History of Waldo, Florida
Submitted by Dorris Harrison
Bettee V. DeSha is the author of the book "East Side of Eden". She diligently researched the original county of Alachua which includes Waldo and surrounding towns. She was a life-long friend of my mother, Ella Belle Sellevold, to whom she gave an autographed copy of her book. It is from her work that this article on Waldo was written.
The History of Waldo, Florida
First Inhabitants of Alachua County Area
Spring came early to Alachua County, ushered by the white blooms of the wild plum, the aroma of the wild azalea and the smell of orange blossom. The tall pines sheltered the landscape laying down a thick layer of browned, sun-dried, pine needles. They tower, as of old, way above sheltering shade trees. Old oaks seem to gather in and hold the coolness of any slight breeze.
Located about midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, in the northeastern part of the state, we find the early settlers of what will become know as Waldo. The original group of Indians living in Alachua County in 1820 scattered over Florida as their numbers grew. They roamed in numbers around Lake Alto hunting the deer and wild turkey. Known as "The Timucan" they lived in towns' composed of round, thatched houses enclosed within a stockade and chieftain's home in the center A small hut was built at the entrance for the Indian guard. The woven grass-roofed huts had floors of layers of woven mats or tanned hides used to cover the ground. These huts were built up off the grounds on stilts, giving shelter for the animals underneath. Hides became wind-breaker, rainproof walls, cooling the huts from the sun in summer and giving needed protection from cold winds and rains in the winter time. The Seminole Indian moved into Florida from Georgia and was not as peace loving as the Timucan.
The pioneer settlers arrived on horseback and in covered wagons bringing as many of their belongings as possible. There were a reported 5,077 persons in the area east of the Swannee River by 1825.
The customary wagon size was ten to twelve feet long with a width of about four feet, sometimes as much as 2,500 pounds. The wagon bed resembled a large oblong wooden box with a the toolbox in the front and a bucket of grease in the rear to lubricate the wheels, along with a water keg. A cover of cotton or canvas was pulled tight over a number of well-spaced bows and extended past the front and rear bows so that when the drawstring was pulled it closed each opening. A rifle and pistol kept near at hand with a full supply of ammunition. To keep the wagon in repair extra yokes spokes for the wheels, heavy ropes, chains and a number of tools. Seeds for the first crop and the plow, along with the ingredients for bread and cakes were packed with the salt and pepper, dried beans and hardtack, rice and tea. Among the cooking utensils would be the three-legged skillet, a big black iron pot, tea pot, coffee pot, dutch oven and a reflector made meal preparation easier. Matches received special attention to keep them dry. Stored in the covered wagon were linens, blankets, pillows, feather bed or mattress, clock, medicines, liniments, surgical dressings and bandages, spinning wheel, butter churn, wash bowl and chamber pot, camp stools and chairs, their backs poked down between the canvas and the sides of the wagon, were placed with chair seats down, legs up. The Bible, schoolbooks, and the family album were stored in some safe place. The length of the journey determined the items taken. The barest necessities were packed first.
At the end of the journey the pioneer was the long and difficult task of establishing the home site, clearing the land of scrub, building a log cabin and fences. The material for the all-important fireplace was made of clay. Small sticks were used as a means of keeping this claybinder in place, giving it added strength. The chimney rose from the ground up to and past the ridgepole. Heat from the fire in the fireplace within soon hardened and strengthened the chimney. The prized heirloom stood side by side with the settler's hand carved furniture. His homemade bedsteads, chairs, and tables added a certain sort of beauty to the plainness of the cabin, the spinning wheel and the quilt frames, worn smooth by much use, provided linen.
Lucky were the settler and wife if there had been room to bring a "storebought" mattress on the journey. If such had not been possible she soon learned to "make do" with what was at hand. The moss that hung on the branches of many Florida trees was cleaned and dried it was stuffed into a slit left in a striped mattress cover until it was full and then the slit sewed shut. The new mattress was ready for the bed. For those who preferred a firmer mattress, corn shucks, were used to cover the moss.
At the close of the day when the work was done, the father or mother, brought out the books. Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmetic' was taught. Most families had a Bible, not only for reading but it held the family history as each birth, death and marriage was recorded. By the light of the fireplace our forefathers received their early schooling.
