried to get even

and he went all around Gainesville and all around in the county. He was

ruthless. He robbed and all of the people were so frightened of him. One

of his own people turned him in because he was afraid of him. He killed

both kinds both white and black. He was finally caught up with. Some of those

that were in his party they were hung on, you know those big live oak trees

out there in East Gainesville?

S: Yes


V: They are there by the Padgett House. I do not know if you know where the

Padgett House is or not.

S: Sure

V: It is not there by the branch it is up on the hill. Up there those live oak

trees had nice low branches and they hung them on that. You know that people

from the West end here from Trenton, they use to hang them down here. THe

people would come in on the train early and bring all of the children to see

the hangings. We could never understand it. We lived near the street

where they came and they would just come in by the dozens.

S: They would just have a big picnic,. I guess.

V: Is it not'.just awful.

S: When were the hangings usually on Sunday?

V: In the jail. The jail was in back of the Post Office now that is our Federal

Building. They came from the old jail they called it now the Coast Line.

They would come in there. Gainesville had a lot of history. Mr. J.H. Roper

was up in the Congress somewhere, I do not know much about him. We are

right in hFe middle of the Arrendondo Grant. The middle of the grant is a

sinkhole out here. Do you know where the sinkhole is?

S: On Paynes Prarie?

V: Paynes Prarie there is a sinkhole.

S: Yes.

V: That is the center of the Arrendondo grant.

S: That covered a large area.

V: It was ten miles square the grant was. Of course, we are within the grant.

The original Gainesville went down as far as the Post Office then to West

Second Streeland then up to North Fifth Avenue that goes by the Citizens

Bank and then over to the Sweetwater Branch. Then it was extended a mile

out. Ever since it has been extended and I think that we are going to Newberry.


S: What kind of entertainment was there in Gainesville during this time?

V: We had a opera house and had plays that came by.

S: Did you have any movie houses?

V: Yes.

S: When did they come in?

V: I do not know how early we had moving pictures. THey had an awful time about

having them on Sundays. They were rather straight-laced in that respect.

They finally got over that.

S: You said that the first church here was the First Presbyterian Church?

V: Yes, the first church was the First Presbyterian Church. I was looking for

a book that has a lot of that in it but I could not find it.

S: Did very'many people lead a religious?

V: Well, we had all of the churches, I think. We had the Baptist, Presbyterian,

Methodist, Episcopalian. THose were the main churches. These other churches

like the Church of God have come in since then. I do not know. People had

a good time. There was a park down south of Gainesville called Oliver's

Park. Mr Oliver got ambitious and put a bear in there and a little menagerie

in there. The bear got a hold of a little boy one time and about chewed him

up. He nearly killed'him. That was the last of Mr. Oliver's park. We had-

banks here. We had the Dutton Bank and the First National Bank. MY father

was a cashier in the First National Bank. He came here when we had the wooden

courthouse. He landed in town. He came straight from England. He had a high

silk hat and lavender shirt, and a frock coat and striped trousers. His

brother was the County Surveyor and he could not get him out of town quick

enough because he was afraid that the people would think that the circus had

come to town. Everybody wore jeans at that time and the stores were all

worked by family.

S: What kind of an influence did the automobile have on Gainesville?

V: Well, Reuben Evans was the first one that had an automobile. I think that


he frightened all of the horses and the populace. It soon became quite the

thing to have an automobile. We had the first radio recieving station

our family. My brothers liked to fool with electronics. It seems to me that

the only place was Atlanta for broadcasting and there would be a wild wistle

on it. It was not controlled like it is today. There was always a bunch

of boys coming to our place to listen in on this. THe program was limited.

It was not like it is now.

S: When did television come in?

V: Oh, I do nct know. I think that the,young people today do not appreciate

all the wonderful things that:they have. I came up from oil lamps to gas

lamps to Bunsen burners and then the old electric lamp which was just a

wire and then to the nice electric light. We came from the horse and buggy.

I used to have a horse and I enjoyed riding it. I loved to go horseback

riding. We came on up to automobiles. Now you have all of that given to

you and you do not appreciate it.

S: We tend to take it for granted.

V: Take it for granted, yes. And moving pictures you knw. When we first went

to moving pictures they were silent and someone played the piano. THe faster

that the picture went the faster he would go. THere was just little sentences

put on there to tell you what was going on. Then when they finally got to

where they spoke that was wonderful. Then they got color pictures and that

was even more wonderful. Now, we have television and radio and now we go to

the moon. I think that this world is a wonderful one. Well, I do not know

anymore about old Gainesville. What else would you like to know?

S:- Concerningn the home life like take for instance the kitchen. What kind of

improvements have you seen in the kitchen in your day?

V: At first, we had the wood stove. The colored people would come and cook.

Sometimes we had an oil stove and that was sometimes used in small apartments.


Then we got the electric stove.

S: Did you have any trouble with the oil stoves smoking up?

V: No, I do not know much about it. My mother had one that she used sometimes.

We finally got gas. They made the gas. They did not pipe it in. It is

piped in now, natural gas. But that was artificial gas that we had. THen we

got the electric stove and we have had it for a long time. The water was first

pumped in from out here at Bullen Springs. That is out here south of town

where the city has a park out there. That was the original spring and that

was good clean water. They are having trouble around here because our ground

is porous. We have a lot of sinkholes. You know, out on the University

grounds there are a lot of sinkholes.

S: Did you have any trouble with sinkholes in the earlier days?

