Oral Histories

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Out of the Storm

Oral History from A.K.Black.
From Wednesday, 18 December 1991 issue of the Gainesville Sun

In September 1926, my wife, Lassie, and I were the owners and operators of a little cafe in Waldo, known as the  The Idle Hour Cafe. We sold cigars, newspapers, magazines, sandwiches and short orders.  We made and sold ice cream.  We ate our meals at the Cafe and rented a bedroom about one block from it at the home of Aubrey Cone.

The Idle Hour Cafe, appropriately, was the loafing spot for the railroad employees, all of whom worked for the Seaboard line.  The fast trains from the North heading for Miami, Tampa and other spots along this route, passed through Waldo. Our cafe would open at 6 a.m. and close about 10 p.m.

In the wee hours one mid-September morning, we were awakened by a "call boy" employed by the Seaboard RR who said an urgent message had been received at the train station, and he had been told to deliver it at once in person.  The message was to advise us that there had been a terrific storm along the lower east coast of Florida and that a special train was headed North through Waldo, which would arrive about sun-up.

Approximately 400 to 500 refugees would be aboard, including injured persons, newborn babies and expectant mothers who had not had food or drink for a number of hours.

We were asked to prepare 500 sandwiches and 25 gallons of hot coffee.  Lassie went to the cafe, opened up and built a fire in the wooden cook stove to make the coffee.   I went to C.C. Sparkman's home, woke him up and explained the emergency, then the two of us went to Gainesville to Mr. Sparkman's wholesale business.   When we returned, with the help of off duty railroad employees, the 500 ham and mayonnaise sandwiches were prepared, wrapped and packed in boxes.

We explained the coffee would be hot and ready, but we were advised by the railroad company we would need help in carrying the six to eight 5 gallon cans of hot coffee to the station, a distance of 75 to 100 yards.

The railroad employees stood by when just at daybreak, the train whistle could be heard several miles in the distance, and we were ready.  The cans of coffee were removed from the stove and with sacks of sugar, cans of evaporated milk and the boxes of sandwiches we delivered them to the train station.  Within 15 minutes, the train was again on its way, whistle blowing and bell ringing as tokens of thanks.  As it passed by, there were 15 day coaches and baggage cars, many windows were missing with sand and debris covering the seats of the cars.

A woman was standing in a door of a baggage car crying.  She had three small children with her, and said the storm was still blowing and that she could not find the children's parents.  She was taking them to their grandparents in Georgia.

Our mission had been completed, and we knew why the conductor did not as usual say, "all aboard".  On that journey, he also would not say "tickets please".   Later we learned that many people lost their lives in this south Florida hurricane.  At the date when this story was told, A.K.Black, 87, lived in Lake City with his wife, Lassie.


Story from the DeSha book

In 1883, some of the men of the town decided that they needed a liquor store and at least one saloon.  An article was published in the newspaper on Saturday and by the next morning everyone in Waldo knew of this intention.  There is no definite record of the text of the Sunday morning sermon, but it was told that the preachers spoke on the subject with plenty to say.  Some of the women were shocked, embarrassed, angry and disturbed to the point of tears.  Mrs. Wilkerson armed with an umbrella, and accompanied by a good number of wives in the community, sought out the instigators and so forceful were the women that some of the men were run out of town.  It was understood that there would be no "Frontier Saloon with its wine, women and song" in Waldo.  (author's note:   there still isn't in 2003).



Mitchell Family by Ruby Cauthron Mitchell

The Mitchell Family were very early settlers in Waldo, arriving by covered wagons  in the 1800's from South Carolina.  They are listed in the census as early as 1880.  The Gordon family and Molphurs families were newcomers to Florida when Sarah Gordon met and married George Molphurs.  They had a daughter Ruth who married Arthur Cauthron.  Ruby Lucille was one of the siblings in a large family.   The family owned a truck gardening farm in the Waldo area.  The farm is still owned in a family trust with Ruby Cauthron Mitchell, residing on the property.


Ruby Family
Mitchell - Ruby, Andrew, Gwen & Andrew Jr. circa 1945 at their farm on 161st Ave. in Waldo

Love's Legacy -- Andrew and Ruby

It was love at first sight.  the kind of love that leaves a legacy within a family.  True to each other other and their family through the good times and the bad times.

AndrewMitchell, 1937Ruby first saw Andrew's picture at a friend's house,   "My what a handsome man -- I want to meet that man!"

Three days later -- her wish came true.  She was teaching the youth group for her Baptist Church when this handsome young stranger walked in and sat in her class.

That was the beginning of a week of love -

  • Monday -- They went on a picnic,
  • Tuesday -- He visited her house and they sat on the porch swing,
  • Wednesday -- Another evening on the porch swing,
  • Thursday -- They took a hand-in-hand walk down a country road,
  • Friday -- They took a very long walk down a country road,
  • Saturday -- They got married and began a 54 year lifetime of devotion to each other.

After her husband's death, Ruby continued to be a participating member of the Waldo community.  She achieved Waldo Senior Citizen of the Year.  Ruby has worked at Sunland, Camp Blanding, and Sorority House at University of Florida.  She retired from Sunland in December 1989.

Ruby also worked in downtown Waldo at the Bakery once located in the main section of the old buildings.  She remembers Mayor Davis, Councilman Rodney Estes and other young boys always stopping by the shop to get donuts on their way to school.  Ruby is a good cook,  fixes greens 'to die for' but won't reveal her secret recipe.

