Boom Times in Hawthorne
The U. S. Census in 1920 counted 543 people in Hawthorn Town. This was an increase of 219 in the Town over the count in 1910. The 1920s was a period of building in Hawthorne, although North Florida did not experience the boom times of the southern part of the state. Poole's Addition was recorded on August 1, 1925, while Lakeview was recorded in July, 1925. Also, in 1920, Dr. G. M. Floyd purchased the McFadden house, which was located on land that Mr. Stokes had received from the Internal Improvement Fund in 1961. The McFadden house was a landmark in Hawthorne, and was the site of the founding of the Woman's Club. The house was owned by Hawthorns and Waits, members of the two families intimately connected with the founding of the city. Presently, the house is on the Florida Site File, and is owned by Ned Davis. The abstract of title to Dr. Floyd was the source for information about ownership of the property.
The economy encouraged the start-up of businesses and building of residences. Edwin Bates opened his barber shop in Johnson Street, and built fashionable residences on Center Street (Southeast 1st Street). A machine for making coquina bricks was brought over from St. Augustine. These bricks were the building material for the D. H. Matthews house on SW 2nd Street, and the Ford Agency opened by Francis Moore's father.
D. H. Matthews' son, known as Billy Matthews, became a member of the United States Congress. The Myrick house on West Lake was home to O. M. Edwards, principal of Hawthorne High School; his son, Edward, became Governor of South Carolina. On Center Street, Reid and Florrie Morrison bought an older house in 1923; it was torn down and a new one built on the site in 1935, with Albert Bates as the carpenter. The house is now the home of R. B. Baker, III. Descendent Robert Morrison recalls his fondest memory as a boy working in Earl Gay's grocery store where he waited on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who had come from Cross Creek to shop and visit. In the African-American community, houses were build by Mr. Wes Jenkins on NW 5th Avenue.
By 1927-28 the Gainesville Directory listed 950 as the population; this must have included some people in the areas around the town. The directory listed a bank, an accredited high school, a cotton and a moss gin, ice and electric plants, water works, special and general stores, Western Union office, railway express and telephone exchange, with Berkstresser as postmaster (Gainesville Sun, Mar.25, 1991, Barbara Foster). A change occurred in Hawthorne in 1927-28 when Florida Power and Light replaced Capell's power plant and ice house, north of today's fire station.
Chester Shell finally found financing for a school for colored children. Prior to 1915 there was no school for Negro children in the town; from 1915-1922 they attended classes in a community hall , which was partitioned with bed sheets to provide two rooms, the larger for the older children. Leaders of the black community tried to get help from the Alachua County School Board from 1922 to 1925, but were refused despite repeated requests from Walter Knight, Sam Stitt, Ed Woodard, Jim Atkins, Garfield Jenkins Wesley Jenkins, C. B. Gibbs, Josh Nelson, and Chester Shell. The answer was always "no funds." This did not weaken Mr. Shell's determination.
Besides being a full-time railroad employee, Mr. Shell was a seasonal sports guide who know many well-to-do northerners who came to Hawthorne to hunt and fish. Chester Shell led groups staying at the Moore Hotel to good locations in the forest and lakes surrounding the city.
In 1925 he met Mr. Julius Rosenwald, who had been president of Sears from 1909 to 1924. The African-American community in Hawthorne learned about the Rosenwald foundation. One of the Rosenwald goals was to improve education and provide opportunities for Negroes in America. A condition for aid was matching funds; the black community finally raised the money through such means as suppers. After waiting for the new school to be built for white students, they were able to move into a school building. In 1929 the total enrollment in the Negro school was 32 and Minnie Starke Jones was the teacher. The term was 2 months. When the term was extended to 3 months, parents were asked for 25 cents per child. Those who could not pay brought vegetables, fruit, and other foods that supplemented the teacher's salary of $30 per month.
The African-American community on Third Avenue was growing. Mrs. Herring reported that she was born in the house she still lives in, and she is eighty years old. The ladies who gave information said that Mrs. Gussie Robertson's house at 508 NW 3rd Avenue is the oldest house in the neighborhood; another old home is that of Mrs. Julia Jones at 702 NW 3rd Avenue. Eunice Jenkins, who is 82 years old, remembers Mrs. Jones, who was then an elderly lady. Mrs. Jones's son inherited the house. Mrs. Fannie Gordon, now in her 70's, lives in the house her mother owned at 601 NW 3rd Avenue. Betty Williams lived at 203 NW 7th Street; Eunice Jenkins remember childhood visits to the house in the 1920s.