One of these early settlers was William Sparkman who was known to be well established in Alachua County before 1830 when the first census showed them to be located there. By 1830 the population of Alachua County was 2,204 settlers.
This area was actually above the warm "orange belt". On April 6, 1828 there was heavy frost. The temperature, some miles east of Waldo on the St. Johns River, was but 28 degrees F. Seven years later on February 8, 1835, there was a cold spell so severe that snow fell as the temperature dipped to 11 degrees F. near Fort King, not far from Ocala. Then again in 1852 snow fell, but on the whole, the weather in north Florida was known, in the early years of settlement, to be delightfully mild.
In 1823 Alachua County was formed through division of Duval into three parts, the two subdivisions being Nassau and Alachua counties. At that time, Alachua County included Baker, Bradford, part of Clay, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy and parts of Putnam, Suwannee and Union counties.
Joseph H. White, who became Delegate from Florida to the House of Representatives, and who supported a bill to grant settlers the right of preemptor on the purchase of public land, the pioneer would have been forced to buy the very improvements he himself had made. With the passage of the act covering certain lands in Florida in 1826, the settlers were permitted to acquire the land at $1.25 an acre. Normally, this land would have been offered for sale at a public auction to the highest bidder.
By 1830 the population of Alachua County had grown to 2,204. Like other plantation owners of those years they grew the crops needed most and that brought in the most money at the market. Corn, cotton brought an excellent price and sugar cane flourished. The pine woods and fertile prairies were excellent grazing lands for cattle and horses.
Though William Sparkman died between June 15, 1845 and May 6, 1846. He did see the difference Bellamy Road meant to the interior. He knew the Indians as both friend and enemy. One of the most important founders of the county, he left his legacy in good hands. The unspoiled beauty of the great expanse of flat country in Alachua County lay before the early settler as the covered wagons rumbled and bounced over the trails and roads as he sought his homesite. In the latter part of the 1820's he would have found the Bellamy Road, for all its imperfections was much better than some of the rough, crude trails that led to the interior.
The woods were full of stately pines and giant oaks. Tall, curving palms grew out of thickly clustered scrub oak. Wild berries and fruits grew in abundance. There were many food-fish in the shallow waters at the edge of the lake. The seven flowing wells of southwest Waldo provided a means of watering their crops even during a drought by irrigation.
These were the days when the Circuit Rider Preacher and friendly travelers when ushered into the homes were assured of a welcome. The Southerner has never -outgrown his liking for the soda biscuits, spread with melting butter and jam or jelly.
The invention of the cotton gin and subsequent growing of cotton in tie south, transformed Florida and Alachua County. Cotton growers from the Carolina, hoping to get rich moved into north Florida. they bought up large acreage along trails and roads. Cotton brought a good price on the market. As time passed the plantation owner gained wealth and a position in society. Though he may have started out unable to read and write, through the years the planter learned, for by 1840 there were only seven in the county who could not.
Some of the Families that lived in and around Waldo were:
As the plantations increased in number, the frontier cabins grew more numerous along the eastern boundary of land that the Sparkman family owned. Not far from the shores of Lake Alto a community called Bellamy Station was established. This was a stopping place for travelers on the Bellamy Road, and received its name soon after the road was completed. Station then did not mean a railroad depot. When David Yulee honored a friend by selecting the name "Waldo" for the town, he was putting a name on the first Post Office, not the Depot building. The Post Office was officially established August 5, 1858 and the Depot building was not erected until 1864.
Oldsters reminded the writer that the name "Station" did not mean a railroad depot and Bellamy Station should then be accepted in the same light. Some time after completion of the Bellamy Road and some years before the Civil War, a small sturdy building, 18' x 18' was erected in east Waldo. In 1866 the Masons used this building, though it was considered inadequate and in those years "old". When I questioned how old the word "old" meant in regard to the building, one of the older residents of Waldo, now deceased, suggested twenty-five years. If such was the case then it might have been to this building that the Rev. Isaac Boring came on his travels from St. Augustine to Tallahassee for he traveled on the Bellamy Road and stopped at Bellamy Station.
Out in the backwoods, away from the most traveled routes, the "Florida Cracker" came. In most settlements of any size there was apt to be a frontier store that served as a general post office, or a place where news came via the Circuit Riders or travelers. Small communities might have a doctor, a dentist, and a barber.
