A Narrative History
Hawthorne is in rural southeastern Alachua County, very close to the boundary with Putnam County. Observers have continually commented on two features about Hawthorne: it has been a crossroads, and it is located in an area of natural beauty where sportsmen have found abundant fish and wildlife. Today Hawthorne continues to be a place where two rail lines join, and where two heavily traveled highways cross. The traveler on SR 20 can drive about 30 miles east through Putnam County to the St. Johns River, or 15 miles to Gainesville, largest city in and county seat of Alachua County. The north-south road, U.S. 301, takes drivers about 30 miles south to Ocala, rapidly growing seat of Marion County, or 70 miles north to Jacksonville. In any of the four directions, the travelers pass open space filled with forests and lakes. Other small communities are located along the routes. Most of them, like Hawthorne, date from the mid-nineteenth century. Along the routes in fall and spring, masses of wild flowers bloom, birds fly overhead, and signs tell of outdoor recreation such as at Lake Lochloosa south of Hawthorne. In winter the great oaks and pines are bright in the sunlight and the chilly mornings do not discourage fisherman who are trying their luck on one of the numerous lakes in the Hawthorne vicinity. In summer people find that the waters of the four hundred or so lakes provide hours of pleasure. The environment has long attracted settlers to the Hawthorne area.
Early residents of the Hawthorne vicinity
The Timucuan Indians were the residents of what is now southeastern Alachua county when the Spanish encountered them early in the 16th century. During the two and a half centuries when Spain controlled Florida, the Timucuans, exposed to disease and hard work, died out. The Creek Indians from Georgia began to move south, seeking land in Florida. In 1750 the Creek chief Sac-a-faca claimed the land which is now Alachua County; he was known as Cowkeeper. The name Seminole was given to these Creeks; one derivation is from the word Cimarron, which means runaway. Gradually, the name was applied to all the Florida Indians. Like the Indians, American settlers crossed into Florida territory to get land. Spain encouraged the newcomers, hoping to build stronger settlements in Florida. Conflicts between the American settlers and the Seminoles over land, and over the Indians providing refuge to runaway slaves, were frequent. Responding to American complaints, in 1818 the United States government sent troops under General Andrew Jackson into Florida. This action led to the First Seminole War, which lasted three years until Spain, unable to protect her interests, ceded Florida to the United States. Territorial Governor Andrew Jackson had two major tasks: to clear up Spanish land titles and to make Florida safe for American settlers. Eventually, the land grants were recognized by the United States. Problems with the Seminoles recurred, slowing settlement, but not stopping it. In 1824 Alachua County was created by the Territorial Government, with the town of Newnansville, northeast of present Gainesville, as County seat. Clashes with the Seminoles continued, erupting into the second Seminole War in 1835. There were no roads in Alachua County to bring in supplies for soldiers, and the fighting was sometimes intense. By July 1836 destruction of settlements had occurred south of the road that led from Black Creek to Newnansville, south of the Bellamy road, and from Picolata on the east to the present site of Hawthorne. Settlers were concentrated at the larger forts and towns, and often had to be supplied from government rations. Many man were not farming, but were away from their families, fighting the war. A stop to the conflict came in 1842.
Beginning of Hawthorne
With a period of relative peace, settlers could return to their homes and grow crops. The 1840s were the period when settlement of the Hawthorne area began. According to Jess Davis, the origin was the establishment of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church after 1840. Daniel Morrison constructed a mill to grind corn; the mill became the nucleus of a small settlement about one mile east of present-day Hawthorne. The United States government passed the Armed Occupation Act in 1842 which enabled a man to claim a 160-acre tract of land as long as he cleared at least five acres, built a house, and lived there for five years. The law made available 200,000 acres starting at Newnansville in Alachua County south to the Peace River, except for coastal property and land two miles from a fort. It was expected that the Act would provide a barrier to Indian raids. Although the Act must have induced settlers to enter Alachua County, the numbers must have been small as the population from 1840 to 1850 increased formally 2282 to 2524. The land office in Newnansville opened in 1843, just before Florida became a state in 1845.