Memories of Waldo from:   Rast MCMichen, with reference to Florida History Magazine

The Waldo Hotel was torn down in 1936.  He says he has never heard of the information about a fire that burned the City.  He says he remembers in 1927,  Mr.Bagley, General Manager of  SAL wanted to enlarge the Railroad Shop area but the City Council told him NO.  He remembers that Bagley got up in the middle of the meeting and said he would make a Mile Post of the town ( This was on a Thursday night..) Monday morning work trains and wrecking crews tore down everything and moved the Shop to Wildwood and Baldwin....the rest is history.


Mary Ann Rich

From:  The Older American --February, 1990

In 1987, Mary Ann received the Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award from the City of Waldo.

Mary Ann Rich, who was born and raised in the Alachua County community of Waldo, is our Employee of the Month.  Growing up in Waldo, Mary Ann attended Waldo Elementary School, went on to Hawthorne Middle School and graduated from Lincoln High School in Gainesville. "By the time I got out of school, I probably put in enough time on the road to get to California and back, "  she said smiling.

Mary Ann's brothers and sisters live in Alachua County except for Bobby P. who lives in Natchez, Mississippi, her sisters, Catherine and Henry Lee, live in Gainesville and Waldo respectively.  Her brother Frank T. lives in Miami,  (has retired and now lives in Waldo) while Charles resides in Waldo,  with Columbus and Lougene living in Gainesville.  "As children, our father was very strict... We couldn't do some of the activities that other children could do at that time.   However, we did keep ourselves busy playing baseball, volleyball, jacks, jump rope and generally having a good time -- within limits," she said sternly.

In 1965, Mary Ann married her high school sweetheart, Johnny Lee Rich.  "My father wasn't fond of Johnny Lee and didn't want us to get married, but Daddy passed away in the early part of 1965 and we were married in December of ;1965" Mary Ann said.

After graduating from high school, she got a job at the Orchard Restaurant in Waldo.  Working there for four years, she resigned in 1964 and started working at Sunland Center as a cottage parent.  Mary Ann left Sunland in 1976 due to maternity leave because she was expecting their little girl Jose Marie who was born in 1977.

After two years, Mary Ann went back to work, this time at Fabric King in Gainesville as a sales clerk.  Then, in 1982, she went to the Child Protection Agency as a parent educator in the nurturing program.  Along with her work experience, Mary Ann's volunteer experience is also diverse.

She has worked with, and received commendations from, The Volunteer Center, Central Florida Community Action Agency, Inc., Acorn Clinic, and has had an integral part in the Hope for the Holidays program which is sponsored in part by The Gainesville Sun and The Volunteer Center.

To add to an already active life, Mary Ann is a member of the Waldo Works Council, a civic action agency and helps out with the Girl Scouts of Waldo.   Also, she sings in the choir of the Philadelphia Baptist Church in Waldo.  In 1987, Mary Ann received the Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award from the City of Waldo.   We are proud to be able to be a part of such an active, caring and concerned citizen's Life

She is presently (2003) working as Manager of the Elder Care Food Program at the Waldo Community Center.


GROWING UP IN WALDO --- by Barbara Goldtrap Pearce  (part 1)

I was around 8 when we moved into Waldo from the Orange Heights/Hatchet Creek area.   Our Dad bought a house close to the Canal.  At that time, there was a railroad track that ran from town down to the Canal.  One train a day came down to pick up timber from the sawmill at this end of the Canal.  Us kids, two boys and five girls, would stand in the yard and watch and wait for the trainmen who would throw us change or candy.  This was probably in the early 40's.  My youngest sister, Judy, was born while we were living close to the Canal.

There were hobos who would get out of the boxcars and come to the back door and ask for food.  Our mother would fix them a pie tin with whatever she had cooked and they would sit out back to eat.  Us kids were taught to stay in the house while they were around.

Our Dad or brothers would take us to the Canal with them to fish.  At that time, the Canal was wide and deep with only a footpath leading about 3/4 of the way to the lake.   There was an old abandoned houseboat partly submerged at the end.  It was always spooky looking to us kids. We had heard there were ghosts on board, so we stayed close to whoever took us.  One day, our Dad and brothers were fishing there and brought up an old fish stringer full of nice, fat fish which someone had lost.  Being a big family, we really enjoyed that fish fry.  Dad always had a garden.  Raised pigs and chickens and a cow or two.  We never went hungry.

On Saturdays, we would all load up and go into town (Waldo).  There was one line of stores where all the old antique stores are now.  Starting at the south end of the block was a filling station, where the chain-link fenced concrete area is, next to the old Mullet Man store, which was then a barber shop.  North of the barbershop was Donaldson and Oglesby grocery store, where the Thrift shop is now.  Next was Sparkman's grocery store.  At the end of that block was at one time a hardware and feed store, Where City Hall and the Police Station now are,  there was another grocery store, but I don't remember what it was called.  Across the street, where Waldo Hardware is now, was a drug store with a soda fountain, and next to that was a small post office.  I don't think the hardware store is the original building, but it could be in the back.  We could get our prescriptions filled there.  There as a doctor there also.  I believe his name was Dr. Beville.

Going back to where the filling station was, south of the Mullet Man store, there was another one across the street from there, which is now a vacant lot.  That's where 301 used to come through town in back of that row of stores and curved around between the two gas stations, crossed the railroad tracks and curved back to the right, going south.   It was a two-lane road until the overpass was built.  Highway 24 used to run in front of the row of stores and it was a narrow two-lane road.

There were two motels in town, The Orchard Motel and Town and Country, and they were usually full every night with tourists.  This was in later years, probably around 1950, before the overpass and I-75 were built.

Louise Ashley

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Nov. 2003
Waldo, Florida, USA