The churches were the moral courts of these frontier days and they sought to regulate the behavior of their members but they did so with full knowledge of the hard life, the constant fear of the Indians, and what too much "hard likker" could do to a man.
There was the need for better transportation, for railroads and canals, especially across north Florida. Two of the main roads of Alachua County were Bellamy and the Micanopy Trail that crossed at the southeast corner of the William Sparkman homestead. Bellamy ran east almost parallel to the Bradford County line past a little settlement called Louise, then curved south to border Bellamy Station. Several of the streets deadened into Bellamy Road.
Florida was admitted to the Union in March 1845. The population in Bellamy Station was growing to the point that a post office was established August 5, 1858. It was at this time that Senator David Levi Yulee, a friend of Dr. Benjamin Waldo, wanted to honor him and thus the name Waldo appeared above the post office door.
At last, the long awaited railroad ran through Waldo by February 1, 1859 which in turn brought tourism. There was no railroad station. One of the earliest organized cavalry units was the Second Florida Calvary that became known as the famous Company H under Captain John Dickerson. Many Waldo men were in this Company.
The following is a poem written by Columbus Drew.
The following are excerpts from :
As conditions of the war worsened, women, some of who had lost their slaves, had to take over full management of their homes, their businesses, and their plantations. Yet they still managed to help take care of the wounded, and to supply bandages. Those faithful slaves who had remained worked along with the women in growing food crops. In some instances their loyalty and agricultural skill not only raised enough for the family but also left some for the troops. These black men were the strong backbone that gave women courage to go on in the face of great trials and at last defeat.
Surrender came at Appomattox. Some southerners could not or would not believe it at first. But on the same day that Tallahassee was quietly occupied by the Federal troops, men were being mustered out at Waldo. This was May 20, 1865. It is said that personal papers of Jefferson Davis were captured at Waldo's railroad station built just a year before.
Men from the famous Company H, Second Florida Cavalry, who returned to their homes in the Waldo area were:
Along with the utter relief and the great joy of the reunited families, there was overwhelming sadness for those women whose husbands did not return.
With the continued increase in tourism, many of which were prospective settlers, the rebuilt lumber mills were kept busy. Then too the returned soldier, given some time to make a home, sought out his bride-to-be and contacted some one of the several area ministers, Circuit Rider preachers or Justices of Peace. Some of these Officials were: W.K. and John Tucker, James Beville, William Stickland, Wiley Hicks, J.C. Gardener, Thomas Prevatt, and Silas Weeks.
In those years there was growth in spite of the corruption that still prevailed. The residents of Waldo increased so much that additional spaces were necessary for the number of additional pupils seeking schooling. With the coming of the Brannings to Waldo some buildings were erected on the East End of the park not far from the depot. Here, in what later was called the "Doc Johns House", rooms were used for classes. Classes were also held on the ground floor of the two story wooden buildings along Main (Sparkman) Street. This was some time before the first fire razed these buildings in the business block that faced the town park, on the other side of which was the railroad track. At the West End of the park was Kennard's Livery Stable.
Guide books and advertising in northern newspapers was selling Waldo to the tourist trade as a winter playground. It was said to be an excellent place for anyone to settle. In these years the Opera House was built. Fishing and hunting were enjoyed within the range of a few miles, and baseball games on afternoons on weekdays, attracted large crowds.
Trains stopped at Waldo during the noon hour allowing the passengers to have luncheon at the nearby Waldo House. Once off the train they saw what George M. Barbour described so vividly after his first visit to Waldo. He wrote about the attractive Town Park, well kept and fenced, and of the bandstand from which the local "band" provided music heard for blocks. Barbour considered the design of the bandstand well worth mentioning, with its ship shape and mast-rigged flag staff, the gift of one of the several sea captains, who found Waldo such a delightful place. Barbour described the neat rows of cottages, the grassy lawns, trimmed and clean, and the luxurious flower and vegetable gardens, as well as the number of orange trees in most yards.
Members of the Masonic Order were still forced to use the over-burdened little community-church-school building in East Waldo. They did not have the money to buy a new building out right, nor to erect a Temple. However, they did attempt to "make do" with rooms in a two story building in back of, and across Kennard Street, from the new Waldo House. During the many years this old building stood, according to its owner it was named the Tolar, the American, the Alto, the Renault, the Beckham, the Coleman, and the Ayers House. The writer does not know the exact dates and corresponding ownership.
