interior; it was probably around this time that Archer, originally called Deer Hammock, got its start.
Deer Hammock started out as a tiny cluster of log buildings constructed from the abundant pine forests in the area. Most of the log homes, if not all, were built along traditional Celtic (Scotch-Irish) floor plans and featured one to two rooms, small size (interior dimensions of one-room cabins were 16 by 22 feet), and few or no windows, Common types of cabins were the saddlebag, so named because the doors to the two rooms opened out on the same side of the house, and the 'dog-trot', which was essentially two separate one-room cabins whose doorways faced each other over a commonly shared hall or breezeway. Houses were constructed off the ground anywhere from l to 3 feet, and sat on wooden or limestone piers; this allowed for better cooling of the buildings as well as providing an area for domesticated livestock, such as chickens, to live, Other methods used to help cool these early houses were wide porches or piazzas and open-air breezeways through the center of the structure.
To our way of thinking, the frontier settlement of Deer Hammock would have seemed a crude, impoverished place. Glass was rare in windows. Logs used in building the walls were often unchinked outside and unfinished within. Puncheon floors were split logs laid side by side, through which the ground could be seen between the boards.
The early settlers of Deer Hammock probably ate pretty well, however. Each home grew a garden from which the family gathered enough vegetables for home consumption. Men went hunting and fishing as needed. Cattle and hogs, which roamed freely through the oak groves and hammocks, were killed and butchered whenever the need arose.
During the 18401's and 1850's citizens of Deer Hammock got
their drinking water from a natural well or sinkhole near the
center of the town. Today, no sign of this well exists, although
many people believe it was located somewhere on the west side of
the modern town of Archer.
Although Deer Hammock was a frontier village, and the people used to building what they needed, from time to time they had to visit a general store for merchandise they couldn't make or get by any other means. Early merchants in the community were the Helveston brothers who were both farmers, but ran a general store part-time; probably like their counterparts in other rural southern communities, they took orders from neighbors and then made a once- or twice-monthly trip into Gainesville to pick up the ordered supplies.
The 1840's-1850's were years of continuous change and movement in Archer. Old families, such as the Ellises, pulled up stakes and moved on; new settlers came into the area from Georgia, Alabama and other Southern states. These newcomers built larger farms and planted cotton and sugar cane, which required more labor to plant and harvest; consequently, the new arrivals also brought in more slaves. Some of the slave-holders in the Archer area during this time were Archibald McNeill, David Yulee and Thomas Haile.
Death was a common visitor to Deer or Darden"s Hammock, as the
village was beginning to be called. A person could die from
natural means, such as snakebite or a farming accident or fever,
or he could be killed by another person; in the 1840's homicides
were so common in Alachua County that the sheriff at the time
estimated he was investigating one murder per week. The average
lifespan in Archer during the 19th Century was not very long by
modern standards, 32 years. Part of the reason for this was the
high mortality rate among children; an investigation of headstones
in Laurel Hill Cemetery reveals most children died before their
tenth birthday. Since there were no morticians nor funeral homes in Archer in those days, families handled the burial of their loved ones. The bodies of the dead were washed and prepared by the women in the community and interment was either on the familyts property or in Laurel Hill Cemetery, where the oldest known grave dates back to 1833.
Because lifespans were shorter, people married and had children earlier than we do today. Many women were married by the time they reached sixteen although some married even younger at age thirteen. Families were larger, with six children or more viewed as normal. One of the larger families in Archer in 1860 was the Sapp family, who listed eight children on the census that year.
Florida joined the Union as the twenty-seventh state in 1845, twenty-four years after it had become a U.S. possession; the first senator from the state was David Levy Yulee, an influential politician who had served on the Florida Constitutional Convention and spearheaded the drive for statehood. It was during Yulee's first term that the government began developing large unsettled parts of the country by chartering companies and individuals to build railroads. Yulee, an early railroad promoter, applied for and received a charter to build a line across the state connecting Fernandina on the east coast with Cedar Key on the west. He started construction in 1853 and by 1858 had reached Darden's Hammock.