Depression and hard years in the 1930s
This period did not start off badly. In 1930 the U.S. Census counted 1369 persons in the vicinity, and 600 in Hawthorn Town.
Famous writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had a neighbor in Cross Creek, J. T. Glisson. In his book he related how his sister, the salutatorian of her ten-member class in Hawthorne High School, went to her senior banquet in the Hawthorne City Hall. Marjorie shopped in Hawthorne at the Better Food Store, where Francis Moore worked as a boy. Harry Baker, Hawthorne resident, was on the jury for the famous court trial when Zelma Cason sued Marjorie for slander because of what was written in Cross Creek. Marjorie lost, and had to pay $1 to Zelma.
Many African-American homes were built before the big crash; houses in the Brown Street vicinity belonging to the Shells, the Herrings, the Jenkins, and the Williams were all frame vernaculars. Midwife Maggie Shell Parker lived on NW 7th Street. The New Hope Methodist Church was moved to the southeast section of Hawthorne, near the town lake. A small settlement of African-American families began [building] in this area, with houses located along the east-west train tracks.
Joel Smith, once employed by the Moore Ford Agency, turned to agriculture. He built a nice bungalow on Center Street around 1930. Business slowed to a halt when the worst of the depression hit. Mr. Henroid's moss gin, that he started in 1929, stayed open; collecting moss to make stuffing for furniture was one way people could earn money. The bean shed opened in the former railroad freight depot. Hawthorne's beans sold widely. When the bank failed, P.T. Lewis, its president, stayed in Hawthorne and opened a service station on Johnson Street, old U.S. 301. Ferris Johnson moved from St. Augustine, and opened a drugstore across from the Gay house on Johnson Street. When it burned, he opened a second drugstore in the old bank building. The E. L. Johnson brick cottage is known in Hawthorne for having been built in 1932, a bad year for investment.
The Ford Agency building located near the train tracks operated by selling cars almost at cost. Later, this building became a revival center, and is so used today. Brick from the old high school was used to create a front for the building.
To increase problems, the old City Hall burned. This building had been the scene of plays, vaudeville shows, and other social events. In 1939 the WPA built the present Hawthorne City Hall, a white stucco building with Mediterranean influence. The bell tower was from the Presbyterian Church.
Despite the poor economy, Hawthorne still served as a crossroads. Not all SAL trains stopped here, but those that did brought passengers from Tampa, Miami, and northern cities as distant as Richmond, Washington , and New York. The ACL line, a meandering branch known locally as the Peavine, ran a mixed train--one coach and several freight cars--from Palatka to Gainesville in the morning, and back to Palatka in the afternoon. The local Rails-to-Trails route follows that portion of the old ACL between Hawthorne and Gainesville. In the 1930s Highway 20 was paved with an overpass above the railroad. Traversing the north end of town, the road connects Hawthorne on the west with Gainesville and on the east with Putnam County. This highway now intersects with new U.S. 301, forming the major intersection in the area.
The turpentine still was in the south end of town. Along with other businesses, it was owned by E.L. Johnson, who began the business after the boll weevil destroyed cotton farming. Hawthorne remained essentially an agricultural center. Corn, oats, vegetables, melons, cantaloupes, and peaches were produced around the area. Guy Lindsey, an employee of the Moore Ford Agency, invented the first method for cooling vegetables on a truck by locating a small gasoline engine behind the cab; the engine drove a fan that circulated air through blocks of ice, thus keeping the vegetables fresh. He hauled produce to New York and Philadelphia. The Lindsey house, a frame bungalow built around 1920, on South Johnson Street.
The 1940 brings renewal
The year 1940 found 711 in Hawthorn Town. A number of houses were constructed. Two new houses were located on Southwest 5th Street: the Cannody house, a frame cottage later sold to the Carltons, and the Benfield house, a frame vernacular. In the northwest section of Hawthorne the African-American community spread out onto Northwest 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th streets. Some families bought land from the Sherouse family; Mr. Sherouse was a postmaster and businessman.
