February 01, 2009 - The Lake City Reporter

By H. Morris Williams

If you ask many local people why Gainesville won the University of Florida over Lake City, they will say, "Gainesville gave them free water". That may be true but was it really that simple?

Dr. Julian M. Pleasant, writing in his book "Gator Tales: An Oral History of the University of Florida", gave this comparison of what the two towns offered.

*Gainesville offered 660 acres, $40,000, and free water "in perpetuity".

*Lake City offered the already existing campus of the University of Florida (formerly Florida Agriculture College) with its 100 acres, another 82 acres next to the campus, another 800 additional acres, plus a cashier's check for $40,000.

Further, the Lake City campus had a nearly-new $20,000 gymnasium which featured an indoor swimming pool.

Which offer sounds better to you? Remember, Gainesville had no campus and no buildings, whereas Lake City already had an established campus in place, had adequate facilities, and had a faculty where the majority of the teachers had doctorate degrees.

Dr. Pleasant wrote that he thought Lake City had presented a better offer. However, Dr. Edward F. Keuchel, author of A History of Columbia County, Florida, wrote, "The offer of free water was said to have been the deciding factor".

The Florida Board of Control evaluated both offers and awarded UF to Gainesville by a 6-4 vote. Thus, the University of Florida opened in Gainesville on September 24, 1906, with a student body of 102 students and only two buildings on campus, Thomas Hall (named after the Gainesville mayor, W.R. Thomas) and Buckman Hall (named after state representative Henry H. Buckman).


Francis McNeil (CHS 1950) and his wife Miriam will be paying Lake City a rare visit on Wednesday, February 11. Francis' work with the U.S. State Department overseas has kept him from visiting Lake City very often.

Therefore, his friends have arranged a casual drop-in reception for 5 p.m. on February 11 at Tucker's Restaurant inside the old Blanche Hotel so Francis can see his old friends and schoolmates.

Francis' acquaintances are invited to drop in and say hello. Light refreshments will be served but no meal.

Call me at 386-755-8183 to RSVP so we will know how many to expect.


*1998: Sam Eff, a superb science teacher at CHS from 1929-1941, died at age 89. He has started the first CHS track team and school orchestra.

*1971: Realtors Phillip and Freda Pickens began sponsorship of an annual art contest for students at Lake City Junior High School. Judy Broom was the art teacher and the first three winners were Steve Franks, Doug Camper, and LaRue Yarborough.

*1988: Ollie Williams (Mrs. Sidney) caught a nine pound, 11 ounce mudfish at one of the ponds at Occidental (Now PCS), reportedly one of the largest mudfish caught in those ponds.

*1923: Eleven local young men were students at the University of Florida: E. P. Ellis, R. B. Harkness, T.S Ferguson, J.H. Markham, H.E. Redding, A.K. Black, R. D. Futch, L. J. Thomas, W. H. Wilson, Jr., F. I. Buie, and T. J. Geiger (Wellborn).

1976: Past and current Columbia County commissioners Marion Mann, Rodney Dicks, Frank Thomas, James Montgomery, Wayne Nettles, Jim Martin, and Aldine Feagle, all working together, arranged the purchase of the court house annex (old post office building) for the bargain price $214,500.

1996: "The Gathering Tree", a vacant lot at the corner of Long and Marion streets, was acquired by the city and converted from an informal hangout in the Black community to an attractive park. One man who regularly hung out at the old tree said they called it The Tree of Knowledge because "The men sat under it, drank a little, talked some, gained some knowledge, drank some more, talked some more, gained some more knowledge, drank some more..."

1988: The Country Club Plaza opened on East Baya, featuring five stores, including Baya Pharmacy (Owners Carl Allison, Paul Byrd, and Charles Snipes)


A young boy was so late to Sunday School class he missed the entire lesson. The teacher, somewhat sarcastically, said, "Well, at least you got here for the benediction". And the boy replied, "Well, that's a blessing". square

H. Morris Williams is a local historian and long-time Columbia County resident.