Content being country


Freddie Wood tallies a price Friday on vegetables for a customer at his store, Wood and Swink, in Evinston. The building that houses Wood and Swink is on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Wood. The framed picture at left is of Henry Deaver Wood, a former four-term county commissioner.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 10:59 p.m.
Kay Richardson and Freddie Wood have some differences of opinion.
Richardson enjoys gliding over Orange Lake in his airboat. Wood thinks the crafts are pains in the ear.
Wood is a preservationist. Richardson doesn't mind a little change.
But two topics bring unshakable unity - their love of Evinston and their desire to never be part of Micanopy.
"(Evinston) is our spot in the world and dear to our hearts," said Wood, sitting by the heating stove in his store, the Wood and Swink, which doubles as the town's post office.
Added Richardson at his nearby cattle ranch on Orange Lake, "We like it like it is. To that degree, I'm a preservationist, I guess."
Evinston residents were among those from a few crossroads communities who persuaded the Alachua County Commission to exclude them from city urban reserves when the boundaries were recently completed.
As a result, the communities cannot be annexed into the cities. That is just fine with some residents.
Communities such as Evinston and Rochelle are small, unincorporated, quiet and have been around for more than a century.
Evinston, on County Road 225, has existed from the mid-1800s and was a farming hub once served by the railroad. The Wood and Richardson families were among the early settlers.
The community is known for it scenery and environment. This time of year it has more sandhill cranes than people. It's spring wildflower blooms are incredibly bright, dense and varied. And the pastures giving way to Orange Lake are an artist's heaven.
Rochelle formed around the 1840s by settlers migrating from Georgia and South Carolina. It thrived until an 1894-95 citrus freeze led to a decline. The community lies on both sides of Hawthorne Road but the center is primarily along County Road 234 south of Hawthorne Road.
Many people who pass through Rochelle today do so on the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is Rochelle's back yard.
Alachua County is dotted with other historical communities. Some are relatively well-known - Cross Creek, for example. Others may be known to most only as a green sign on the main road - Grove Park, Island Grove, Arredondo.
Alachua County Manager Randall Reid said residents of Gainesville may look at these places and see only vacant land - if they are aware of the communities at all.
But county officials who often deal with the communities are well aware of the independence some residents feel.
"People have a sense of place and historic communities, especially smaller ones, have as much a feeling of being an entity as any large city," Reid said. "People in cities have a mind-set that these places are just rural land suitable for development. But these places have a stronger sense of identity and place than the municipalities."
Tim Lester, who owns Tim's Fast Nickel, a store on Hawthorne Road near Rochelle, said he was not surprised by the vehemence against inclusion in Gainesville's urban reserve shown by Rochelle residents.
Lester said Rochelle is in an area that gets good fire and law enforcement service from the county and from Windsor's volunteer fire service. It has no need for the extras that come with being in a city.
"We just feel that we don't need to be part of Gainesville. We feel that we want to stay country," Lester said. "We are settled where we are at. We are not looking to expand growth. We don't want to have a city atmosphere. We want to have a country setting."
Rochelle's ruralness, even though it is only a few miles from Gainesville's urban fringe, likely won't last as growth is steered eastward from Gainesville.
Development has traditionally been westward. But the amount of available land there is shrinking and the roads are growing too crowded to handle any more cars.
Plenty of land and road capacity exists in the eastern part of the county, particularly along Hawthorne Road. And both Gainesville and Alachua County are trying to spur growth in economically deprived east Gainesville.
Eventually Rochelle may be circled by subdivisions and stores.
"If you look at the long term it is going to get more difficult to develop in the west. The difficulty of policy-making is making it happen so it doesn't just jump east Gainesville. East Gainesville has to benefit from that," Reid said. "But the Hawthorne corridor does present a growth area that would more than likely be in that second phase of development."
Evinston is in a different situation. It is far more isolated from a growing area such as Gainesville and more likely to retain its character in the long run.
Micanopy is several miles away. While not likely to creep outward much, Micanopy officials nonetheless said the town needs to expand its tax base. They unsuccessfully pleaded with the County Commission to extend its urban reserve north from town for potential annexation sites if Evinston was snipped out.
University of Florida sociology professor Anthony LaGreca, who has an interest in urban and community sociology, said the divergent desires expressed by Micanopy and Evinston are not uncommon.
"Cities tend to look at it from the viewpoint of the tax base, the use of services," LaGreca said. "People in the small communities want to preserve a sense of community and control as best they can to preserve their particular way of life."
For now, the communities are safe. No subdivisions are in the works for Rochelle. The Richardson family, which owns several large tracts in the Evinston area, has no intent of selling any of it off for development any time soon.
"I went off to school and then served my country a little bit in the military, and always wanted to come home," Richardson said. "I feel very fortunate that I've been over a good part of the world and never found another place where I'd rather be than here."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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