The Mabel White house was built on North Johnson Street; her husband had been the Presbyterian Church minister. Center Street filled in when the Mattie Bates house was built in 1941, and the Beckham-Allen house in 1944. Two substantial houses were built on West Lake Avenue; the Jack Williams-Bezzy house in 1945 is a Colonial Revival two-story masonry home and the Carrie Brown house, which is a masonry two-story, with a garage downstairs and an apartment above. One house that is very close to being fifty years old, the Ferris Johnson house, has Cape Code influence. It is known in town for its many gables. In 1948 the Hawthorne Hotel was made into apartments which continue to be occupied.
Hawthorne agricultural makeup began to change in the 1940s. The land, weakened by many years of planting, was low in price ($13 an acre). In 1940 the National Container Corporation bought 15,000 acres and the pulpwood industry began. Another purchase of 40,000 acres around Lake Lochloosa south of Hawthorne occurred at the end of the 1940s. Much of this land was acquired for a state forest at the end of the period, and thus has remained empty. This partially accounts for the continued attraction of the Hawthorne environs to sportsmen.
In the 1940s African-Americans in Hawthorne told University of Florida researchers that there was a lively street life in the Brown Street community. These women, who had been students in the Hawthorne Negro School, recall shops, the black movie house, church affairs, and the Sunday Morning Band. The Band, a social group which met once a week, was affiliated with other Sunday Morning Bands in nearby communities. The number of homes owned in the Brown street neighborhood increased; these are all frame vernaculars. One lady explained that she and her husband went north with all their children in the summers and picked fruit. When they returned each fall, they bought additional building supplies and gradually, they finished their house. These frame houses were altered later when a block grant provided funds to re-clad exteriors with aluminum siding and put in aluminum windows.
Mr. Morrison, who is a great-grandson of the Morrisons who ran the mill where settlers first received their mail, recalls lively street life on Johnson Street and outdoor life in Magnesia Springs, famed for its waters. About three miles west of town, the Springs attracted Hawthorne residents who went there for recreation in the two pools, as well as for cures. The healing water was sold at Moore's hotel and by the Magnesia Springs Water Company, which sold bottles regionally until 1966. Camp Blanding, where the Florida Militia were located, consumed 800 to 1000 bottles a week. The days of Magnesia Springs ended in 1974 when a nudist colony took up residence there; presently the springs are privately owned.
The 1950s, a period of slower population growth than the 40s
Population in 1950 was 1058 in Hawthorne town, an increase of 347 over 1940. The decade of the 1950s was a period when growth slowed. The Census did record the name of the town with a final E.
The Gainesville Sun reported that in 1954 Hawthorne had several churches, a fine City Hall, homes, and diversified stores. The mix of Hawthorne businesses was reflected in the ads accompanying the special sections on the town.
Hawthorne was well know for its lima beans. The bean packing sheds were busy. On what is now U.S. 301, next to the railroad tracks, there was a bean packing shed filled with workers. In the heart of town, Guy Lindsey's packing shed was even larger. For a period in the 1940s Hawthorne was known as the "lima bean capital," but this title became meaningless as people began to purchase frozen foods, thus ending the fresh lima bean business by the early 1950s. The Lindsey bean shed is gone, but the shed on U.S. 301 has been refurbished; in its present form it houses a popular Bingo Hall.
More farmland was sold to lumber companies, because it was not profitable to farm. Workers were still tapping trees for turpentine, but this business, too, was on the way out as the 1950s came to a close.
The 1960s - a period of little growth
In 1960 the Census count was 1167, indicating a growth of 109 persons over 1950. Hawthorne in the 1960s experienced a decline.
Old U.S. 301, Johnson Street, was bypassed by new U.S. 301, which created a corridor for fast traffic, connecting Hawthorne north to Jacksonville and south to Ocala. The service stations and restaurants moved to the new road. Johnson Street still had the town services.
Sid Martin, a Florida House of Representatives member for many years, opened his Johnson Street insurance business in a remodeled service station built by Standard Oil dealer F. W. Tyson. Currently, deputies of the Alachua County Sheriff's Department are using the building.
Chester Shell died in 1966. He had visited 37 states, using his railroad pass, and had helped guide hundreds of visitors through Hawthorne woods and lakes. Shell Elementary on NW Third Avenue, formerly Brown Street, bears his name.