When it was completed to Cedar Keys in 1860 (Yulee decided to build the spurline to Cedar Keys first to keep within the time limits of his charter) the Florida Railroad was considered to have the best equipment in the state with its two passenger cars (new, of the latest design, accommodating sixty persons each), two baggage cars, fourteen boxcars and twenty-one flatcars.
In order to help the railroad pay for itself and to help
attract new settlers into the area, the government authorized the
Florida Railroad to sell land along its right-of-way, The Florida
Land Improvement Society, made up of principal stockholders in the
Florida Railroad, was created for the task. When the railroaders
reached Darden's Hammock, the Society made three decisions that
permanently affected the village. The first was the rejection of a circular-shaped plat for the town that had been drawn up by the citizens of the existing hamlet. The second was rejection of the placement of the town itself; the Society bought and platted a forty-acre township square directly east of Darden's Hammock, The third was the rejection of the former town's name; in keeping with naming new towns after stockholders in the Florida Railroad or after prominent Florida politicians, the town was christened Archer after James T. Archer, Florida's first Secretary of State and a proponent of internal improvement. The first lots in town were sold to a dozen families from South Carolina.
Better transportation attracted new settlers to Archer, By 1860 there were about eighty families living in the area around the new town. While the majority had come from Georgia many of the newcomers were from South Carolina. There were even two individuals who came from Ireland and one school teacher had been born in Massachusetts. There was more specialization in occupations in the growing community; while the majority were still farmers, there was a sizable group who were carpenters, brick makers, wheelwrights, coopers, merchants and teachers. One member of the town, J.E. Darden, was a student and later admitted to the ministry in Alligator (Lake City) in 1856. W.H. Fitz, seventeen in 1860, was a law student.
Archer's business district centered around the depot. In 1859
and 1860 the business section was comprised of one or two general
stores, a cobbler, a cooper and a smithy. In addition there was
a drug store which also housed a fourth-class post office; the
clerk, George R. Clotfelter, served as post-master from 1859 to
1860. Located near one end of the business section was a brick-
maker. Clay had been discovered four to six feet beneath the
earth's surface and bricks of local clay were being produced as
early as 1853; in time bricks replaced fieldstone and pine logs as
piers under houses and were used in constructing sturdier chimneys.
Outside of town was a turpentine distillery.
By 1860 Archer had both a school and a church. The school, which was attended by only a handful of children in the community, was housed in C.W. Bauknight's unused buggy shed. J.C. Ley, a circuit-riding Methodist minister, conducted the first organized church services in Archer in a small log church built by the congregation near the site of the present day Methodist Church on Church Blvd. Houses of milled lumber gradually replaced earlier log structures in Archer, although they retained the same basic floor plans. outside of town on the east side David Yulee bought 250 acres of land for a cotton plantation and built a home which he named Cotton Wood.
In 1861 the Civil War began. Many facets of life in Archer were affected. Store owners, such as C.W. Bauknight, closed their doors when they left to join the Confederate Army and didn't reopen until War's end in 1865. J.C. Ley volunteered as a chaplain in the Army, suspending organized church services in the community for the next four years. A number of men from town volunteered for duty, sharply reducing the labor force. Farmers and planters were strongly encouraged to plant more of their acreage in food and less in money crops such as cotton and tobacco. Increasing amounts of produce, cattle, cane syrup and turpentine were shipped to Gainesville as the War continued.
With the Federal invasion of East Florida and the subsequent
fall of seaports such as Fernandina and St. Augustine, many
Floridians in the Confederate Army in Tennessee became concerned
that slaves in this part of the state would try to revolt.
Soldiers during this time wrote to their wives to make sure doors
and windows were bolted and not to leave anything outdoors that
might tempt a runaway slave to enter a home. Even outwardly loyal
slaves were suspect: Mrs. Yulee wrote to her husband to "sell Tom,
I am not happy with the thoughts of your being alone with him .... he
will never abandon the hope of freedom, and if your life should
stand in his way, you are not safe..." However, the suspected
slave revolt never materialized, and gradually tensions towards
blacks subsided by the end of 1862.
Part 1.... Part 2.... Part 4.... Part 5.... Part 6.... Part 7.... Part 8.... Archer History Page 1