Florida was admitted as a state even though the population was small and lived in frontier conditions. Nearly all the settlements were in North Florida. The third and final phase of the Seminole Wars prevented attention to other pressing problems. Still, the land office in Newnansville was opened for homesteaders outside the Spanish grant areas. Land surveys and government plats were authorized (Winsberg, 1988, and 1995 Florida Almanac). In 1850 the United States Congress passed an Act to enable states to reclaim the "swamp lands" within their limits. The lands were given to the states by the Federal Government . The new state of Florida received land which it put aside in the Internal Improvement Fund. One person who acquired land from the Florida fund in 1861 was C. F. Stokes. This land was later sold to Calvin Waits, and is now part of present-day Hawthorne. Veterans of the Seminole Wars could also claim land grants. One veteran who did so was James Madison Hawthorn, who had come to Florida from Madison, Georgia, with his wife, Parasade McIntosh. The exact date of his arrival in Florida is not clear. According to Lee Baker, there is evidence that his great-grandfather, James Hawthorn, born 1811 in Georgia, bought land 15 miles east of present day Gainesville, Florida in 1834 (Gainesville Sun, Mar. 25, 1979). The family Bible lists names and dates, proving that the surname Hawthorn did not have an 'e' at the end. A study of the Hawthorn family, however, indicates that James and Parasade came around 1850 (Jolley & Jolley, 1878). Whichever is the correct date, Myrtle Hammond Cole, lifelong resident of Hawthorne, wrote that James traveled on a barge across Lake Santa Fe from Waldo, and when he saw the beautiful orange groves near Morrison's Mill, he decided to settle in the vicinity and bought land. Orange groves and water attracted more settlers; some lived near James Hawthorn; the area had the name Jamestown. The name Graball was also used, supposedly started by Negro slaves, who said the merchants grabbed all their money (reported by Hattie Knabb). In 1853 settlement in Alachua County was influenced by railroad construction. An election and picnic were held at Boulware Springs where the voters determined that the county seat would go from Newnansville to a new town on or near the soon-to-be-completed railroad-Gainesville. All mail addressed to Morrison's Mill was sent to Gainesville to be picked up by any citizen of the community who happened to be visiting there. It was brought into the mill where it was distributed. This led Morrison Mill settlers to seek a post office to avoid delays. In 1854 a post office was established at Morrison's Mill, according to the Chronicles of Florida Post Offices. Benjamin W. Powell was the first postmaster, followed by John Peacock, William H. Register, Calvin Waits, Thurlow Bishop, George H. Bates, Lawrence J. Stokes, and James F. Sikes, whose service ended in March, 1879. In 1859 the First Baptist Church of Hawthorne was completed (no longer exists.) The first train on the Florida Railroad that was started in 1855 in Fernandina arrived in Gainesville on April 21. The future looked bright for Alachua County, as the area was at peace. The final phase of the Seminole Wars that began in 1855 ended in 1858. Veterans of the wars were eligible to receive grants, James Hawthorn was awarded land that was west of what is now the Hawthorne town lake, and north of what were the holdings of Calvin Waits. The 1860 census document of Alachua County's 17th Division, which includes Hawthorn town, listed blacksmith Capell, country store owner Calvin Waits and another store owner, John Peacock, carpenter John Cannon, master carpenters Willis Cannon and W.R. Craig, and physician W.W. Johnson. The other occupations were farmers and farm laborers. The growth of the small settlement was once again interrupted by war.
The railroad tracks from Gainesville to Cedar Key were completed in 1861, just in time for the Civil War. Florida's chief contributions to the Southern Army were white males, beef cattle, and salt. There was some fighting in Alachua County, around Gainesville. The newly laid railroad tracks were damaged. Even during the war years there was some development in Hawthorne. The First Baptist Church congregation secured land from Calvin Waits for a new building in 1862. The oldest house in Hawthorne is said to have been built during the war on Johnson Street of the Jamestown settlement by Mr. Tillis. A sizable house, known as the Tillis-Gay house, it dates to 1863, according to a member of the Gay family, Mrs. Ella Gay, who resided there until her death in 1983. Ella's husband, Earl Gay, was the son of the Gays who lived in the house after Mr. Tillis. Earl, who was well known in the community, and served on the Alachua County School Board for 17 ½ years, added a concrete block to the house, which is made of coquina block, building material that was used again in Hawthorne. The gymnasium of the Hawthorne High School is named after Earl. Ella operated a millinery store in her house and later worked in Spivey's General Store, a small structure on Johnson Street that was typical of such establishments and was popular with townspeople. Ella sold the first Camel cigarettes to appear in Hawthorne. She served her community and her church; the Fellowship Hall in the Methodist Church was named after her.
After the Civil War
The end of the Civil War marked a decided change in the history of settlement in Florida. At the beginning of the war 6% of Florida population lived south of Gainesville; by 1900 28% of Florida population lived south of Gainesville. Alachua County did not experience the rapid growth of southern Florida, but development did occur after the war. With a good climate and soil, Alachua County attracted capable farmers, including newly freed African-Americans from South Carolina and Georgia who came seeking land. The diversity of crops was surprising; around the Jamestown area, farmers shared in the County's harvests of cotton, oranges, sorghum, and other crops. Other jobs developed near Gainesville as railroads were constructed. The Florida Railroad which came into Gainesville was rebuild and acquired a new name, the Atlantic, Gulf and West India Transit Company. Education was a concern in Jamestown. Mrs. Forward of Palatka was the first teacher to come into the area; she came in the Civil War period. In 1869 a log cabin served as the school; the schoolmaster then was Dr. Clark. The sawmill came, along with other activities bringing more people, and the little town outgrew its school. In early 1871 a new two-story frame schoolhouse opened on Johnson Street. The lower floor had schoolrooms; the upper floor was used for the Masonic Lodge, which dates from 1872 (information from histories by Buchholz and Davis).