A circa 1960 information sheet titled "Hawthorne Highlights" shows that the trains and the Greyhound Bus came through town; there was mining and agriculture. Hunting, fishing and swimming were attractions, and there were social and civic organizations, A bank, medical facilities, and additional paved rads were planned. One highlight was "7000" cars going through the town. Despite these activities and plans, Hawthorne did not increase its population in the 1960s.
The 1970s - growth begins again
In 1970 the population was 1126, indicating a loss of 41 since 1960. During the 1970s the population began to grown.
Automobiles became the dominant means of transportation as passenger trains and buses ceased service. Hawthorne became more of a bedroom community, as residents commuted to Gainesville, which was growing. The University of Florida and the hospitals in Gainesville were major employers.
Hawthorne continued to be an education center, with students bussed into the schools.
The historic older homes and buildings in the center of town declined in importance, as newer homes were built in subdivisions in the north and eastern part of the City. Many of the older structures were lost.
The 1980s brings signs of renewal
The population of 1303 in 1980 reflects an increase of 277 over 1970. A traffic count on Highway 301 showed that in 1980, 7405 cars per day traveled north and 7231 south. By 1985 the count showed 11,344 per day going north, and 10,685 south.
In 1983 Eloise Cozens-Henderson and Mary Onkka wrote "Hawthorne, Florida, City with a Heart" for Creative Years. This article described Hawthorne in the early 1980s, with people moving in to enjoy the easy lifestyle amid the oaks and lakes, people farming to produce squash, eggplant, bell peppers and corn. The main Seaboard Cost Line trains passed through the town. Employers included the sand mines, the chicken ranches, and the plywood mill of Georgia Pacific. Two facilities of note were constructed on Johnson Street: a large, modern post office was built in 1983 at the north end and an attractive library was opened near City Hall. A favorite place was the old fashioned soda fountain located in the small Corner Drug Store at the corner where Lake Avenue intersects with Johnson Street. Unfortunately, in 1983 a tornado destroyed the Catholic Church, and did damage to less significant buildings. Hawthorne made a surprisingly quick comeback.
The 1990s are looking forward
The population is continuing to grow. Hawthorne at present is a friendly place where new families mix with descendants of families long associated with local history. Young African-Americans said that they prefer to live in the quiet neighborhoods of their youth, even if it means commuting to work. Francis Moore still lives with his wife, Mary, in the house his parents bought. Chester Shell's daughter taught in Hawthorne schools, and Surrency family serve on the City Commission. Ina K. Morgan lives in the Johnson Street house that served as the post office operated by members of her family. At the same time new residents are redoing older homes, opening businesses, and building residences on the shores of the many lakes in the vicinity. The impulse to revitalization is shared by longtime residents like Mary Moore and newer residents like Jane Segal, both of whom are appointed members of the Community Redevelopment Agency. Residents agree that they like the lovely environment and way of life of their city. Johnson Street is the center of the community, where the post office, city hall, library (which is now considerably enlarged), and the bank are located.
A busy dentist's office is across from the First Baptist Church on North Johnson Street, while a medical clinic, operated by the University of Florida medical school, has been opened in the southwestern part of the city. The clinic is located at the Gainesville-to-Hawthorne trail head. Runners, bikes, and horseback riders enjoy the beautiful woods surrounding Hawthorne, as so many people have done during the history of the town.
Hawthorne schools are a significant factor in the identity of the town. Children from the urban area and the outlying areas attend school from kindergarten through senior high school within the City. Townspeople support the activities and the teams. Hawthorne churches are active and well-maintained. The buildings give character to the neighborhood in which they are focal points.
Historic buildings are located in five neighborhoods, one being Johnson Street with its mix of public and private, commercial and residential structures. The canopy neighborhood is west of Johnson Street, and north of Lake Avenue. On the oak-shaded streets are the First United Methodist Church and the Woman's Club. West Lake Avenue is a long street of historic homes and the Hawthorne High School; Lake ends in the park at the Town Lake east of U.S. 301. First Street, or Center Street, which also has many older homes, is just west of U.S. 301. The Third Avenue or Brown Street neighborhood is in the westernmost section of the City, much of it to the north. Outside of the five neighborhoods, there are a few historic buildings mostly located on or near U.S. 301.
Hawthorn needs to act to protect these valuable resources that are now identified and placed on the Florida Site File. The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has the proposed Historic Guidelines. It is important the CRA discuss with the City Commission how to proceed to the next step in protection of the historic building in their friendly city set in one of the lovely parts of Florida.
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