It was in the early 1870's that the Masons finally decided they would move somewhere from their little 18' x 18' cabin, and in desperation decided on this Kennard Street, two story building, with its extensive railing around the porches on both the first and second floors. It is not known when this building was erected. However, by 1876 it was considered "old and in need of repair" and remodeling. Just how long they used the building is not certain, for though they did the remodeling and placed curtains at the windows, a year later they were considering another building.
The residents came to realize that Waldo needed to be incorporated. So public notice of this was done on December 16, 1875. At the schoolhouse at 6:00 pm on Saturday January 15, 1876, a meeting was held to elect officers and organize a Municipal Government.
For Council: Dr. J.M. Perry, R.B. Weeks, Henry Jenkins, T.M. Cauthen, M.S. Cheeves, L. Howe, Joe Lynn, W.C.Cheeves, T.B. Thus, Mayor - W.T. Cheevea, Marshall H. Raulerson - Clerk-Treasurer
The following metes and boundaries were adopted as metes and bounds for the Town of Waldo, viz:
Commencing at the NW corner of SW Quarter (114) of Section fourteen (14) Township eight (8) Range twenty-one (21) East and running thence due south one and one fourth (1 114) miles to southwest quarter (114) of Section 23 Township 8 Range 21. Then east one and one quarter (1 114) miles to the south west Quarter (114) of Section twenty-four (24) Township eight (8) Range twenty-one (21). Thence north one and one quarter (1 114) miles to north east corner of north west quarter (1/4) of south west quarter (114) of Section Thirteen (13) Township eight (8) Range 20 thence west one and one quarter (1 114) miles to starting point.
The following seal was adopted as the Incorporation Seal of said town.
The old Camp Baker property, south of the Transit railroad on the West Side of Waldo was bought by J. E. Chadwick after the end of the Civil War and turned into orange groves. It was later Nelson Alonzo Harris from Wisconsin purchased the property from the Chadwicks.. The old house, used by Captain Dickerson and his men, mentioned in Mary Elizabeth Dickerson's book "Dickerson and His Men" , was still on the standing on the property.
Dillyard Hicks was a well-known manufacturer of carriages, carts and wagons. He supplied the Kennard Livery Stables. The Sparkman orange packing plant was busy and the American Ice and cold Storage company erected a immense building for refrigeration, storage and packing and shipping of local fruit.
It was during the 1880's that D. S. Place was Mayor and William Jolly, Town Clerk. Mr Place died in 1881 and was buried in the oldest "graveyard" in Waldo. Its location is now under the overpass with the graves moved to the Laurel Grove Cemetery.
One of the earliest families, among the druggists, was the Jolly's. They ran "apothecary shops" for several doctors. One of the stores was on the West End of the Cigar Factory - Opera building lot. The Jolly's in Waldo were descendants of Absolom Jolly who move to the Orange Heights area in 1860 from South Carolina [See Early Settlers for more on the Jolly family]. Andrew was a Waldo druggist and his son Bill was a commercial salesman for Libby Drug Company. Waldo was a small town where nearly everyone was related to the one next door by marriage.
On January 7, 1881, the Waldo newspaper, "The Florida Cracker" put out its first edition with B. Lester Gladden as owner and Editor. The paper gave an excellent picture of the town. The literary Society, popular with the ladies and gentlemen of those days, met at the home of Captain Coles, a sea captain. Attending the theater was the vogue and being included in the list of invitations given for a party at one of Waldo's mansions established one's status in local society. And assured a mention in the newspaper. The Hardee Raulerson School was built in 1882.
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 but it was suggested that the preachers spoke extemporaneously and had plenty to say. Some of the women were shocked, embarrassed, angry, and disturbed to the point of tears. Mrs. Wilkerson armed with an umbrella, accompanied by a good number of wives in the community, sought out the instigators and so forceful were the women that some men were run out of town. It was understood that there would be no "Frontier Saloon with its wine, women and song" in Waldo.
The turn of the century, "the Gay Nineties" began with Waldo a flourishing town but by 1929 started the decline on the town. The bank failed and later the railroad shops were moved. The younger people began to leave for better jobs in other places. But Waldo is still a beautiful, quiet town in which to raise a family and many are finding it a nice place to retire.