An Important Two Years - 1879-1881
In 1879 James Hawthorn completed the first plat of the "Town of Hawthorn"; the plat shows 34 blocks with a church at the northwest corner of May and Johnson Streets. This plat was not recorded until March 16, 1908. The first confirmed discovery of phosphate rock in Florida was made in 1879 near Hawthorne by Dr. C.A. Simmons, who began mining it there in 1883, but he ran out of capital (see Florida Phosphate Industry by A.F. Blakey and Sara Drybe; Alachua County 1880-1900 - A Sesquicentennial Tribute, ed. J.B. Opdyke, published by the Alachua County Historical Commission in 1974). Zonira Hunter Tolles, writing a history of Melrose, stated that it was the discovery of phosphate that brought attention to the Jamestown settlement, and caused the move of the post office from Morrison's Mill to Jamestown. In 1870 the post office was opened in Jamestown. The first postmaster was Lawrence J. Stokes. That same year the two settlements of Jamestown and Waits Crossing merged and were known as Jamestown. The next year at a public meeting the town was renamed Hawthorn upon the request of James Hawthorn. (An E was added to the city name, probably unintentionally, by the railroads; the post office resisted the change until it became official in 1950. To prevent confusion, the spelling "Hawthorne" is used in this history.) Subsequent postmasters were James Bell, Lorenzo Bell, John L. Brown, William H. Berkstresser, T.J. Hammond, William H. Berkstresser, Nina Berkstresser, Mrs. Kirby Smith, Leslie A. Sherouse, Clara E. Sherouse, and William Baker, who served in the 1950s. Nina Berkstresser and her sister, Helen Middleton, told some family history to Frances Stephens around 1970. Berkstresser family members first came to Florida from Pennsylvania in the early 1880s. The son, W.H. Berkstresser, after the freeze destroyed the family groves, had more than one occupation. He bought a two-story house on Johnson Street; it served as post office on the ground floor, and the family lived on the second floor. Mrs. Berkstresser made ice cream to sell, and they had soft drinks and small goods for sale. Mr. Berkstresser also built the house next door for his elderly mother. It was then occupied by Mrs. Godon Middleton, and has stayed in that family. People claimed their mail from Postmaster Berkstresser at the entrance on the first floor of the building. The house today has been remodeled; the present owner, Ina Kay Morgan, is a granddaughter of W.H. Berkstresser. People were moving into the area because of the excellent hunting and fishing. In 1880 W.S. Moore moved from Tennessee to Hawthorne to be a writer; he soon became an outdoors man. The era of railroad construction was in full force in the 1870s and it was 1879 that brought the railroads to Hawthorne. Not every town had the advantage of two rail lines, with trains heading toward each of the four points of the compass. The Florida Railroad, which had built from Fernandina to Gainesville by 1859 and to Cedar Key by 1861, organized a subsidiary, the Peninsular Railroad, to complete its pre-war plan for a branch from Waldo to Ocala and beyond. The 1861 grade had continued in a straight line through Orange Heights, Campville, and Hawthorne, and today underlies several miles of Holden Park Road. But when track-laying crews reached Hawthorne in 1879, they installed a curve and headed for the fish, vegetables, and fruit of Lochloosa, Island Grove, and Citra. At the same time, crews of the smaller Florida Southern reached the area, building from Palatka to Gainesville; it was the intersection of the two lines that came to be called Waits Crossing. The north-south line became part of a large, reorganized Florida Central & Peninsular in 1888, and the FC&P became one of the largest components of Seaboard Air Line RR in 1900. The east-west line was taken into Henry Plant's system in 1895, and the Plant lines were absorbed into the Atlantic Coast line in 1902. Initial construction was not easy because not everyone wanted the railroads. Mrs. Laughinhouse-Stephens told how some settlers met the railroad track layers with shotguns. Her father, who was the railroad track foreman in charge of getting the tracks through the towns, said that the law was if the tracks were laid and the trains passed over them, then the tracks were secure and could not be taken out again. The crews often finished laying track during the night; the train ran early in the morning, and the land owners woke to find the deed done. One landowner who held significant acreage welcomed the railroad. James Hawthorn is said to have donated land to entice the Florida and Southern line to located west of the town lake. Hawthorne was incorporated in 1881; this was validated in 1883 and again in 1887 (see Laws of Florida, Chapter 2382, Acts of 1883 , and Chapter 4654, Acts of 1887). The Waits Crossing plat was recorded in August, 1881; there were 11 blocks south of Jamestown. Waits Crossing derives its name from the crossroads formed by the Florida Southern Railroad and the Peninsular Railroad. There were additional plats by Waits in 1882 and 1883.
History, part II