V: There is only one hole that I remember them having trouble with. The Coast

LIne came in on Main Street. But before it got to Gainesville about a

half a mile down the road a sinkhole developed under the train as it came

in. Two cars.and the engine let down, it was a freight train. THe engine did

not go in so the engineer was saved. They lost two cars down in the hole.

THey just let them go because it was no use to try to get them out.

S: Was the trains used a lot more in those days then they are now?

V: Yes, we ahd passenger trains. For picnics or something we would go to Cedar

Keyes. Seaboard was the main thing.

S: You said that you had picnics at Cedar Keyes?

V: Yes, we had picnincs at Cedar Keyes and here at the Springs.

S: Everybody from the town?

V: All of the churches would go together. You see, we did not have a big

population. All of the churches would decide to have a picnic. I am an

Episcopalian but I always got at the Baptist table because they had the best

fried chicken.

S: How many people would go to these picnics?


V: We would have about five coaches.

S: Did you ever have services on Sunday in the afternoon?

V: No, they did not. It was just merely a picnic.with lemonade and dinner and


S: Was this every week?

V: No, once a year.

S: Just once a year.

V: I know when we went to see the kids one time one boy got a whole box of

fiddlers and he put them up in the rack of the coach. THe train bumped around

and the fiddlers fell out and everybody got up on top of the seats. It was

really something.

S: What other things did people occupy their time with?

V: Well, there was tennis.

S: Did they have a baseball team?

V: People had their card parties. WHat?

S: Did they have baseball teams?

V: Yes, baseball was a popular sport. Gainesville had an outstanding team.

She beat all of the rest of them around. They had the little local teams.

THey had what they called the Oak Hall team. Oak Hall was Mr. Ropers'

home town team. It was the big one in town and he was the big man. All of

the young men wanted to belong to that. We lived down on the other side of

town and we would see the crowds going around the corner just like we saw them

coming into the hangings. THat was a favorite pasttime and we had a pretty

good team. THen we had the East Florida Seminary here. That was the one that

we had before we had the University.

S: What was that?

V: There was a East Florida and a West Florida Seminary. We get the University

for an addition to the East Florida Seminary. THen they did away with that.


S: When was that?

V: Do not ask me. I think that was in 1914 or 1915, I do not know. When the

University first came here, you would have to get that date.

S: What were schools like in Gainesville then?

V: We had public schools and we had one private school. Miss Maggie Teabow had

that and that is now the parking lot south of the, I do not know if they call

it the Arlington Hotel now or not.

S: Did you go there?

V: No, I did not. I lived near there. It was a beautiful garden place. She

was a very aristocratic lady and she and here niece they taught school there.

Many of the townspeople sent their children there because she taught good

manners as well as grammer. I went to the public school. My people thought

that they would rather have us go there. I had two brothers.

S: Did they just have one classroom for all of the grades or did they split up

the grades?

V: No, the different grades had different classrooms. THe public school that I

went to was on East University Avenue down about where McGriff's place is.

S: How were the teachers?

V: We liked everybody except a Miss Beamer we called her; One of the girls the

other day she was talking about Miss Beamer and she said that some girl had

made up a rhyme about her. I do not know the rhyme but it was something like

our teacher Miss Beamer everyday she gets meaner and meaner.

S: What did you learn in school?

V: All of the regular things, grammer, geography.

S: In high-school did you classes that you went too?

V: No, I did not. I went to the East Florida Seminary when I got through with

the grammer school. I went from there to Stetson University. I do not know

much about the high-school and could not tell you much about it.

S: What was it like at the East Florida Seminary? Did you go from class to class


or were you in the same room?

V: We went from class to class. THey had different grades. I was in the sub-

first grade and Latin bothered me a lot.

S: What did you major in?

V: Well, I went to Deland and I majored in Kindergarten work. I graduated as

a Kindergarten teacher. I came back home and my brother that was just older

then I who was working with my father in the abstract business died very

suddenly. My father had to have someone to help him and I went into it. I

liked research so I worked at that for thirty-five years. I worked at it ten

years after he died. Finally, I sold it out to Barney Coatsman who is in that

business now.

S: What did you do after you sold it out? Did you work at anything after you sold

out the company?

V: No, I retired, and have been a lady of leisure and enjoyed it.

S: WHat was the principal method that people used to travel around the city?

V: Well, they first had horses which they rode or pulled buggies and wagons.

Then the automobile came in.

S: Did they ever have any trouble with the horses and buggies?

V: They would runaway sometimes but not often. I use to wonder when I went to

Jacksonville when we would have these big buses. I thought that they were

so wonderful. Now here there are so many of them that we wish that they were

not here.

S: Did you use to be a member of the League of Women Voters?

V: I was a member of the LEague of Women Voters when they first started.

S: WHen did they first start?

V: I could not tell you the date. They have been here for at least twenty years

I would say. I finally withdrew from them because I got sort of deaf and I

could not hear what theywere saying. THey have done a lot of interesting


research that I have helped on from time to time.

S: What have been the most interesting political elections that have occurred around

here either local or national?

V: Well, we had a lot of exictment way back in the early days. One of our citizens

stuffed the ballot box. I know that they were after him but he went to bed and

he was too sick to be seen. They could not prove that he had done it after all.

THat was the most exciting thing and that was in the very early days.

S: Were there any other races between citizens that got exciting?

V: You mean elections?

S: Yes

V: Well, I do not know. THe only excitement that we had here was after the first

World War ended. Everybody got out every noise-maker that could be had and they

had it going.

End of tape.